As my second Work In Progress in Michael’s Creative Metalworks Studio class, I’m working on a statement copper pendant. If the domed ring is Michael’s intro project of choice, for the second one he likes to teach how to bezel set a cabochon. A major part of this lesson (as Michael reminds us every class), is that every design must begin with the decision point – an aspect which defines the measurement and development of the rest of the piece. In the case of a pendant with a bezeled stone, the dimensions of the gem are the “decision point”.
So I poked around Michael’s tray of “student quality” gems and picked a medium sized tourmalinated quartz. I aimed to develop a design around the stone that felt fun and challenging, and introduced me to a set of techniques I’m eager to learn – soldering and shaping bezels, piercing metal, and creating pendant bails.
Of the two of us, Michael is the braver artist – he took one look at my doodle and suggested a single enhancement that doubled the ambition and tripled the complexity of the pendant: to add a side strip that would raise the pendant front on an incline. He even suggested I craft it all in silver – silver !! – except I wasn’t emotionally ready to waste precious metal on a trial project, and was all like “Gaahhh, silver?! Too much pressure! Please let me use copper!”
I am happy that I managed to embrace Michael’s suggestion to add a third dimension to the pendant with a tentatively adventurous spirit. The addition of the side strip to vary the thickness of the pendant made it necessary to approach the design with precision. I got such a kick out of calculating all the lengths and widths and such in millimeters! I also feel like it’ll pay off in the end: I’m a beginner with untrained hands, so I will surely move away from my calculations during the fabrication process; but having a clear design and a step-by-step plan should help me proceed confidently from one stage of fabrication to the next.
Speaking of a step-by-step process for this pendant:
- For the quartz cabochon, fabricate a bezel and an inner step;
- Fabricate the side lining for the pendant body;
- Fabricate the pendant face based on the shape of the side lining;
- Attach the pendant face to the side lining and finish into a single piece;
- Finish forming the bezels; cut out a hole for them in the pendant body; fit and solder the bezels into the body;
- Set the stone;
- Create and attach the bail to the pendant;
- Polish & Finish.
As of this week, I’m only done with the first two steps. (*whines a little* This is going to take me forever!). Here are the stone with the incomplete step bezel:
What is this “step bezel”, you ask? Apparently, if you want your bezel to be open from the back to let the light through the bottom of the gem, one of the approaches you can use is to place the stone on a “step” – a line of metal that is just smaller in perimeter than your stone, and thus prevents it from falling out of the bezel. This “step” should be only about 2mm in height and fit inside the bezel exactly. I’ve yet to connect my first bezel and the inner step; though I grasp the theory of achieving this, I feel like there are so many things that could go wrong!
So while my bezel parts await their fate, I have successfully fabricated the side strip. If you remember my calculations drawing, I planned out this baby exactly, down to width and length of each section. And I followed this meticulously when cutting out the strip from sheet metal. Then I asked Michael how to shape the strip once I soldered it shut – and he told me with shocking zen that you just mold it “with your fingers”. Into an organic shape, you know?
“But.. but but, how do you make sure it’s… professional looking!” I protested. With great patience, Michael showed me that you can reinforce a draft of a shape by work-hardening it against mandrels and dappling spheres and anvils. Duh. So forth I went, and worked a shape reminiscent of my first design drawing.
And right as I was about to get super pleased with myself and start on the face plate, I realized that both the sides of the strip needed to be sanded: the bottom to sit flush on the table, and the top to sit flush on the pendant face (otherwise, I won’t be able to solder them together).
You guys. Sanding can be auditory torture. I used a page of the coarsest sand paper I could find in the studio (100 grade), and still took a solid hour trying to create an even reflective finish while minimizing screeching and cringing. I’m pretty proud of that ordeal though, as I worked out a method!
Use a permanent marker to color the surface you will be sanding – this will make it really easy to see any areas that are on a different plane from the rest of the surface. No need to apply a lot of pressure (that might only result in crumpling the paper) – instead use broad back & forth strokes evenly on the whole area of sandpaper. Beeee paaatient (try NOT to check every couple of minutes on whether you are done already).
Now, my side strip is all ready to be used as a shape setter for the face of the pendant. Next week, I will take a 22 gauge copper sheet, cut out a shape that’s slightly bigger than the side strip (to facilitate soldering), pierce any elements I need to be hollow, hammer the sheet into a totally flat surface, file off any piercing imperfections, and finally solder the strip and the face together.