A lesson in gold

I just finished listening to an interesting question and answer session with Maria Popova on the Tim Ferriss show. In the interview, she quoted from Dan Gilbert's book, Stumbling on Happiness, in which he writes:

"Human beings are works in progress who mistakenly think they are finished".

Maria Popova goes on to talk about the delicate balance between self acceptance, personal growth and the resistance to thinking of one's self as having arrived at a final product or being.

Since moving to New Hampshire, I have had the good fortune of working in a combination jewelry studio and retail store. I didn't fully understand (and still don't) how much more there is to know about jewelry and jewelry making until my first day. It has almost been a year since that initial day and I have just begun to glimpse the vast amount of knowledge that is available. This is at times completely frightening and disheartening, but also exciting and exhilarating. I am encouraged by the idea that there will always be something new to learn and my own path of exploration will never end. However, for the present moment, I feel as though I have been thrown in the deep end of a pool, my head barely above water. It has become a daily mantra to remind myself that I won't be perfect the first time (or 10) that I attempt a new skill. I cannot allow myself to drop into a pit of despair every time I accidentally melt something while soldering or it takes me about 100 times longer than I had anticipated to finish an apparently simple task. With every new project comes unforeseen challenges, but rare instances of clarity are becoming more frequent. I am beginning to build trust and confidence in my own abilities. I aspire to continuously learn (and make mistakes), while also practicing gratitude for where I am right now.  With that said, this post is about a recent custom job and the process behind it.

The commission I received was to create a pair of daisy earrings in 18 karat gold with diamonds set in the center. Up to this point, most of my work has been done in silver with few designs having included stones. I was both excited and daunted by the prospect of working in a different material, setting the diamonds and creating a final product that would meet the expectations of the customer in a reasonable timeframe. I decided to make two pairs of earrings, one in sterling silver and one in 18 karat gold. My plan was to first practice setting the diamonds in the silver pair and then move onto the gold.

I began by creating a design in wax. I injected wax into a previous daisy mold and drilled a hole in the center to fit the tube setting that would later be added in metal. The waxes were then sprued, meaning attaching a wax rod to the original wax design, which will act as a tunnel for the molten metal to flow through during the casting process.

Wax flowers

Below is an image of waxes attached to sprue bases in preparation for casting. If you would like a longer description of the casting process, I have covered that topic in a previous post.

Waxes on sprue bases

Once cast, each earring was cut off the now metal sprue and polished using a variety of abrasive wheels attached to a flex shaft (similar to a high speed dremel). If you would like a further discussion on polishing, check out this post.

IMG_5271_2 Polishing silver and gold flower earrings

After the earrings were polished, I cut a length of 18 karat yellow gold tubing to fit into the hole in the center. I used 18KY tubing for the silver earrings as well, providing additional practice before setting the diamonds in gold.

In the image below, the sterling silver earrings already have diamonds set in the center, but it shows the tubing (top left) that was cut and then soldered into the center.

Sterling silver and 18 Karate gold daisy earrings

The next step was to solder the tubing into the center of the flower earrings. I started with the silver earrings (on the left) and then the proceeded to the gold (on the right).

Soldering tube setting into silver daisy earring Soldering tubing into 18ky daisy earring

One final polish and it was time to set the diamonds.

Final polish on silver and gold daisy earrings

I used a GRS BenchMate (a movable arm with a vise at the end) and Jett Sett (grey putty that hardens when cool) to hold the earrings in place while hammer-setting the stones. I first set the stones in the sterling silver (left) and then the 18 karat yellow gold earrings (right). What was not pictured was me struggling to get the diamonds perfectly aligned in the tube setting. It was surprisingly difficult to ensure the stones were pointed straight up before hammering the sides of the tube setting to secure the stone.

Setting diamond in center of sterling silver and 18 karat gold earring Setting diamond in the center of 18 karat gold daisy earring

I then laser welded earring posts to the back. One final polish and they were finished.