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Jewelry design is a bringing together of precious metals and stone from earth's past with natural materials from the present. I usually begin with a rock I have dug or have purchased. At this stage the material is referred to as "rough". The rough is clamped in a rock saw, called a slab saw, that is lubricated with a cutting oil. Slabs are cut from the rough. Next an outline of the desired finished shape is drawn on the slab and several cuts are made with a trim saw to remove excess material. The stone is then further trimmed and polished on a water-cooled grinding machine or carved by various carving tools to produce a cabochon.
When working with gold, I begin with commercially produced nuggets called casting grain. These are melted in a crucible and the molten metal is poured into a mold to form an ingot. The ingot is then worked into the required shape and thickness by use of a rolling mill and draw plate. Using the sheet and wire thus produced, I fabricate a setting by manipulating it and soldering as necessary. Because of the high cost of gold, the challenge is to produce a setting using the least amount of metal while providing sufficient strength as well as an aesthetic appearance. After the major forming work has been completed, the entire setting is polished to remove tool marks. The stones are then 'set' using the prongs I have fashioned to hold them.
Since silver is much less expensive than gold, I can maintain an inventory of various shapes and sizes of manufactured sheet, wire, bezel, tubing, etc. with which to work. There is less concern about the amount of metal used, thus cabochons are frequently mounted on a silver sheet (bottom) and held in place by a bezel (side) soldered to the sheet. Reticulation is a process of heating metal (in this case, sterling silver) to the point where it begins to draw itself into ridges and valleys and take on a wrinkled texture. The trick is to stop heating before the wrinkles become a puddle.
Faceted stones are usually cut from higher grade and harder material than are cabochons and are usually translucent to transparent. Setting them requires the use of prongs (rather than bezels) to permit more light to reach the stone. Faceting is a specialized form of shaping stones requiring a precise control of the cutting angle. It is a time consuming endeavor and an art form in itself. For my designs I use commercially faceted stones for all sizes under 6mm. Larger and unusually shaped rough becomes a personal challenge worth the time.
Frequently I will use natural material such as pearls, shell, coral, wood, bone or antler as well as beads fashioned from stone or glass. Regardless of the materials used, the goal is to create a functional and pleasing piece of wearable art - the kind where the clothes are the accessory, not the other way around.