Making 18K Yellow Gold Studs with Aquamarines

Each year around the same times, in May and December to be exact, my Dad approaches me with a very special request: He is desperately looking for a Birthday and Christmas present for my Mum. Since he is the the ‘King-of-Shopping-Haters’ and I am the creative one in the family, it is obvious to him that I need to come up with an idea for the perfect gift à la ‘She’s your Mum… You know what she likes!’. Most of the time, he lets me know his budget and the colour spectrum he has in my mind and I am sent on my way!

Sometimes, this quest can be quite tricky. Sure, I know my Mum but she does not always fancy all of my designs. Trial and error… So, it is not always easy for me to come up with something I know she will like for sure.

This time though, despite his usual last-minute request, my Dad gave me two Baguette-shaped Aquamarines that he wanted to be turned into ear-studs. He envisioned a simple setting in 18K yellow gold. His instructions were pretty straight forward, so I did not want to interfere too much. Still, I was not keen on making a simple plain setting (I find that pretty boring) but I decided to go with a four-prong-setting instead.

Here are pictures of the making:

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 4.41.38 PMFirst sketches and calculations to place the 18K gold order. With me being used to the metric system, it can be quite a challenge to get everything right in inches. I was a little nervous when placing the order but thanks to a really nice Rio Grande employee, everything went smoothly.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 4.39.08 PMFiling and Folding of the box-setting from a strip of gold.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 4.39.41 PM    Soldering the box-settings with my mouth-blowing-torch.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 4.39.58 PMThe soldered settings.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 4.40.17 PMCleaning, filing and sanding of the outsides.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 4.40.34 PMSoldering of the prongs and the strip that is meant to hold the stud. 

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 4.40.55 PMOn the left: After soldering. On the right: After pickling. Before the prongs were soldered, I filed a bearing in the boxes that is meant to hold the stones comfortably.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 4.41.23 PMOn the left: Unpolished. On the right: Polished but not set yet.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 4.51.58 PMThe finished earrings.

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 5.38.23 PMThe finished earrings.

Happy Birthday, Mama!

I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed making the earrings!

Thank you for reading.

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Plasma Cutting, Sandblasting & Powder Coating

Recently, I spent quite a bit of time researching tools and metal-working techniques again and I thought it would be nice to share the information and maybe get some professional tips from you guys.

Plasma Cutting: The reason why I had a look into plasma cutting was because of my frequent use of laser cut elements in my art & design work. Ideally, I would LOVE to have my own lasercutting machine but even the used ones are still super pricey. The second-hand machines I found that are capable of cutting 1mm stainless steel sheet started around $20k. This is a price I can’t afford at the moment… not sure if I ever will but I very much hope I might be able to purchase one further down the road.

As ‘Plan B’, I heard about the possibility to plasma cut pieces and I decided to have a look into that technique. I found a company, PlasmaCAM, that offers plasma cutting systems. The system is made from a cutting table that holds a hand-held plasma torch and plugs into your personal computer (needs to be Windows). It comes with a software that enables you to cut customized shapes. I watched the demo-video and it seems pretty easy to me to operate. The system does not come with a plasma torch, so this machine needs to be bought separately. I guess this is good on one side, given that you can choose yourself which machine to work with and how pricey it can be. On the other hand it is an additional cost. I called up the guys from PlasmaCAM to inquire about the price of the 4×4 table, which comes to $6980. I was further told that a plasma torch for my needs would approximately be around an extra $2000. The shipment of the table would approximately come to $190, so the final price is somewhere around $10k. For me, this is still a pretty steep price that I cannot afford right now but I am happy to know that there is something out there that I could use for big designs further down the road. For my jewelry, I think I will have to stick to lasercutting after all. The cutting line of the plasma cutter is too wide for my designs. I need to be able to get more into details. Also, I heard that the cut on the back can be pretty messy and needs a lot of cleaning. I wonder if this depends on the plasma torch one uses? Probably also speed and temperature?

PlasmaCAM cutting table

Sandblasting: Further I had a look at a sandblasting machine. I will need one for my enameling-work and I was once again surprised by Rio Grande. (My new pink kiln arrived by the way and it waits for me to start working with it once the studio is set up. Read more about the pink enameling kiln story on the Rio Grande ‘The Studio’ blog ‘A Kiln of a Different Color’ and my research on ‘Enameling Kilns’). For the studio in Shanghai, we bought a sandblasting cabinet from Italy that I believe was around 2000€, so I started having a look at DIY home-built options, since I did not want to afford that much. Luckily, it seems like I will not have to go that far and build it myself, since I found a cabinet, the ‘Small Benchtop Pencil-Style Bead Blaster’ on the Rio Grande website starting from $145. It is not massive but big enough for my use and they also offer a bigger version for $185. All you need in addition is an air-compressor, which comes to $150-200.

Rio Grande ‘Small Benchtop Pencil-Style Bead Blaster’

Powder Coating: Yesterday night, Barry and I went to visit the Meyda Lighting company and workshop in Utica NY, and I was amazed by the dimension of their production! This place is glass and metal-working paradise! They really build all their beautiful lamps from scratch. Even the metal parts are hand-made. I was very impressed.
During the tour, we passed the powder-coating facility, which intrigued me quite a lot. I love using color in my work and I had heard of the technique before but I did not know how to use it. I conducted some research on it this morning and to my surprise, it does not seem to be complicated at all. I think I will give it a go in the near future. Have a look at this DIY garage-made video to see how it works.
Further, I had a look at the Eastwood website, a company that specializes in automotive parts and powder coating. They offer powder coating kits from $99.99 for the ‘Original HotCoat Powder Coating Gun’ and $169.99 for the ‘Eastwood Dual Voltage HotCoat Powder Coating Gun’. They also offer pretty attractive starter kits. In addition to the gun and the powder, you need a compressor and either a toaster oven or normal cooking oven that reaches a temperature of 400F.

Eastwood ‘Dual Voltage Powder Gun Starter Kit’

The World’s Largest LED Free-Hanging Chandelier was designed, engineered and installed by Meyda Lighting for the historic Stanley Center for the Arts in Utica, New York.

I am still trying to get everything together for my studio and nothing is set in stone yet, so if you have suggestions or better information on the mentioned tools, please let me know. I would appreciate your opinions and experiences.

Thank you for reading.
Please have a look at my websites www.lisa-juen.com and www.proonk.com.
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Enameling Kilns

For the last couple of days, I have been spending time on getting to know more about enameling kilns, since I am currently trying to collect and decide on tools for my OWN future workshop! … My mind is still throwing a huge party by the mere thought of it! 🙂

So, I started off having a look at all the major websites, such as Rio Grande, to compare models and prices. In the USA, it seems like the most common kiln makers are Paragon, Sierra (but it looks like they closed down), Evenheat, Olympic, Amaco etc.

For my studio, I would like to have a kiln that is preferably not too small, preferably heats up to 1200°C, not too expensive and that can have the heating elements changed easily, since I am currently facing huge problems with the Chinese kiln at the AIVA studio. A nightmare really!

On the Rio Grande website, they offer two types of kilns, one small version, ‘Rio Model 900 Enameling‘ and one big version, ‘Rio Model 1000 Enameling‘. I would like to get a kiln that can be programmed, in case I have to leave the studio or want to fire glass/porcelain, so a fully manual one is not an option for me. Both Rio kilns come with a digital programmer that can be individually set. The main differences that are important to me are the size and the temperature range. The small kiln has a chamber that measures 216mm x 229mm x 114mm, the big one measures 215mm x 230mm x 220mm. The max temperature of the small kiln is 1093°C, the big one reaches 1232°C. The small one costs $685, the big one $899 plus shipping (app. $50).

Then I continued having a look at the Paragon website and I instantly fell in LOVE with this kiln!

Yes, I admit that the colour does give me a special thrill and I know that the mere sight of this little machine would put a smile on my face every day! …and I really thought that this would be the one but there are some issues with it of course…

I originally thought that it would be great to have a kiln that can be used for several making processes, like enameling, firing PVC clay, firing porcelain and glass etc. and all of this seems to be possible but the question comes up if it makes sense to go for this one, since it is more specialised for firing PMC clay, not enamaling. It is more pricey than the Rio Kilns too. It would come to $860 plus shipping (the price is from the Paragon website) but I was willing to consider a buy anyway because I thought since it is made by a proper kiln company, it would weigh up the price difference in quality. Until I found out that the Rio kilns are made by Paragon too! Have a look at an online discussion about this here: www.pmcguild.com

Another fact that makes me hesitate to buy this kiln is the fiber chamber which has the heating elements embedded in it. In case of the heating elements breaking or any other sort of damage, the entire chamber needs to be replaced, which is not only a more complicated procedure but also more pricey. I found one website that offers replacement chambers for the kiln: http://www.ottofrei.com They sell them starting from $270. 😦 Depending on the use and the duration of each heating session, the heating elements will die sooner or later.

Also, apparently ceramic fiber chambers were originally put into kilns for the use of PMC. The ceramic fiber makes the kiln heat up and cool down faster, which is more appealing for the PMC firing process. Since for normal enameling, the heating temperature needs to stay on a steady level for a longer period of time, the heating elements have to ‘work harder’ and might die faster. Normal firebrick kilns need more time to heat up and cool down but they tend to keep the heat for longer, which makes it easier on the heating elements too. Also, the heating elements are not embedded in the walls but lie in a slot that is cut into the firebrick, which makes it super easy when having to replace them.

I found a really great blog that explains kiln and maintenance related issues pretty well: www.electrickilns.blogspot.com

After this set-back… (I was pretty disappointed!)… I decided to go with a firebrick kiln, since I will need it more for enameling, and I started to compare the Rio kiln models with the other Paragon firebrick models. It looks to me like the ‘Rio Model 900 Enameling‘ is pretty much identical with the Paragon ‘Xpress E9A‘ ($835 on Paragon website).

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a similar Paragon model to the big Rio kiln. The bigger Paragon models won’t heat up to 1232°C, which is quite a shame, since I would like to be able to fire ceramics as well.

I then found two more interesting websites on my quest to find out more about Paragon kiln pricing (I am on a budget of course) and to my surprise, I found the Paragon ‘Xpress E9A with window’ for $697 including shipping at www.cooltools.us and for $645 including shipping at www.metalclaysupply.com. Both companies offer the option to choose from different casing colours (pink, purple, black & turquoise) for an additional $50. So, there might be happy mornings ahead for me, thanks to a quirky pink little machine!

So far so good… But now I find myself in a little dilemma not being able to make the decision to either go for the small Paragon version (in blue or in pink) or for the big Rio kiln.

I am not sure, if I will really ever properly use the measurements of the big kiln, so why pay so much money, but then it would give me the possibility to fire ceramics (maybe). On the other hand, the small kiln is more cost efficient and saves space in the studio. (The big Rio kiln will cost about $950!! and they are currently sold out!) By the way, does anyone know of a similar model that is comparable to the big Rio kiln?

So, is it better to go for a small version first and maybe get a bigger one at a later point or should I opt for the big pricey one in the first place, although I might not really need it?

I would love to hear your opinion on this! Please leave a comment in the feedback or mention me on Twitter & FB! I would really appreciate it! Thanks.

www.proonk.com, www.lisa-juen.com