Jewelry making is the art of constructing artistic articles (personal ornaments and daily accessories) from metals and other materials such as gemstones, pearls, glass, amber and mother-of-pearl. It also encompasses a wide range of techniques such as forging, repoussage, incrustation, carving, niello and cloisonne enameling.
Although fashion trends in jewelry metals come and go, three noble metals remain very popular with jewelers.
Metals are hard, strong and durable. They are also good conductors of heat, transferring it easily to other materials. They can be used to make tools, hammers, drill bits and even aircraft components.
Almost all of the metals that are used in jewelry making are alloys (blends of two or more metals). Gold is the exception, being a pure element. Alloys allow the benefits of each metal to be combined.
Silver is the most popular metal for jewelry. Sterling silver is 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper, and it can be worked in the same ways as pure silver. It is durable, tarnish-resistant and affordable.
Brass is a golden-colored alloy of copper and zinc that is often used for affordable plated jewelry. It is harder than bronze and less expensive than silver. It can be oxidized with humidity and regular cleaning, but can be restored by reducing exposure to moisture or by anodizing (passing an electrical current through it, which causes it to self-coat in a variety of colors). Pewter is a modern zinc-based alloy developed to recreate the advantages of historical lead-tin alloys without the toxic lead.
Stones come in a plethora of colours and shapes. Sheila uses a variety of stones in her jewellery inspired by tradition like amethyst, which is a type of crystalline quartz that ranges from pale lilac to purple. She also uses black hematite, which has a magnificent metallic shine similar to silver and is often used in Celtic designs. Sheila’s Orkney Celtic Connection and the Runic Torque bangle showcase polished hematite to stunning effect.
Sheila prefers to use a wire bezel setting, which provides a secure and protective environment for her precious stones. This method requires strong metals to create enough pressure and tension to hold a stone firmly and is best suited to hard gems such as sapphire, ruby and diamond which are very hard on the Mohs scale of hardness.
To make a wire bezel, hold the outline wire together with your fingers and with your thumb and forefinger twist the wire to form a coil. Repeat this around the stone with short wraps to secure it, then clip off any excess wire with a pair of wire cutters.
Metal clays are a flexible metal medium that artists manipulate by pressing, rolling, squeezing and sculpting into a variety of shapes and textures. These are then dried and fired in a kiln to produce a solid metal element. The elements can be combined with traditional jewelry making techniques to complete a design.
Many different types of metal clay are available including silver, copper and bronze. Silver clays are formulated with tiny particles of silver in a mixture of distilled water, binder and other additives. These additives help the clay stay moist and soft. Excess handling of the clay by rolling, texturing, re-rolling and re-texturing can cause these additives to break down so it is important to only handle fresh clay.
Adding other products to the clay such as anti-stick sprays, lubricants, oils and releases can also negatively affect its workability. This is because the binders in the clay can be broken down with overuse and repeated exposure to chemicals.
Jewelry makers also use different kinds of glass to make necklaces, bracelets & rings. One of the most common types of glass used is blown or pressed glass. It can be clubbed with various other elements of jewellery making to produce unique and aesthetically pleasing pieces.
Fused glass is another popular type of glass that is used for jewelry making. The process involves melting a combination of different colored glass pieces in a kiln. Using molds, the fused glass is then used to make pendants, earrings, cuff bracelets & beads.
Some kiln artists like to use paints and decals designed specifically for glass. This technique is known as lampwork. Lampworked beads & pendants are very popular with tourists. Recycled glass is also used for jewelry making. It is usually made from glass that has been retrieved from other broken objects, such as bottles or windows. This makes the jewelry eco-friendly.