Monday, April 22, 2013

Twisting Wire Shanks

 Today I made a ring with a shank made from twisted wire. I've really been into twisted shanks lately, and this one was a new variety I tried- it looks braided, but it's not....

It's actually 2 bundles of twisted wires.

I LOVE the texture, simplicity and graphic quality of these shanks.

And it really dresses up what could be a plain band.

Normally I like to oxidize them in order to bring out the contrast, but even without oxidation they're lovely.

The twist wire on this band was commercial/purchased- one that came stamped with the pattern. It's the same wire as the perimeter of the ring.  I like making my own because I am not limited to a certain size.  And I love a chunky band, so I usually use 16 ga. wire.

This is also a twist wire- but a single wire that was originally square. I also love this look but it can be challenging to twist a chunkier square section of wire. So worth it though!

Want to know how to make a twisted bundled-wire shank? I used 3 strands of 16 ga. wire. 14 ga. would've produced a thicker, larger shank, but I think too big and perhaps a bit hard to work with. 18 is nice but a bit too thin for me. 16 ga. is my fave. 3 strands is much more attractive and produces a more even result than 2 strands, trust me. Don't scrimp. 

First, guesstimate how thick your final band will be- my final band was about 12 gauge, so I used that measure to determine how long a section I needed of wires. Then, I added a minimum of 2 centimeters to the desired finish length- more is better but in the interest of reducing waste of silver, a minimum of 2 extra cm is workable. 

To twist wires, you can use a hand-tool specially formulated for twisting wire, or a drill. But the drill can twist too fast. My solution is this:

It was specificaly designed for wire-twisters, and wasn't too expensive from The secret is that it spins at a very slow speed, so unlike a drill, you can slowly twist and control the tightness of the twist. You enter the 3 ends into the chuck and tighten, then use pliers on the other free end of the wires and hold firmly, then push the trigger to twist!

You can experiment with how tight a twist you like.

The best feature of the wire twister is that you are able to switch the direction of the twist. That's critical to making the above shank. One is twisted one way, one the other way. They were then cut the same length and joined end-to-end. Finally, they are stacked on top of each other and because they're Argentium silver, they were heated and fused together. This process would be a lot harder and messier to do with sterling and solder. A LOT HARDER. 

The result is the look of a braid. It's a good substantial shank, about 1/4 of an ounce of silver. And it creates a look of an expensive band! Once the shank was fused I did hammer it a bit on the mandrel, but that's an aesthetic choice. 

It takes some time, but I love the look and the fact that's it's handmade.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Trouble with Dana

 Aren't these stones gorgeous? They are faceted Ethiopian opals. 

I got them recently because my mother-in-law Gerry wants a ring made and it's gotta be an Ethiopian opal with as much fire as possible! She wants it in gold, too.

So, I wanted to make one using a gold bezel because I'd only ever made one piece with a gold bezel before, and it was 14k and I hated it- 14k is so hard, which is good for longevity, but not fun to work with. 

So I used 22k, which is similar in hardness to sterling silver. I really took my time. I didn't want to screw up with gold. Things went well. I wound up cutting a hole in the bottom of the setting for the point of the stone to sit in, but then soldered another smaller piece underneath because I wanted to totally enclose the stone in the bezel/backing and not have any transparency- so I could blacken the inside completely and hence try to have the fire in the stone accentuated. 

I generally like transparent stones like this with a big hole in the back to see through, because of the fact that they are transparent. But another jeweler recently advised me to enclose and blacken the background, so I gave it a try. Plus, it made the shank design easier. I'm still on the fence about if I like it enclosed or see-thru. I sort of felt like it was a short cut to solder that piece of backing on. What I should've done was create a piece of bezel that was taller so I didn't have to do that, but I was using commercially-made bezel and didn't want to take the time to forge a taller piece. Argghhh.....

I then went to work on the shank, fusing 3 rings of 16 ga. Argentium wire. I really wanted to fuse a few gold balls onto the shank near the position you see them in, but they just wouldn't stay put. I probably could've used a product to make them stick; I'm not sure. I didn't take the time to look into it.

So what I did instead was fuse the 3 ball clusters you see on the ring first, using the 22k gold and Argentium. Then I carefully positioned the clusters on the band (took a WHILE because they would not stay!) and fused them on.

And what did I discover when I finished? Well, from the below shot you can see it clearly- the ball cluster on one side fused on crookedly. So what I did: kept going. What I should've done: re-made the band.

I finished the ring and was instantly deflated because the crookedness is just not something I'm proud of or should've allowed. And this is why this post is called the trouble with Dana- because Dana rushes to get things made. 

This is not a good quality.

I have a show next weekend, the only one I do all year. And I'm feeling the pressure to produce. And that's when I do stupid things! It all started when I first joined Etsy. I sold a ring after just 2 days. And then a week later another item. I was hooked! I LOVED the fact that someone was willing to spend their hard-earned money on something I made. It's like an addiction, a high. The making of something and having it be done also produces a high. And on Etsy, there is a lot of pressure to produce something new. There is constant "What do you have that's new" and I'll admit I am guilty of producing some work I'm not proud of because of that sense of urgency. It's not good.

This is something I continue to struggle with. My finishing skills are lacking because I'm usually trying to 'get to the finish line'. 

I need to try to do better.

So now, I'm struggling with spending even more time correcting the ring by sawing the offensive ball cluster off and re-attaching it with low-temp solder, leaving it as is and putting it up for sale, or keeping it.

Motto for Dana: slow down & do it right the first time!!!

(P.S. the bezel did turn out really well, though!)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Opal Myths

I've always always always loved opals. They contain every color in the rainbow. And I've always loved color. I'm not a big diamond person- I'd much rather have an opal than a diamond. But many people are just the opposite. And they blame opals for 'bad luck'. How can that be? Opals have brought me nothing but beauty and happiness. So I wanted to examine why opals have gotten a bad rap in recent years.

In the mid-1800's author Sir Walter Scott wrote a book called 'Anne of Geierstein'. The main character wore an opal which changed color depending on her mood. The opal even was seen to exert evil influence over the main character. It's no wonder people were spooked!

And let us not forget the poor diamond trade. Around the same time Scott's book came out, diamond merchants saw an opportunity to cash in on the book's negative image of the opal by continuing the propaganda that opal is not a lucky gem. This of course was because they wanted a larger market share of jewelry sales. Opals had been a very popular gem up until this time in history, and in fact had been associated with good luck across many cultures, often being used in engagement rings.

In fact, Queen Victoria was a lover of opals. She actually supported the miners who came to London hawking their Australian opals. People had never seen Australian opals before and didn't think they were natural, as they were used to milky and less-firey European stones. She supported the Australian miners and not only wore opals but gave them to her daughters for their wedding presents.

Some cultures mistook the opal's beauty as sorcery, and connected evilness to it. But the large majority of cultures have loved and appreciated the opal throughout history.

Also, the opal's fragility has been given a bad rap. Opals are not as hard a stone as emeralds, rubies, or diamonds, but are also not as fragile as generally thought. They are comparable to glass. And the thicker the stone, the more robust it is. Often times an opal will crack because it is prong-set, which exerts uneven pressure on the stone. Bezel-setting opals is best. 

And the myth of soaking an opal in water to keep it from cracking is simply not true. The water in an opal is contained within it's cell structure. The stone is non-porous and will not absorb any water. Same idea with oil- it will only make your stone oily but will not prolong the life of the stone or prevent cracking. Opals are stable stones and will only crack with pressure from bad settings, or extreme heat/cold.  In fact, immersing an Ethiopian opal in water will temporarily hide the fire. 

How could you not love an opal??

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New Spinner Rings

This week I finished a trio of 'spinner' rings that feature patterned silver wide-band rings with a fun 'spinner' band on the outside that has an inlay of small Australian opal cabochons.

I have only made a handful of these- but they are pretty popular, probably in part to the pretty opal band. There are a lot of spinner rings being made, some very simple and some more involved. 

They may look complicated, but are not so much. The wider band was created by running the silver sheet through a rolling mill to pattern it. It was then cut and soldered to form a band. A friend of mine took a whole class on how to make one, but when she found out how simple they were, she wished she knew the 'trick' and could've saved her money on the class!! What's the trick??

Well, after the bands are made, the inner/wider band is flared by using a dapping punch- you take a larger diameter punch, and hammer the end of the ring to flare it. Then you put the band on, and repeat to the other end so the band doesn't fall off. Easy peasy!

The most complicated piece of making these rings was creating the opal band. I used 2 lengths of square wire and soldered them to a piece of silver sheet. The bands above are made from brass and Argentium silver. The Argentium bands did not require any solder- I just fused them. After they were attached to the base sheet, I trimmed the excess, formed into a ring, and made sure they fit around the wider band before soldering/fusing closed. I then blackened the channel and epoxied in the opals.