One of the steps in creating jewelry is to make a mold from rubber. Pre-purchased sheets of rubber are placed in a hollow rectangular block, with a model piece of jewelry pressed in the middle. The sheets are pressed repeatedly to eliminate the risk of air pockets, which can cause leaks or distort the final result. Once the rubber pieces are pushed as close as can be, the block is placed in between two mold plates before going into a vulcanizing press to melt the layers together. After the frame is cool to the touch, the rubber is taken out to be cut in two, freeing the model. The separation process utilizes a zigzag cut, leaving bumpy inner edges that will lock together in the future. Care is also taken not to accidentally slice out chunks of the mold. If all goes well, the artisan now has a tool in which to inject molten wax and begin the next phase of jewelry creation.
To make a large number of metal jewelry pieces at once, jewelers create unusual looking trees. Their branches are made with the help of molds injected with wax and left to cool. The molds are then opened, revealing a model of a jewelry component. The wax piece is removed to add to the tree’s central column. This process is repeated over and over until the tree is ready for its next step.
It’s important for the models to be trimmed of spurs, raised lines left over from its time in the mold, and polished until it’s as perfect as the final product. Any imperfection left on the wax will be reflected onto its later metal form. Wax is much softer than gold or platinum, making modifications easier to handle in this state.
Derived from the Old French and Latin words “soldure” and “solidare,” both meaning “to make solid,” soldering is the process of connecting two metal objects together with the aid of a third metallic item. that is melted between the two to act as a fastener. This third metal is melted between the first two pieces, quickly solidifying and holding everything together. The solder is usually an alloy specifically created to be a bonding agent, with a lower melting point than the first two pieces. This way everything bonds with less risk of heat damage.
In jewelry, solder tends to be manufactured into thin sheets to allow for connecting small scale parts and maintaining a delicate look for the finished product. While many forms of solder contain lead for ease of melting, jewelry grade solder does not. What it does have is a high proportion of precious metal to help the join coordinate with the rest of the piece.
Bench and Jeweler
A bench jeweler is an artisan who both creates and repairs jewelry. The term is used for people who possess and use a number of skills, rather than focusing on a single aspect. The item that gives the occupation its name resembles a desk, complete with drawers to store items and lamps to help see the work. A jeweler’s bench must have a surface strong enough to endure repeated hammer blows, and should be tall enough to be comfortable reducing the risk of backaches later in the day from odd sitting postures. Other features include a removable wooden “bench pin” that sits perpendicular to the side of the bench, giving a surface to work on tiny pieces. A tray beneath the pin helps catch precious metal or stones that may fall. More trays hold tools and allow the jeweler to work at different heights.
Wire is made by narrowing metal many times until it is the desired diameter. To accomplish this process, a tool known as a drawplate is employed. The plate is a rectangular die usually made of hardened steel, though tungsten carbide and other materials are sometimes used. Since making wire often involves working with heated metal, drawplates must be strong enough to endure high temperatures and the stress of pulling. Drawplates contains rows of holes of graduated sizes. The openings may be round, square, hexagonal or other shapes, allowing for different looks. The edges of drawplate holes aren’t parallel, but slanted with the gap being bigger on one side of the plate. These plates are used in conjunction with vises to hold them in place, and drawing tongs to pull the metal.
A mandrel is a tool used to help shape jewelry. Jewelry is bent around the mandrel, leaving a smooth curve without kinks or creases. Rings, earrings and other pieces may be shaped between a mandrel and a hammer, beating the metal into the desired size and design. The tool may take the form of a tapered rod to shape jewelry pieces such as bracelets and rings, or a cylinder that fits through a hole in another tool such as a polishing disk or grinding wheel. The opposite end might be fastened to a motor, allowing the entire arrangement to rotate. Mandrels are also a component used in lathes, helping to spin hollow objects. They are also used as a means to secure and spin moving components of machinery, or utilized on their own to help shape jewelry.
Faceting stones by hand can be labor intensive, especially if the gemstone has a high Mohs hardness. Mechanized devices have been used since at least the 1500s to help make faceting an easier process. Modern day machines may be homemade, purchased, serve commercial purposes or be designed for home use. The major components of a faceting machine are its mast, grinding wheel, arbor and controls. The mast is a pole that sits perpendicular to the wheel, and may come with a tool for adjusting height. Careful positioning is crucial to ensure that the facets turn out as they should, creating a bright final product. The arbor is the axis on which the grinding wheel is placed, and helps keep the wheel flat as it spins. The grinding wheel smooths parts of the stone into facets, and controls maintain the wheel’s speed.
Before the long and labor intensive process of creating precious metal jewelry, the design is sketched and perfected on paper. Once this step is complete, the image is created in three dimensions. Wax is easier to shape than gold or silver, and is more affordable. Everything from rough cuts to carving prongs and a final polish is replicated. Faux jewels may also be added to get a better idea of what the final product will look like.
The initial piece of wax must be larger than the final product. While removing is easy, adding more wax isn’t as simple. Premade blanks are available, such as hollow cylinders for making rings. A variety of tools are used to shape the blank into jewelry, including saws, files, sizing and marking tools. For intricate designs, nozzles that make wax “wire” allows designers to experiment with braiding and weaving patterns into their creation.