Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Innovations in jewellery making

When I go to museums and see jewellery that has been found on archaeological digs I am always amazed at how current it looks, how it could have been made today. We still use many techniques that would not have been out of place hundreds of years ago and yet technology has moved on to develop methods that would be incredible to those jewellers from yesteryear.
Here I look at some of the key innovations that have taken the craft of jewellery making in new directions

Roman gold rings with stones, 3-4 Century AD from the collection at the British Museum

3D printing

Examples of 3D printed jewellery from Fathom and Form jewelry

3D printing allows us to use a machine to ‘print’ a 3 dimensional object. This innovation is becoming more utilised in jewellery making in many ways including

  • to make samples and test pieces in resin or plastic
  • to print in wax ready for casting in metal
  • for printing directly in plastic or metal

Printing in wax for casting by Next Day Wax

It’s an exciting way to design jewellery and to try this out yourself you need to master computer-aided design (also known as CAD) or work with a CAD designer to transfer your sketches into a CAD file that is suitable for printing.
Recently, students and staff from LJS were lucky enough to visit a local 3D printing company My Mini Factory. You can read more about this visit here.

Laser technology
Soldering, particularly multiple solder joins in one piece, can be the bane of the jeweller’s life (as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you!). It is particularly tricky when trying to fix broken pieces with gemstones already set because of concerns of damaging the stones. The use of laser welding has helped to make the process of repairing and soldering easier without heat damage to the whole piece.
Laser engraving has also meant that engraving is possible without damage to the piece and is now regularly used at the assay office when hallmarking, helping to ensure pieces aren’t damaged as they could be with the ‘struck’ mark.

Metal clay

Metal clay necklace made by visiting tutor Julia Rai
First developed in Japan in 1990, metal clay is a different way of working with metals. Metal particles, an organic binder and some water are combined to create a putty-type substance that can be moulded and shaped, dried and fired either with a torch or a kiln. It is a beautiful addition to our ways of working with metal and artists working in the medium have fast developed their skills to do so.
Metal clay is available in many metals including fine silver, sterling silver, gold, copper, bronze and steel. It also comes in different forms including lump clay, paste, syringe and paper.
If you would like to see what is possible to create with metal clay check out the pieces submitted to the Metal Clay Masters Registry.

Motorised drilling and polishing
Drilling and polishing pieces has become a quicker process than our predecessors could ever have imagined as we have the benefit of using many nifty pieces of machinery including the pendant motor, flex shaft and motorised drill.

At the London Jewellery School last supplier event Petra from Metal Clay Ltd brought along one of the latest innovations in polishing - the Jool tool. You can have a look at a video review of the Jool tool here.
We all definitely had tool envy!

What other innovations have I missed? Have you tried 3D printing? I’d love to hear your thoughts on innovations in jewellery making. Please share them with me in the comments below

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Enamelling Art Clay 950

I am very fortunate to be one of the early testers for Art Clay 950, a product currently available for pre-sale from Metal Clay Ltd and launching on 1st September.

I wrote about my experiences with it in a previous blog post here. In this post I want to focus on the enamelled pendant that I made.

Making the pendant
I used a Quick Art template and the Quick Art stylus from Metal Clay.
I rolled the stencilled section out at 3 cards thick. It was easy to cut out the stencil using the stylus which has a really fine tip. My previous needle tool made that quite difficult because the needle was thick so it was difficult to get a neat line.
I dried and filed the stencilled section. I then added it to a 2 card thick layer of wet clay. Once dried I cleaned the edges with baby wipes to ensure no join was visible.

I fired the pendant on an open shelf on vermiculite in the following two part firing schedule

  1. Once your piece is completely dry put it on a kiln shelf, in a cool kiln
  2. Heat up to 500C and hold for 30 minutes (this first step burns off the binder)
  3. Heat up to 850C and hold for 60 minutes (this final firing sinters the metal particles)

However, I did find that another piece I made broke easily. I concluded that my kiln was under firing but other testers fired the second part of the schedule up to 870C so I will do that in the future to see if it makes a difference.

Firing results
The piece had bowed slightly after firing, nothing that I was not expecting.


Original Art Clay is excellent for enamelling because it is fine silver and therefore does not require depletion guilding to counteract the effect of the copper. I was interested to see how different this would be to enamel.
I went about enamelling this piece in the same way as I would enamel fine silver (by this I mean I did no depletion guilding).
I cleaned the metal with pumice and dried it carefully. I used the wet packing technique to fill the cells that I had created with opaque enamels. I had already tested my chosen enamel colours on scrap silver to ensure the colours would work well.

The colours I used were

Red - LJE0111 terracotta
Blue - LJE06356 dark lapis
Green - LJE0114 mid green
Yellow - LJE0105 sunflower

I did two firings of the enamelling for about 1 minute 30 seconds each time. On the second firing I added more blue and red enamel as the cells didn't look quite full.

Coming out of the kiln the piece looked like this. There were some brown spots and some enamel on the silver (next to the top left blue cell)

I used a medium diagrit and was easily able to clean the marks off the silver. I then used a fine diagrit, wet and dry papers and 3M polishing papers to finish the piece.

I'm really pleased with the result. It was much better than I expected as I had expected to see more of an effect because I didn't depletion guild.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Previewing Art Clay 950 - making and firing

I am very fortunate to be one of the early testers for Art Clay 950, a product currently available for pre-sale from Metal Clay Ltd and launching on 1st September.
I have really enjoyed working with it today. It's so similar to original Art Clay in terms of rolling, texturing and cutting. It take a little longer to dry but I found I had a longer working time too.

What is it?
This is a new product from Art Clay, one of the two main suppliers of silver clay in the world.  Silver clay is made up of fine silver particles, an organic binder and water. Art Clay 950 is 95% silver and 5% copper. The original Art Clay is a purer silver, 99% silver and 1% copper.

What are the benefits?

You might be thinking, well the original Art Clay is a purer silver so isn’t that better? The answer, of course, is it depends on what you want! Art Clay 950 is 60% stronger than original Art Clay because of the copper content. This means it is more suitable for making rings, bracelets etc and other items that might suffer more wear and tear.

In the UK silver up to 958 purity is hallmarked as sterling silver (925). Silver purity over 958 is considered Britannia silver (958), and over 990 is hallmarked as fine silver (999).
Sterling silver is recognised by UK consumers more than Britannia and fine silver and so for those of you hallmarking and selling your work this is a big plus.

Many of the clays on the market need to be mixed and kneaded before you can start work but this is pre-mixed, smooth and ready to use out of the packet (just like the original Art Clay).

At the time of writing, Art Clay 950 is slightly cheaper than original Art Clay.

Other considerations

The one downside for the hobby silver clay jeweller is that this clay does need to be kiln fired. This is the same with any of the sterling silver clays I have seen on the market. However, on the plus side this does not need to be done in carbon and if you have a programmable kiln this is easy to set up

The firing schedule
  1. Once your piece is completely dry put it on a kiln shelf, in a cool kiln
  2. Heat up to 500C and hold for 30 minutes (this first step burns off the binder)
  3. Heat up to 850C and hold for 60 minutes (this final firing sinters the metal particles)

The kiln can heat up at full speed, and doesn't need to cool off between the two stages. Avoid moving the piece after the first firing step as it will be fragile before sintering.

I wanted to test out a few features of the clay so have made three different items.

With the ring I wanted to test the shrinkage, ability to set a fireable stone and carving. I made a paste with 950 and tap water and was easily able to stick the dried set stone to the dried ring. Carving was a dream! I really love that having tried to carve original Art Clay and found it was easy to break it!

Ring shank with holes
I wouldn't even try this in original Art Clay! I wanted to test the shrinkage and strength when I hammer it around once fired. It is 5 cards thick before firing.

Enamelled pendant
I have used a Quick Art template and the Quick Art stylus from Metal Clay. It was easy to cut out the clay using the stencil. I plan to enamel in the recesses to see how that works.

Overall I'm really impressed with the clay. I will be firing it overnight and sharing the results tomorrow.
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