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Ring (or brooch) of fire!

Whenever I'm making a piece of silver or copper jewellery, there comes a moment when I look at the heap of burnt and blackened metal and think "Oh dear! (or words to that effect!) I've screwed it up this time!"

The process of soldering the pieces of the ring or brooch together can be quite brutal. The heat oxidises the metal and it looks as though it has literally come through fire. If its a large piece, such as the copper brooch below, you have to use a big blowtorch and heat the whole thing to an astonishing degree to melt all the little bits of solder. The result wouldn't look out of place in the ashes of a bonfire.

Scap metal anyone? Copper ring after soldering.

Its hard to imagine that this unattractive bit of scrap will ever decorate anyone's body. At this point its essential to keep the faith. The first stepto remove all that soot and nastiness is to pickle the metal, which is to put it in a weak acid solution. Lisa, my tutor at the Cheshire School of Jewellery used to say "pop it in the pickle" so often that it took on the quality of a catchphrase, and I think of her each time I pickle something.

Druzy stone brooch under construction

Once the pickling is done, the most tedious part of the process begins - polishing. Its also, in my opinion, probably the most important step. If a piece isn't properly filed and polished it will look nothing, but a proper sparkle can cover a multitude of sins.

Finally after a suprising amount of meticulous work with files, various grades of sandpaper, polishing compound and a bench or hand-polisher, often finishing off with a wash in warm soapy water to get rid of the residual polishing compound, the piece is all shiny and its time to set the stone. Some jewellers like to set the stone before polishing, but I prefer to do the majority of the polishing first, so that the stone doesn't get damaged in the polishing. Also if I make a complete pigs ear of the piece during the polishing (which is not impossible!) I don't have to try and pry the stone out again.

Finally the finished ring, brooch or pendant sits on my bench, gleaming under my work light, and my main feeling is astonishment. Partly that such a beautiful thing can come out of the mangled mess of earlier stages, and partly that my seriously rudimentary skills as a jeweller can produce something that looks as though someone, somewhere, might want to wear it....

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