How To Make Silver Jewelry
Those who make silver jewelry are known as silversmiths. The art of making silver jewelry is a very old one, and has been the source of artistic expression for many famous silver jewelry makers, like Florenza (Dan Kadoff), Georg Jensen, and Margot de Taxco.
The term “silversmith” also applies to those who make silver objects that are decorative or useful but not wearable, such as Paul Revere who is possibly the most famous silversmith in American history, for a variety of reasons.
Material Used To Make Silver Jewelry
Sterling silver is preferred over fine silver because it is more durable. Fine silver is much more malleable and more easily damaged that sterling. The .925 sterling ratio that most who make silver jewelry work with indicates that the proportion of base metal that is contained in the piece is .075. It is the base metal, such as nickel or copper, that gives sterling its greater durability and sometimes its color.
Characteristics Needed To Make Silver Jewelry
It takes an artistic ability at design, a good eye, steady hands and patience. Most who successfully make silver jewelry to sell to the public take some kind of instruction in the techniques.
There’s a bit of science involved, like the temperature at which sterling silver melts and the chemical compounds that will act on the silver to change its properties. There is also a broad range of tools that silversmiths use to cut, pierce, shape, polish and meld the silver into a finished product.
Tools Of The Trade
The tools and techniques used in silversmithing each have a specific purpose in the hands of the silver artist. Many pieces of silver jewelry start out as flat sheets of sterling silver. They can be shaped into whatever image the artist has in mind in a number of ways.
Techniques In Silversmithing
Often the initial shape is created by using a jeweler’s saw and cutting the shape out of the sheet of silver. This is called piercing. One of the techniques used most frequently is soldering. Artists who make silver jewelry use soldering to fuse or melt pieces together to form the shape, to add definition, and to add clasps, pins or bails that enable the piece to be attached to clothing.
Understanding a bit of metallurgy is important in soldering to prevent the silver from getting too hot and melting in a way that destroys the piece. Torches are also used to heat harden, soften, or anneal the metal. As artists are being trained, they learn torch techniques to accomplish their objective and keep the silver safe.
Those first two techniques, piercing and soldering, are usually the first that are taught to people who want to learn to make silver jewelry. As the jewelry artist becomes more proficient, other techniques are added:
- Shaping techniques are used to apply creative effects; such as, bending, forging, repoussé, stretching and sinking, raising, die forming, crimping, seaming and electroforming.
- Joining techniques add embellishments, structure and style to the jewelry; such as, fusing, investment soldering, “sweat” soldering, riveting and cold connections.
- Casting – an ancient technique that takes molten silver and creates shapes by pouring it into a mold; such as, charcoal casting, cuttlefish casting, sand casting, and lost wax and investment wax casting.
Adding Stones To Silver Jewelry
In addition to forming the sterling silver sheet into shapes, many artists who make silver jewelry choose to use stones to enhance and beautify their silver jewelry.
The technique to add stones can be as simple as attaching drilled stones with fine or sterling silver wire.
The process of including faceted cabochon stones is done by setting the stones. Settings are made using bezels, prongs, or channels in the silver. This is a last step because once set, you cannot use many of the polishing techniques and you definitely should not solder any silver pieces once the stone is set. Most stones would be destroyed by the heat of the solder flame.
The finished product, before any stone is added, can be polished either by hand or using a buffing motor. For many artists this can be the most tedious part of jewelry making because often it takes several rounds of buffing and polishing to bring to the silver the luster the artist desires.
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