Monday, 30 May 2016

Making of a Flower Wreath ring with Opal

Opal engagement ring

I thought you might like to see a few process shots of a ring I made recently. It shows the stages we go through when making something in metal clay.

Metal clay is basically a technique for working with silver that circumvents traditional casting and wax moulding. Instead of shaping a ring first in wax and then making a mould around that ring to cast silver in, with metalclay you shape the silver itself.
This is made possible with an ingenious bit of alchemy.
The silver is pulverized into tin particles. Half of the process is in fact already done as this silver is recovered and refined from photographic fluids and the like, so very much recycled silver.
The powder is then combined with an organic binder so that when you add water the mix turns into a clay that you can shape with your hands. It can be hand shaped, rolled into snakes and pressed into moulds. Once it is dry it can be carved, filed and sanded.
Once you've made your delicate clay creation it is then fired with a torch or in a kiln at a very high temperature. The trick is to make it so hot that all the little particles melt on the surface and stick together in a process called sintering. Make it too hot and the silver just melts into a blob. Very sad when that happens. The binder buns away in the heat and you are left with the pure metal.

This is a ring I made for Amy who lives on a long boat. She has a blog here. She wanted an engagement ring that could withstand a bit of water and her favourite stone is opal.

1.       First thing to do is to roll out an even slab in metal clay. The silver particles are mixed with a binder that make it workable like clay. I love working with this stuff
2.       Then cut to the right width – thank God for rulers.

3.       Shaped around a mandrel at this stage the ring has to be a lot bigger than the end target as the ring first shrinks on the mandrel (hence the gap you see) and then again in the kiln
4.       The shank has been filed and refined and is ready for decorations.

5.       The little element in progress here. They fun to make. Some are shaped by hand, some I have made tiny moulds for. I like having plenty to hand once the assembly starts
6.       The setting for surrounding the bezel is cut out in roughly the right size.

7.       Then sanded and made to fit perfectly. Again it has to be slightly larger because it will shrink around the little fine silver bezel
8.       The setting is fitted to the shank using slip clay and a lot of water. A little hole in the bezel gives the clay a good mechanical bond so it won’t fall out.

9.       Flowers and leaves go on one tint bit at a time.
10.   I wear magnifying glasses to see what I’m doing at this stage :o)

11.   The ring has dried and is ready to go in the kiln.

12.   Several hours later it comes out again and is looking good. It has that white look as the silver particles ‘stand up’ straight out of the kiln. When burnished it gets the proper silver look.
13.   Checking the size. Luckily it came out a perfect K

14.   And the stone still fits. Yay
15.   After a few hours in the tumbler the ring comes out all shiny.

16.   Just been dipped in liver of sulphur. Completely black.
17.   Polished back to shiny again. This procedure leaves a little bit of black in all the recesses which emphasizes all the little flowers and details.

18.   Ready for setting the stone. It’s always best to do that last so it doesn’t get damaged during polishing.

The end. Then the ring went to my proper photography station for the last shots before I had to say goodbye.

metal clay process