Anyone hoping to make jewellery has to tackle basic metalwork techniques at some point, even the most rudimentary skills can create attractive and original pieces of art. The basic tools can sometimes be found inexpensively in second-hand shops, at markets, or online. An aspiring gold or silversmith can start work even on a kitchen table, as long as they remember not to mix metal work and food and clean up thoroughly after all jobs.
Jewellery can be made from a large variety of metals including gold, silver, brass, and copper. The metal comes in various forms such as sheets or wire. Sheet metal is flat and is available in various gauges, or thicknesses. It can be bought in sheets or in ready made shapes such as squares, ovals or round discs. Wire is can be round in cross section but is also available as square or rectangular.
Pure gold and silver are very soft metals and usually are alloyed with other metals such as copper to make them harder and more workable. Copper is usually available in its pure form, or it gets alloyed with zinc to form brass.
The first step in designing jewellery is drawing a layout, take the time to make an accurate, detailed drawing. For complex pieces, you could use paper or thin card to make a model of the piece of jewellery. This is good to help you decide how different parts will fit together and whether they’ll be soldered, riveted or connected in another way.
The initial tools required are a good scribe, calipers, machinist’s square and ruler. The scribe has a carbide steel tip that is hard enough to mark metal. Calipers take precise measurements of the metal, including the gauge of the sheet metal and the size of stones or other inclusions.
The standard tool for cutting is a jeweler’s saw. It comes as a frame and a number of blade sizes are available for different gauges of metal. A lubricant might be needed to keep the saw moving smoothly, beeswax or candle wax works well.
The next piece of equipment is a bench pin where the sawing will be done. These are usually made of wood and can be attached to a table or bench top.
A variety of files are needed to remove the rough edges of the metal after sawing. Following filing the piece is sanded, use different grades of fine wet & dry emery on a sanding stick, start with #400 – #800 and finally #1200 – the piece can then be polished.
An alternative method of making silver jewellery is to use precious metal clay. The clay is a mixture fine silver particles held together with a binder. You can model it like clay into the shape you want, such as earrings or a pendant. When fired in a kiln or with a small torch, the binder burns away and leaves the silver shape.
You can design with surface patterns, like leaves, which will enhance your work further. You can make pendants, earrings or brooches. Just polish the fired metal product with a brass brush, followed by a jewellery polishing cloth to add lustre.