I’d like to take you along my journey as an apprentice at the Jewelry Arts Institute. Although I will continue to challenge myself with new skills and techniques, I must admit that there is much to learn by going back to the beginning. Repeating these projects will help them to be fresh in my mind so that I can begin to teach the new students starting at Jewelry Arts. I will point out the tips and tricks I’ve discovered as well as common problems that can arise when you are just getting started with learning metalwork.   So that’s what I did. Project #1- Stack Rings. ( 3 rings that fit together. All have twisted wire shanks & small round stones )

It’s been awhile since I made my first set of silver stack rings. The project is fairly simple, but the techniques used are extremely beneficial for future pursuits in jewelry making. When I began my second go at the stack rings I tried to pay attention to the little details that make a big difference. First take a look at your stones. They all may not be the same height and that’s ok. You can make up for their differences by making all the bezels the same height and raising up the shorter stones so that they all “look” even when you end up setting them. When I measured the height of the silver to make the bezels with, I took the height of my tallest stone and added a sliver extra to give a little room for melting mistakes and filing room. With brand new students, it’s best to make them a tad higher then you normally would to give leeway to mess up when learning to fuse for the first time. After you’ve fused hundreds of bezels, you get pretty good at keeping all your silver but when you are still learning, it’s easy give too much heat and melt the top and bottom of the silver near the seam. I used 3 different stones, similar in size but not exact. It’s important to make the bezel fit snugly around each particular stone. Not too loose, not too tight. Wrap the strip of silver around and appropriately sized mandrel and measure it to your stone until you get a good fit. Before you trim, make sure that you are cutting in the straightest and most parallel line possible. Check it again with your stone, and take off a hair at a time as needed until it’s a perfect fit. When you believe that you’ve got a good size circle (No space around stone, but not too tight that it doesn’t slip easily on and off the stone), then double check that the seam is very tight. Use your flat nose pliers to press it closed and hold it up to the light to see if any light shines through the seam. If it does, trim or file as needed. Another way to help perfect your seam is to give it a little tension. Overlap the two ends, one over the other then reverse before placing them together. Hold down the seam with your flat nose pliers and push your whole bezel down creating a squashed circle. Having the metal closer together will help the fusing process by distributing the heat better. This becomes even more apparent when making large bezels.

Now, for the fun part; fusing. Place the bezel, seam up onto the hottest part of the kiln. You can use the lid to hover overhead to help hold the heat and also to create a shadow so you can really get a good look at how hot your silver is getting. With your torch circle the piece until you see a slight orange glow to the silver. Now, using the feather tip of the flame, brush across the seam until you can see the metal get super shiny and make the seam disappear, fusing the circle shut. While brushing across the seam don’t be afraid to pull the heat back a bit if it looks like its getting too hot. Better to go back and reheat the seam until it disappears than to put too much heat and melt the bezel.

Now quench, reshape on a mandrel, and check that it fits nicely on the selected stone. Repeat steps to fuze bezels for the rest of your stones. When you get all your bezels fused, file and/or sand the top and bottom so that they are all the same height and edges are super flat and even. Check to make sure that they lie flat on the back sheet and place on a tripod. Flux/dry. Then add tiny pieces of hard solder to the inside and heat from underneath until you can see the solder run under the rim. Quench and toss it in the pickle and repeat with the rest of the bezels.

While the bezels are in the pickle, you can get started with the shanks. The look of them is beautiful and the process is simple. Just remember when twisting the wire that it’s been fully annealed. Aim to get the twist tight, so that the wires look almost parallel on top of one another. It’s also helpful to do this in steps, annealing the wire part way through as needed. Now measure the ring size you need and wrap twisted wire in a spiral around a mandrel. But when you go to cut, cut the circles about 3/4 a size SMALLER than the size you need. The twist will make it easy to stretch the shanks to the proper size later. The scissors are great to get the right size but rarely will they cut even enough to make the ends fit together. So get out your trusty old file and file away until the two ends are nice and tight. Sometimes it helps to do the tension trick, or you can use the leather mallet to gently press them together. When it looks like the seam is good and tight, get ready to solder it closed. Flux/dry and use a nice square of extra hard solder directly under the seam. Heat the whole piece with the torch on your charcoal block then concentrate on the seam until you can see the solder melt straight up and fill in the seam. Repeat with the other 2 shanks, quench and toss in the pickle. Depending on how much wire you use, you may still have extra twisted wire. I opted to make 2 more plain shanks to use as spacers between the ones with stones. I find it makes the piece fill together really nicely and gives more options on different ways to wear the ring. Another option a few of my students chose was to use the extra wire to make beautiful matching hoop earrings with.

Now, going back to the bezels, make sure that the solder flowed all the way around the bottom of the bezel then trim the excess metal away. Now carefully use your file and follow the curve around until the side of the bezel is smooth and the seam near the back sheet completely disappears. You can also use your sand paper to really clean it up and make sure there are no scratches. The cleaner you can get it to look now, the more professional your piece will look when its done.

Size all of the shanks using the leather mallet to stretch them around a mandrel and make sure they all fit together on the same finger. When getting ready to solder the shanks to the bezels use a third arm to hold the shank parallel above the bezel and solder it slightly off-center. This will help to make them overlap nicely next to one another.

Once you get all the shanks attached, check the heights of all your stones and add either a wire/sheet bezel or small circle of silver until all the stones are lifted evenly. When you finish getting each lifted to the correct position, your ready to put in the stone and use the rocker pusher to set the stone. Make sure to hold down the stone from the top and push in the sides of the bezel from a 45 degree angle. Work the opposites until the bezel is tightly pushed against the stone and there is no wiggling of the stone. Once the stones are set you have the choice to make the silver super shiny by polishing it on the trip-o-lee and rouge. And there ya go.

Please remember that any tips I give are from my own experience and are what I’ve found to work best for me. There are many ways to accomplish the same thing, so find the techniques that work best for you. Trial and error, the error some more. The best learning experiences are most likely the hardest ones that you mess up on the most! I probably won’t be taking you step by step through every project that I do, but felt it necessary with this first project since it involves the basics. Throughout this blog I hope to bring you on my journey as I challenge myself with new creative pieces of jewelry and repeating past projects. I will bring you along with my experiences as I begin to teach because I’m anticipating that not only will I learn from my own projects, but will learn even more while going through the experiences of others. Much to look forward to. Hope you enjoy taking the journey with me.

Vonya Jayne


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