The first thing that happens is a stone or two will jump up and say, "Make me! Make me!"
I let them out and start tracing their shapes on paper. I hunt through my bins to find any other stones that want to play.
Once I have the idea in mind and on paper, I have to figure out how everything will connect together.
For this piece, I wanted the lines to stay clean. I like making big stones look light and whimsical. Adding metal for connections would have weighed it down. I decided to leave a lip on the large stone and then mimic that idea on the bottom stone. This way the two side stones have a place to connect.
Happy with the design, I start making bezels to fit the stones. Here's the first one getting ready to fire. This is for the stone on the right.
I use fine silver for this part. Fine silver is .999 pure silver. Sterling silver is .925 pure. That's why you'll see a .925 stamp on sterling silver pieces. Fine silver is a little softer, so it forms around the stones better.
After soldering the bezel together, I reshape it around the stone to check the fit. See? It doesn't quite fit. There's about a millimeter gap on each point. That's too much to compensate for, so I re-cut the bezel and soldered it again just slightly smaller.
After it fits right, I solder the bezel to a sterling silver back plate. Here it is right after soldering.
I fire this part from underneath. The bezel is fine silver which melts faster than sterling. If you don't know what you're doing, you'll get a big, old melted blob on top. Then you get to start over.
Next I cut away the excess silver around the stone and file it smooth.
I do this process for each stone. Here are all of the stone settings. They're now ready to solder together.
This part is tricky. Everything has to line up so the back is flat. No wonky tilts or shifts that cause asymmetry. You know I like asymmetry - but it has to be deliberate, not because the soldering didn't work right.
Here it is all put together.
Look at the back. Ick! You'd never know that this'll eventually look good.
In my first silversmith class I was so disappointed until I found out this is always how it looks during the process.
To the trained eye, this is perfect. No solder spills, everything's even and lined up.
I throw it in the hot pickle (pickle is a solution that removes all of the flux and gunk that gets on the piece during firing). Even out of the pickle, it's a little rough looking. I do an initial polish of the whole piece.
Then I set the stones. This part is a nail-biter particularly for those long stones. The longer and skinnier a stone is, the more prone it is to fracture. This one went without a hitch. Whew.
A final polish and ....... Ta da!
I figured you'd want to see the back all cleaned up, too. Here it is!
(Note: A better photographer could have had this turn out great on a white background. But all you get is me. Help me, please.)