by Michael Boyd
In our shop, we make hundreds if not thousands of bezels each year--sometimes twenty, thirty, and even up to fifty bezels for one piece of jewelry! Bezels offer the jewelry maker a nicely integrated gemstone setting that is secure as well as attractive. This type of setting is also particularly useful for unusually shaped stones and stones that need a little extra protection.
Basic bezel settings consist of two parts: a wire that wraps around and holds the stone (what is basically the bezel itself) and a plate onto which the bezel wire is soldered, which can then be soldered onto the piece. In fact, we cut out most of our bezels flush and later attach them to our pieces. We think this gives our pieces a cleaner look.
Most of the bezels we make are 22K gold on sterling silver plate. The process is the same whether working in all silver, all gold, or a combination of metals. We file, sand, and polish (to a tripoli finish) all of our components before we assemble them, which helps to create a clean, well-crafted look.
By following a few basic guidelines, your pieces will also look well crafted and clean.
The bezel wire: The first step is choosing the depth of the bezel wire. Bezel wire can be purchased in various heights (widths) and gauges. Silver bezel wire is usually fine silver (not sterling) and is therefore softer and easier to manipulate. You may want to anneal your bezel wire prior to use to make it more malleable. The bezel needs to come up the sides of the stone, high enough to hold your stone firmly in place, but not so high that it will wrinkle and cover the stone.
The stone: Another consideration is the stone. Choose stones that have an adequate bevel. A stone with straight sides won't stay in the mount. A stone with a bevel of about 55 to 75 degrees is good.
First fit: Working from the bottom of the stone, wrap the bezel tightly around the stone and mark the bezel with a scribe or marker where it overlaps. Cut on the outside edge of the mark with a shear. You need perfect 90-degree cuts on both sides. Diagonal cutters will leave a sharp edge that will need to be filed, but a good pair of shears won't.
Now bend the two butt ends toward each other. Let them overlap so that when you pull them back to fit them together, the spring you've created will keep them together through tension. It's critical that the fit is perfect: top to bottom and side to side. Any edge that is higher or lower will show when the bezel is folded over the stone.
Soldering the wire: Use the appropriate hard solder (silver, gold, etc.). Use 14K hard gold solder if your piece is 14K gold; silver solders for silver. We use 18K hard gold solder for our 22K bezels, then solder the gold bezels to the silver plate with hard silver solder. Place the solder chip on the outside edge of the bezel directly over your joint and heat until it flows. Then file and clean off the excess solder. The seam should be invisible from the top, bottom, and outside edge.
Second fit: Refit your bezel to your stone, again working from the bottom because the bottom is the critical fit. A perfect fit is one that is slightly tight yet allows the stone to slide easily through without tilting. If the stone rattles back and forth, the bezel is too large. If it's too small, though, you'll have to stretch it on a mandrel.
The plate: We use anything from 24- to 16-gauge sheet, depending on the application: light for earrings, heavy for pieces that will get more stress and wear. With a saw, cut a piece of sheet with at least 4 mm extra beyond the outside edge of the bezel on all sides. The plate needs to be perfectly flat, and the bezel should lie perfectly flat on the sheet.
Bezel to plate: Using a heavy flux (one that will have staying power with extended heat) and again using hard solder, solder your bezel to your plate. We use Griffith's Prips Flux, which also helps prevent firescale. Place your solder chips approximately every 6 mm around on the outside edge of the bezel--unless the outside edge of the bezel plate is to be incorporated into the piece, in which case, place your solder on the inside edge of the bezel so as not to leave puddles of solder to be cleaned up later. If the two pieces are flush, it should take very little solder.
Heat very slowly, remembering that solder flows toward the greatest concentration of heat. Being very light, bezel wire will heat rapidly, so concentrate the heat on the plate, which will heat more slowly. If you prefer, place the assemblage on a screen to hold it steady and then heat from the bottom. If your solder doesn't flow adequately, pickle and clean thoroughly; then reflux and remelt your solder, adding more solder if necessary.
Saw off the extra plate as close to the bezel as possible. Then file and sand the plate flush with the bezel. Now you can attach your bezel to your piece whenever you're ready. Here are a few more things to keep in mind:
- Keep your piece and all components as clean as possible. Use a hot pickle pot.
- Make sure all your components fit perfectly; don't use solder to fill gaps.
- While soldering, use plenty of flux and don't overheat your piece--and remember to breathe!
Michael Boyd is a jewelry designer, metalsmith, and lapidary based in Salida, Colorado. This article was originally published in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine.