Years ago when I was learning the trade I would struggle with bead setting. The method of bead setting that has been taught for years consisted of drilling and cutting the stone seats, then the dreaded operation of digging your graver into the metal pushing and lifting while you are rocking your graver back and forth to raise a bead, wipe the sweat from your brow, and then raise the next bead. Then after all the beads were raised, the tedious task of trying to bright cut around the stones without chipping a girdle or dulling your graver on a stone. Then sit back and say with a grimace, its almost satisfactory! I would see an antique piece of jewelry come into the shop and wonder how those old craftsmen could do such excellent work with out all the fine tools we have today. Without flex shaft machines to drill and cut seats, and power assisted gravers for setting and engraving, accurate power graver sharpeners, and laser welders. Those old boys that did such beautiful work probably did it with an old sharpened nail as a graver and used a dog on a treadmill or a monkey tuning a crank on a gear box for the power to drill and cut setting seats. (O.K. it probably wasn’t that bad). Today we still marvel at the quality of the fine craftsmanship they produced with limited tools and equipment. If you ever inspect some of this antique bead setting you will notice bright cuts that go deeper than the girdle of the stone that is set, very clean bead and bright cut plane junctions and smooth and sharp bright cut corners. About 17 or 18 years ago an owner of a trade shop brought a few bead setting jobs for me to set because he did not bead set. During our conversation the subject turned to high quality bead setting and the technique these old timers used. I learned a lot from this man that didn’t do his own bead setting, but he knew the technique. I use this technique for most of the bead setting I do now, even emeralds and opals. There are many diamond setters today that use this technique but the majority of stone setters I talk to still use the "dig, push and grunt" technique. The ring I am setting for this article will have four graduated stones on each side and will be set using shared beads. Lay out the stones and mark them the way you are familiar with. I use a light film of bees wax on the surface of the jewelry and position the stones in place, then lightly heat with a torch to melt the bees wax. After the wax solidifies I pick off the stones and the bees wax leaves a mark right where the stone is to be set. Be sure to leave a space between the diamonds to be set so when the seats are cut the diamond girdles do not touch or overlap. Now use a center punch or an old sharpened bur shank to punch a dimple to start your drill. I like to drill a small pilot hole first, which prevents a larger drill from wandering from the correct position. I then choose a drill that is one half to two thirds the diameter of the stones to be set, to drill its hole. Now bur the holes the same diameter of the stones. I like to cut my seats so the table of the stone is slightly below the surface of the jewelry piece, this provides ample material for the bead . In photo 1 you can see the depth I like to seat my stones and the thin metal wall between the stones.
With an onglette or point graver cut an outline around the outermost edge of the stone seats. I cut the groove to or below that of the girdle, this gives real depth to the finished setting job. Using a point or onglette graver at this point during the setting, you are actually cutting out the bead blanks with one side of the graver and the bright cut with the other side of the graver (photo 2).
Now we have a sharp triangular post where the bead will be. Using a small flat graver cut the sharp fin or flashing from these bead blanks (photo 3).
If you neglect this step you will spend much time later trimming flashing around stones which will dull your gravers and possibly chip a stone. The next step is to clean out the metal between the bead blanks. Use a small cylinder bur to grind the metal to just below the girdle of the stone (photo 4).
On occasion you will need to clean out the seats again with a setting bur to seat the stones properly, they should drop into the seats without force. Place the stones in their respective seats. With a round graver the same width or slightly wider than the bead blank, start to push the bead blanks down toward each other, and toward the stones girdles that will share this bead (photo5).
The beads should make contact with both girdles, making sure the stones stay level with the jewelry surface during this process. Choose the proper beading tool for the bead and work each into a uniform shape. The last step before polishing is to use a very sharp flat graver to widen the bright cut if needed and remove any unwanted tool marks left from previous steps. You may also want to bevel blank areas for a faceted look and square off one or both ends of the bead set area (photo 6).
If your flat graver was sharp you will only need to lightly buff the beads and bright cut area with a small bristle brush charged with rouge and polish the piece for delivery. This technique of bead setting may not be faster than the traditionally taught bead setting technique, but it is not slower either, and does not require brute strength to move the bead. In the end you should have a superior setting job. I think you will like the results.
Many bench jewelers I visit with love to show me the tools they have made for a particular type of job. These jewelers almost always say they needed a tool to do this or that but there just wasn’t one out there, so instead of buying a new tool they built it.
Next months article will feature a new tweezer a young jeweler invented. It knocked my socks off when I saw it. I wondered why no one had come up with this before. I now have one and it makes life as a bench jeweler a whole lot easier... but that’s next months topic.
Another tool I was impressed with was at the 2006 “Midwest Jewelry Expo”during a bench seminar by Harvey and Carl Stubenvoll. They were demonstrating how to put on platinum prongs with an electric soldering machine. As all the bench jewelers were watching Carl work on a platinum ring, someone asked Harvey what a particular tool was on the bench and the attention shifted for a short time to this “holding jig” Harvey had invented, and it is slick. If you have ever tried to position a piece of stock or wire in the correct place using a third hand, you know how frustrating it can be. You put your wire or stock in this jig and turn a couple of screws to move the stock exactly where you need it. I thought of all the years I’ve spent trying to use a third hand and finally pull out the stock being held, and just hold it freehand. Harvey said that he builds and sells them to jewelers. I don’t recall the price but it seemed well worth the money.
My dad is another one of these guys, a true “jeweler-watchmaker do it yourselfer I can build whatever you need kind of a guy”. I suppose that’s where I learned to make or repair what I need instead of buying it. Throw in a dash of frugal and you can really have some fun. Like the time I purchased an old rusty snowmobile trailer from a friend of a friend. I thought to myself I can just replace a few rusty parts here and a little hardware there and it will be just like new! Well, 215 lbs of new steel, 5 lbs of 6013 welding electrodes, a new coupler, two and a half sheets of treated plywood, a little paint, 3 weeks of evenings and weekends and ”PRESTO” a just like new snowmobile trailer. And the best thing about it was that it cost $50.00 less than if I had bought a brand new one retail!! Oh well. I better stick to jewelry.
Years ago when I was starting out in the trade I was trying to purchase casting equipment on limited funds. I bought a centrifugal casting machine, wax pen, investment mixing bowl, everything I needed but could not afford the investment vacuum machine. I went through all the beginner problems such as bubbles or nodes and flashing on my castings. I tried vibrating the investment to debubble it, I tried painting the wax model with investment before investing, I poured investment in from this or that angle, but was never able to obtain real clean castings.
I suppose I was moping around grumbling about those lousy castings when my dad said lets just build a vacuum machine, how much money do you have? I think I had about $75.00 to my name, and probably mumbled that no one can get a vacuum machine for seventy five dollars. This was in the late 1970's. We hopped in the car and headed for Minneapolis. My dad said our first stop will be the surplus store. Wouldn’t you know he found a high quality vacuum pump that had been made in France, it had been used by Honeywell when they were building parts for NASA. It was over kill for my purposes but it was only $25.00, I couldn’t believe it! He then said I know of a machine shop where we can probably find an investment table. Sure enough he found a 14" square 3/4" plate of aluminum in their scrap and got those machinists to drill and tap it for us for $5.00. Then to the hardware store for some valves, pipes, a vacuum gauge, hose clamps and vacuum hose. We then ordered a rubber pad and bell jar at a jewelry tool supply and we were set. We mounted the plate on an old bench with springs so the plate could be jiggled during investing and put the pump under the bench. That vacuum looked crude mounted on that old bench but it worked great, and the cost was under $50.00. I still use that old pump and investment table to this day. A couple years ago I had a sheet metal shop bend some galvanized sheet metal for a cabinet and I mounted the pump and table to it to dress it up a bit. I also welded a stainless steel casting chamber to cast perforated flasks and mounted it on the cabinet. This old pump will break 2 lbs of investment in 8 seconds. This almost sounds like an old man talking about his first car, doesn’t it?
Take a look at the pictures I’ve sent along with this article. I have the vacuum in this cabinet, but have bought a small cart to mount it in so I will be able to wheel it to a different part of the shop when I am not using it.
If you have a favorite tool or piece of equipment you have made, take a picture of it and send it to me if you get a chance. It’s always fun to see something new and interesting. I will sign off for this month, I need to get back to my current project of building a laser welder from some old lawnmower parts and a microwave. (I think it will work!!)