Fellow jewelry makers, are you up for a challenge? This project shows you how to set three differently shaped, unique styles of stones (cabochons, flat beads, and faceted gems)–and then put them all together for a stunning pair of red-carpet-worthy earrings. Once you’ve mastered the stone-setting basics in this tutorial, you can repeat the process to create jewelry set with any stones you like–cabochons, faceted stones, or just about anything in between.
By Helen Driggs (from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, March 2010)
I made these earrings because I’ve been challenging myself to set at least a stone a week to keep improving my skills. Setting stones cleanly is hard work and I think it’s good to practice often. Every time I set a stone it gets cleaner and easier. The good thing about earrings is that you don’t waste a lot of metal if you mess up. The bad thing about earrings is that you have to make two, and usually, they should match. These are interesting because they combine classic faceted ovals, flat backed stone beads, and freeform cabochons. The purple and green combo is something that reminds me of childhood-my favorite elementary school teacher used to wear a color blocked dress that was like a Mondrian painting of bright purple, white, and kelly green and I just loved it. The hardest part of these earrings is fabrication of the step bezels. I’d do those first, because you won’t want to try them if you are tired. Once you’ve done all the fabrication, sweat soldering the wire on the back is so simple-I was pleasantly surprised at how fast it went.
26- to 24-gauge patterned sterling silver sheet
3mm-6mm bezel wire (stone size determines)
22-gauge round sterling wire
oval faceted prasiolite pair *
flat-backed ruby in zoisite bead pair *
sugilite cabochon pair *
hard, medium, easy solder
jeweler’s saw frame and blades
round mandrel or small dowel
plastic or rawhide mallet
jeweler’s rouge or Zam
torch and setup (soldering block, pickle pot)
* Use any gems you like, of course–just note that Helen used faceted gems (prasiolite), cabochons (sugilite), and flat-backed beads (ruby in zoisite).
|1. Fabricate a step bezel for both oval faceted stones. Solder them closed with hard solder; pickle, rinse, and dry. Clean the joins and edges. In a step bezel, the girdle of the stone must sit exactly on top of the inner bezel, and the outer bezel must be deep enough to extend below the culet of the stone once the back of the bezel box is soldered on. Take the time to measure carefully, work with well annealed bezel wire, and solder cleanly. There is almost no forgiveness when fabricating step bezels. You can purchase premade step bezel wire if you’d like. If you do that, jump to photo 3.|
|2. Solder the inner bezel to the outer bezel with medium solder. Take care to locate the solder seams on the opposite sides of the piece. Pickle, rinse, and clean finish.|
|3. Verify the fit of the stone. It should sit securely on the inner step, with enough bezel extending above the girdle to roll over the stone and hold it tightly.|
|4. Fabricate bezels for the sugilite cabs. Solder closed with hard, pickle, rinse, and dry. Clean finish the edges and join.|
|5. I roll printed some scrap 24-gauge sheet for the backs of my bezels. When I finished, the metal was a hair thicker than 26 gauge. You can work anywhere between 24 and 26 gauge, patterned or plain metal, but keep the final weight of the earrings in mind as you create the bezel boxes.|
|6. Solder the bezels to the back sheet with medium solder. Make sure the pattern is on the back of the bezel, not the inside. Saw out the bezels and clean finish the edges.|
|7. Add backplates to the step bezel boxes as well. Again, use plain or patterned metal according to what you have on hand, just solder them together with medium and clean them up well after cutting them out.|
|8. Pickle all parts, clean up with a brass brush, and prepolish the insides of the step bezels to a high polish. Once you set the stones, you won’t be able to polish again, so now is the time to clean finish the insides of the settings.|
|9. I used a different backplate pattern for the saddle-shaped middle stones. These were top-drilled beads with flat backs I had left over from another project.|
|10. Fabricate bezels for the middle stones and solder them closed with hard. Clean finish. Make sure they are deep enough for the tallest part of the bezel–in this case at the sharply angled points.|
|11. Solder the bezels to the (mine is patterned) backplate with medium. Pickle, rinse, and dry. Saw out the bezels and clean finish all edges.|
|12. Measure the bezels to locate the center point. Mark with a Sharpie.|
|13. Use a half round file to match the bezel to the profile of the stone. If your stone is a consistent depth, skip this step.|
|14. Verify the profile match of the bezel and the stone for both earrings. Take the time now to clean the setting as well as you can, because once you solder the bezels to the ear wire, it will be more difficult.|
|15. I decided to knock off the very severe and sharp edges of the beads to allow a bevel for the solder join on the inside of the bezel. I used a diamond cylinder bur and worked in a dish of water, keeping the stone and the bur wet at all times. This precaution is worth taking to prevent the tiny stone from cracking when it is pushed into the bezel box during setting.|
|16. Cut two approximately 4″ lengths of 22-gauge round wire, or 24 gauge for smaller pierced ear holes. File the ends flat.
17. Sort the stones, finished bezels, and wires into two separate piles. It is very important not to mix them up.
|18. Turn the bezels for the first earring over to the back. Make sure to maintain the proper positioning of the tops and bottoms and order of the bezels. Draw a Sharpie line down the center of each bezel box.
19. Use the triangle file to run a shallow cut along the drawn line. Do not cut through the sheet. You only want to create a channel into which the solder can flow when you’re joining the ear wires.
|20. Press the bezels into the soft firebrick (I used a new magnesia brick) so the backs are level and the filed channels are in a straight line. The indents will also serve as a reference for soldering the second earring.|
|21. Flux the entire back of all three bezels. Cut two small chips of easy solder and position in the channels. Sweat solder the bezel backs, then attach the ear wire to the soldered channels, taking the torch away immediately when the solder reflows.|
|22. I set my stones starting with the bottom sugilite. Work carefully around the bezel and back and forth across the stone. If there are tight curves, compress those first.|
|23. A thin burnisher is a good tool to use for earrings and other small stones. This one is great for getting into tight spots to burnish the silver to a high polish.|
|24. When all three stones have been set, complete the second earring. I find it easier to set one earring completely before soldering the second one so there is no chance of mixing up the stones.|
|25. Use a round mandrel, a tool handle, small stake, or piece of dowel to form the upper curve of the ear wires.|
|26. Cut the ear wire to desired length. I made my wires as long as the earrings to prevent them from sliding out of my ears. File the end smooth and sand to a velvet finish with sanding sticks. Make a small bend about 3/16″ from the end of the wire.|
|27. Hold the earring against the side of a steel block and hammer the wire gently with a rawhide mallet to work harden the ear wire. Repeat for second earring.|
This project is quite a stone-setting workout, and after you’ve done it, you’re ready for the big time! Get more instruction and inspiration for making bezels like Helen created, setting stones, and creating jewelry set with gems in Bill Fretz’s Expert Bezel Forming DVD or instant video download.
This diagram might be helpful to you for envisioning how to create step bezels.
You can also download this project in its entirety in PDF form.