Jewelry Fabrication: Quartz Kelp Pendant, Part 4

My Kelp Pendant project is experiencing scope creep – the more I work on it, the more complicated and never-ending it feels.  Partially, this is because every bit of it is a learning experience.  Each completed step brings up a twist I couldn’t anticipate.  And partially, this is because Michael has different goals for the class than I.  I’d be cool with using this project exclusively as a trial for various techniques.  In fact, that’s my preferred approach for the whole course – I’m treating it as an opportunity to introduce myself to a bunch of metalworking skills while under adult supervision.  I mean, it’s also a way to maintain motivation through instances of failure (if I aim to create shiny perfect pieces, then it becomes REALLY tempting to hurl hammers when I accidentally break something I’ve spent days building).


Latest pendant state – still a while to go

Michael, on the other hand… Michael believes in a fully finished wearable product. Not necessarily perfect or even neat, but finished. As an artist, I fully support this; the only way to get better at producing completed work is by… completing all your work. As a student, however, I find it a royal pain. A discouraging and exhausting pain of discovering that despite all the work you just did, this still needs fixing, and that needs adding, and this third thing totally needs thinking on – so maybe another 6 hours of sweat, and THEN you’ll be done.

So that’s where I am with the Kelp Pendant in real time – emotionally depleted, and taking a break to explore anticlastic raising. But since this blog documents my progress with a couple weeks worth of delay, here is the latest of my GREAT Quartz Kelp Pendant ADVENTURE! *said in exaggerated booming voice*


Step bezel fitted and soldered, shown from the back

After several annealing and burnishing attempts, I fitted the outer and inner step bezels and soldered them shut. It was important to fit them so that the individual seams opposed each other, as this lends strength to the structure.

In the photo on the left, I have already used shears to cut off the excess of the step on the bottom of the bezel. It was necessary for the step to protrude during soldering as it let me place solder from the outside – which allows for better visibility and control.


Stone fitted in bezel, shown from top

An important aspect of fitting the bezels to each other and the quartz cabochon: always fit the stone to the metal in the same direction. This makes enormous sense, of course, as the stone isn’t a perfect oval, and the bezel won’t hold it unless it is a tight fit. The only problem getting there is keeping track of which side is which. Michael advised using a permanent marker to note where the stone touches the outer seam – and this mostly succeeded. The permanent marker came off easily during fittings, but reapplying it felt simpler than distinguishing the sides by the stone’s inclusions.


Polishing the bottom of the bezel to make the step and outer bezel rim even


Sanded from the top; View of bezel from inside, the step very visible.

Before fitting the bezel to pendant, I needed to file/sand it until the top and bottom were flat and parallel, and the height of the bezel at its ideal for the piece. Since I’m still afraid of sand-belts, I used my favorite method for getting smooth surfaces – whooshy repetitive motions across 80-100 grit sandpaper.

A surprise challenge: accurately estimating how the bezel will fit into the pendant when the surface you’re marking on is TILTED. I couldn’t. I decided to guesstimate, assume the worst, and then bravely saw out the half-oval to my potential doom.


Pendant marked for sawing


The bottom bravely sawed out

Eh! It could have been worse. Even though the cut-out line wasn’t a clean fit to the bezel, I was able to improve the fit by filing off bits of the pendant, and burnishing parts of the bezel. Specifically, the attack plan was this: mark areas where the bezel touched the cut-out – these are the spaces preventing the bezel from fully fitting into the cut-out. Sand those off. Refit, repeat. Try not to destroy it all.


Fitting the bezel to the pendant

But minor destruction is what makes it fun! Right? Right?!! At least that’s what I tried to convince myself when I tried too hard and generously filed off the pendant edge (which suddenly rendered the bezel free floating). While I was panicking, Michael corrected my mistake by annealing the pendant and tapping on the offending edge until it once again hugged the bezel. Then just as Michael stepped away, I, overwhelmed with relief, filed off too much closer to the center of the cut-off arc, leaving this nice wavy gap. I was too embarrassed to admit this faux-pas publicly, and managed to close it myself when soldering the bezel and the pendant together (by applying solder over and over and over to that gap. This led to its own problems, as you’ll see in a minute).

Here are some tools I used to perfect the fit of the bezel and the pendant. From left to right: burnisher for stone setting; chasing hammer; flex shaft with a sanding disk; permanent sharpie; scribe for marking.


Tools used for bezel fitting


Sanding tool perfection

Shameless tool promotion: I really dig these sanding disks. They’re small, flexible, and work great for small sanding jobs. They come in two sanding materials: adalox and cuttle; each of those comes in small, medium and high coarseness.

They are apparently produced by E.C. Moore Company, and can be stealthily purchased from Michael’s tool stash, or on Amazon.


Bezel and Pendant ready for merging, I came across the dilemma of holding the two parts flush together while soldering. Apparently, there is no need for such struggle. Instead, Michael suggested that I “tack on” the two together at the edges of the pendant with tiny amounts of solder. That way, the pieces will hold as one, and I would still be able to burnish to bezel wall for a tighter fit, or hammer the pendant to lie in the same plane as the bezel.

Of course, there was still the issue of that wavy gap I created with over-ardent filing. (You can see it on the left photo, at the bottom edge of the pendant. And then, on the photo on the right, you can also see the pool of solder I applied in that area to close the gap).


Bezel and pendant “tacked on”


Pool of solder at the ex-gap

Here, I really almost did destroy the piece.

To close the gap, I basically re-soldered the piece multiple times. I’d add solder, reheat the piece until solder melted, pickle-neutralize-quench it, check the gap – and sigh when it remained visible. So I’d do it again – completely forgetting that every time I heated the piece to the point of solder melting, ALL the solder would be flowing (including the solder in the bezel, and in the seams of the pendant face and lining). I also didn’t realize that solder flowed TOWARD heat – and that by heating the piece from the same location over and over, I was basically sucking all the solder towards it.


New gaps in bezel after extensive soldering

The result of my mistake can be best seen in this shot of the step bezel. The distribution of solder on top of the step bezel is all wonky: the left curve sports a visible disjoint; the right curve is flooded with solder and basically looks silver. Most disappointingly, the opposing seams, located at 12pm & 6pm of the bezel, both developed tiny dark gaps. Michael tells me the bezel is still completely structurally sound, but… it used to be so much prettier!!


Lesson Learned: Exercise heat control! And frakking plan the application of solder in a feasible progression ahead of time.

As I lamented earlier, there’s still a while until this piece is fully completed. There’s still the bail, to design and execute and solder on. There’s also the actual experience of folding the bezel over the quartz. Most dauntingly, Michael thinks that the inner step of the bezel needs to be raised, so that the stone sits higher in comparison to the face of the pendant, and thus stays visually dominant.

And I think… that these are all significant elements, essential to the overall feel of the piece. I’d like to do a good job on them. And I feel that if I tackled them right now, it would be a half-assed and half-hearted effort. So I will come back to this endeavor, perhaps by mid-summer. Meanwhile, anticlasting  – here I come!

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