To follow up on the introductory cabochon-cutting tutorial from last week, Tom and Kay Benham also created a custom bezel to fit that freeform turquoise cabochon that features reticulated silver. Reticulation uses a torch flame to add interesting, natural-looking texture to your silver jewelry, which they chose to complement the cabochon's organic shape. With practice, reticulation can be as dramatic or as subtle as you like to suit your stone, and this silver bezel project can be adapted to fit most any cabochon that you could cut or buy. Enjoy!
Make the Reticulated Silver "Mystic" Bezel
by Tom and Kay Benham (from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, November 2003)
When designing the finding for our rough-surfaced "Mystic" turquoise cabochon (LJJA, June 2003), we knew we wanted a textured surface that would accentuate our rough, gnarly stone rather than surrounding it with shiny silver. We immediately thought of using reticulated silver, but soldering a bezel to its uneven surface can be difficult. So, we decided to make a separate back plate and sweat soldered the decorative, reticulated panel to its front surface.
80/20 reticulation silver, 20-gauge *
sterling silver sheet, 20-gauge
fine silver bezel wire, 3/16" x .013"
sterling silver square wire, 14-gauge
sterling silver square wire, 10-gauge
silver solder: hard, medium, and soft
white paste flux
dental floss or other thin, strong string
torch with medium tip
pickle pot with Sparex
stainless steel pins
jeweler's saw and blades
files, half-round and flat
fine brass brush
1" round wooden dowel
3/8" round steel rod
drill and assorted drill bits
Emery paper, coarse to fine grit
* Sterling silver can be successfully reticulated, but even more dramatic effects are obtained using 80/20 reticulation silver. Because the results of silver reticulation can be unpredictable, we purchased enough material so we could make several pieces and then choose the pattern that best suited our design. The unused reticulated pieces were set aside for future projects.
|1. The reticulation process is rather time consuming as the silver must be heated to a dull red numerous times to cause the copper in the silver to oxidize on the surface. After each heating, the silver must be pickled to remove the oxide layer, leaving a soft, white, fine silver surface that is then brushed with a soft brass brush, soap, and water. This heating and pickling process must be repeated at least eight times in order to produce a fine silver outer skin. The sterling silver left below the fine silver outer skin melts at a lower temperature and the uneven cooling of this melted layer causes the metal surface to buckle and wrinkle.|
2. The actual reticulation is accomplished by heating the silver until the surface immediately beneath the flame becomes shiny. Keep the flame moving slowly across the surface so that the shiny area moves along with the flame. Don't leave the flame in one spot too long or you will burn a hole through the surface, as we did on one attempt. We placed our silver sheet on a small rotating firebrick that we kept moving in an attempt to produce a circular reticulated pattern.
3. Once the entire surface is reticulated, allow the piece to cool. Pickle it to remove any oxidation and then rinse and dry. Place the reticulated metal, detailed surface up, on a bench plate and then flatten it using a soft-faced rubber mallet.
4. Brush the metal with a soft brass brush, soap, and water to bring up a lustrous, reticulated silver finish. Set aside until Step 10.
5. Form a bezel by bending a piece of 3/16" x .013" fine silver bezel wire around your turquoise cabochon, locating the square, tight-fitting butt joint at the bottom of the cabochon.
|6. Use stainless steel pins to hold the bezel to the side of a firebrick, making sure that the ends align perfectly. Apply white paste flux to the joint and place a pallion of hard solder across the joint. Heat the bezel carefully to dry the flux without losing the solder pallion. When the flux turns glassy, move the tip of the flame to the joint until the solder melts and flows. Allow the bezel to cool and then pickle.|
7. Cover the back of the turquoise cabochon with masking tape to protect it, then place the bezel over the turquoise and rub the assembly back and forth on emery paper to flatten or even the bottom of the bezel so it will sit flat on the backplate.
8. Select a sheet of 20-gauge sterling silver for the backplate, then place the bezel on the surface to check for any gaps where light shows through between the bezel and backplate.
|9. Apply flux over the entire backplate and place small pallions of hard solder around the outside of the bezel. Heat the backplate until the solder flows around the bezel but take care not to melt the bezel in the process. Allow the assembly to cool and then pickle it to remove the flux and any oxidation.|
10. Place the turquoise cabochon on the surface of the reticulated silver from Step 4. Move the cabochon around until you determine the most pleasing pattern. Mark around the cabochon using a fine-tip marker and then with a fine scribe. The black from the marker helps the scribe line to stand out on the reticulated surface.
|11. If you were not lucky enough, as we were, to have melted a hole in the center of the reticulated silver you will now have to drill a hole in it for the saw blade. Place your saw blade through the hole and saw inside the scribe mark to remove the center section.|
12. File around the inside of the opening in the reticulated sheet until it fits perfectly over the bezel.
|13. To help visualize what the outer shape should be, we placed the turquoise cabochon in the bezel and then placed short strips of blue painter's tape around the reticulated sheet to help us decide where we wanted the outer border. Once we had outlined a pleasing shape, we marked around it with a fine-tip marker.|
Tip: To prevent the turquoise cabochon from becoming stuck in the bezel, we laid a strip of dental floss across the bezel before inserting the turquoise an then tied it around the stone. If the turquoise cabochon is snug in the bezel, a little tug on the floss will remove it without any damage to the bezel or the cabochon.
For more great silver jewelry-making projects like this one, plus limitless inspiration, tips, and information about gemstones and making silver jewelry, subscribe to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine.