By Tamara McFarland of McFarland Designs
There are as many methods for making rings as there are jewelers, but the two main techniques are fabrication and casting. The casting process entails pouring molten metal into a mold in the desired shape, allowing the metal to cool/harden, and removing it from the mold. Fabrication, on the other hand, describes the process of forming metal parts with hammers, dies, and other tools, and then joining the pieces by soldering/welding.
In this post I will illustrate the typical process I use to create my ethical, handmade wedding and engagement rings for McFarland Designs. This example falls under the category of hand fabricated jewelry.
The ring whose creation I will outline below is a simple solitaire design in moissanite and recycled 950* palladium.
I begin with a strip of wire with the appropriate width and thickness for the design (this will be used to form the band), and a piece of flat sheet metal (which will become the bezel, the cup-shaped portion of metal that holds the stone).
Once the proper sizes have been obtained, the metal is annealed (softened) by applying heat from a torch.
The next step is to form the flat metal for the band into a continuous circular shape. I use a couple of different kinds of specialty pliers to achieve the closed shape, making sure that the edges meet cleanly and completely.
A similar process is employed to form the bezel. Another pair of specialty pliers bends the sheet metal into a rough circular shape, and a bezel block helps close the seam tightly.
Once both seams are closed cleanly, they are ready to be soldered. A small piece of solder is placed along the joint and heat is applied. The metal must reach a temperature of over 2,000 degrees in order for the solder to flow.
Now, back to the band. The next step is to form it into a true circular shape, which is done by hammering the band on a circular mandrel. For this ring, a hammered finish is desired, so once the band is rounded, I use a different hammer to apply the hammer marks.
After hammering, ring size is re-confirmed. Then finishing touches to the band are applied, including sanding by using a few different to complete the process.
The bezel follows a similar trajectory, but this time a bezel block is used to form the proper shape, resulting in a size that is slightly small for the stone to drop down into.
Finally, the time has come for the band and bezel to come together. As with the earlier solder joints, a tight connection is critical, with no gaps. An opening is cut into the band, and then a drill bit is used to shape the opening in the band to properly fit the size and contour of the bezel.
Once again, tiny clippings of solder are placed at the joints, and the metal is heated until the solder flows.
Next, it is time to clean up the inside of the band. Sanding cylinders, ranging from fairly coarse to finer grits, are used to shape, smooth, and polish the inner part of the band.
On to the best part – setting the stone! With the ring securely held in a clamp, a setting bur is used to cut a “seat” for the stone to be dropped down into.
To secure the stone into the bezel, the edge is hammered all the way around to bend the top edge of the bezel ever so slightly onto the stone, all the way around.
This ring was ordered with a matte (non-shiny) finish, which is applied with a texturing wheel and sanding sticks.
After cleaning and tumbling (which helps to harden the metal), the ring is ready for photography and shipping!
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about how my rings are made. Please forgive my messy workbench! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them here or email me at email@example.com.
*refers to the purity level of the palladium. 950 palladium is 95% pure.