When it comes to making bezels, the hardest part for me (and, so I've heard, for many of you) is the piecework of cutting bezel wire to fit together just right. While soldering a bezel, the solder will flow up into the seam of the bezel wire–but it will only fill so much space. If your bezel wire ends don't match up perfectly, you'll have a noticeable gap between the ends of it that solder will not fill. So you can see why getting bezel wire ends to be perfectly straight and match up juuuust right is so important.
|Photo by Wendi Beauford.|
The key to creating perfect bezel wire ends is in the cutting. Jewelry designer, master metalsmith, and Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine contributor Lexi Erickson answered a Jewelry Making Daily member's question that is so good, I had to share with all of you.
The bezel-scissor question from Jewelry Making Daily member earthstonedesigns:
In all of my jewelry techniques that I have learned and do successfully, the most frustrating to me is getting my bezel wire ends to meet properly without a gap. On a given day, I can spend an hour or more trying to get a perfect fit, and if I just go for what I have, well, you know the results. I have gotten suggestions, mostly involving a piece of tape or sticky note to wrap around the stone, then laying it on the bezel wire to cut. For me, it is as unpredictable as my normal way. I am beginning to wonder if it is my scissors. If so, what scissors are best?
|Photo by Micah Jones.|
Lexi The Soldering Queen's answer:
The very best bezel scissors are dental scissors. They will cut a hair's width of bezel. I used to tell my students to never cut their bezel, always file and fit, and then re-file and fit. Yes, it can take hours. But several years ago I got a pair of these scissors. I haven't filed a bezel yet, and they cut such a minute amount of silver that they save countless hours.
On bezels, remember, they must fit vertically as well as horizontally. Most jewelers only fit it vertically, from side to side. But they have to fit smoothly on the top and bottom, too. Also, do not make a bezel to fit exactly. This must be one of the biggest secrets in all of jewelry-making-dom, because it's written in most of the books that the bezel must fit snugly. Then you solder it down, it shrinks, and you cannot get the stone in the bezel any more.
|Photo by Michele Grady.|
I teach this in my classes at BeadFest. When you fit your bezel around the stone, the easiest way to do it is with your fingers. Anything else just takes up time and doesn't give you an accurate measurement. You must make the bezel a "hair" (that's an explicit jewelry term) too big. The melted solder takes up a certain amount of space called a meniscus (it's like that bit of milk or water left in the very bottom of the glass), and it can take up as much as 0.5 mm of space. That doesn't seem like much, but you never knew how big a millimeter is until you make jewelry. It can keep your stone from fitting.
Also, not all bezel wire is created equal. Some bezel is not sold dead soft and must be annealed before you bend it, or it will keep springing open. Hauser and Miller's bezel is dead soft, but David H. Fell's bezel needs to be annealed. So get to know the types of bezel wire and solder that come into the jewelry supply stores and keep a record of where you buy your silver and how you like it. You will soon become a connoisseur of metal!
Jewelry Making Daily member BogIron also added a great bezel-cutting tip:
As for trimming the ends of the bezel after you have marked it to length, I have carried over a trick that my grandfather taught me from woodworking. When sawing a board, to get a straight cut, look at the reflection of the wood on the saw blade. If the saw blade reflection is parallel to wood, then the cut will be parallel to wood. I use the same technique when cutting my bezel; I mark it to length, use my small machinist square to establish a square mark on the bezel, and then I use my flush cutters to snip across the bezel, but before I snip, check that the cutters are at 90 degrees to the bezel by the reflection. If everything is aligned properly, the bezel wire will look like it is going straight through the nippers, and if not, it will look bent in the reflection. I know it sounds complex, but once you see it with your eye, you will wonder at its simplicity. After awhile with this method, you can do without using the square and go by reflection alone.
Now that you're armed with great tips and tools for making perfect bezels, check out our bezels eBook, 10 Bezel-Setting Projects, for 10 complete step-by-step bezel jewelry-making projects created by the expert jewelry artists and editors of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine.And if you prefer to learn through watching, don't miss Lexi's five-star-rated, best-selling video, Setting Stones with Bezels.
Do you have a question for Lexi about setting stones in bezels? Ask your bezel questions in the comments below!