This the fourth and final entry in a four-part series on the process of custom designing a piece of jewelery.
Once the sprues are cut away, the resulting rough areas on the custom piece are filed flush to the surface of the metal. If the piece is a ring, then Tony will clean the inside with a sanding drum and check for correct size. The entire piece is inspected for defects.
Next it is methodically cleaned. This step is also the process of getting the surface to the point where it is ready for polishing and includes sanding. Any concave areas are sanded with a mandrel, while convex areas are sanded with a sanding stick. In sanding (as well as filing and polishing), there is a progression from using coarser tools to finer tools. A rubber wheel impregnated with an abrasive is used on delicate areas. Pieces with hard-to-reach areas are placed in a magnetic tumbler.
Now it is time for polishing. Jewelers will always bring a custom piece to a high polish stage in the finishing process, even if it will eventually have a matte finish. When polishing Tony uses buffing compounds, again from coarse to fine, and a variety of other buffing materials such as muslin, felt, and bristle. He will continue polishing until a mirror finish is achieved.
Sometimes when pieces come back from casting, they need to be assembled. There are two major techniques to joining metal: soldering and laser welding. Soldering is a must with two different colors or types of metal. If joining pieces of the same metal together, laser welding can be used. Solder employs using the same carat metal but alloyed differently to result in a lower melting point than the parent metal. Solder is usually designated hard, medium, and easy. These designations refer to the melting point and are particularly important in complex pieces that require several solders. Tony will always work from hard to medium to easy. This prevents any previously soldered joints from melting apart. In laser welding, the same metal is used to join parts together. For example, 14k yellow gold laser wire would be used to weld 14k yellow gold parts together.
Once again it is time for ultrasonic cleaning and a high pressure steam to remove all traces of polishing compound. If there are no stones to set, the piece is finished.
If there are stones to be set, the first step is to prepare a seat. A seat is a ledge or a shelf upon which the stone rests. Metal is folded over the stone to hold it place. This is a rough way of describing setting. There are at least twelve different techniques for setting stones but in each the jeweler must create a seat and then “fold metal over the stone.”
After the stones are set, the piece is polished and cleaned again. Any engraving that was specified is completed and — viola — a beautiful custom-made piece of jewelery unlike anything belonging to anyone else anywhere.
This concludes our series on custom design. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the process!