Thursday, January 9, 2014

Heavy Bezels

Several readers have asked about the gauge of the bezels I’ve been creating.  Often jewelers will use fine silver in a 26 or 28 gauge for a bezel.  It’s beautiful to work with and folds over the stone like butter.  I like them when I am doing a pendant that is just pretty much the stone and without a lot of other flourishes.  Since the bezel has to go down before the decoration can go on you can take the chance of melting a delicate bezel while you adhere other “goodies” to the back plate or go with a heavier bezel.  And we all know I even melted a thick one – not once, but twice on the same piece.  What a “cluster” that was.  It was just NOT my day.  You have to learn to walk away from those! 
So, generally I tend to use a thicker bezel than most people.  I often cut my own.  I use pointed dividers and set the depth that I need the bezel by measuring it along the stone and run them down a piece of silver scoring a line.  At that point you can (1) saw off the bezel following the line and true it up on sandpaper held down on a flat surface like a clip board (2) use a mechanical cutter to cut off the bezel at the line – think guillotine cutter/ or cheap paper cutter (3) Use a pair of scissors capable of cutting down that line (I have Fiskers and Joyce Chens I use).  No matter what you use you will have to true up that edge and flatten /anneal that bezel.  It works great.  In the case of what I’ve been doing I happened to have some rectangle wire here that I’m using.  Since the oval cabs are pretty standard the height of it is working for me.  Rio Grande Jewelry supply carries several depths of wire so I decided to try it out.
I’m sure you are wondering why this was my choice of bezel – its sterling silver and heavy.  Well, I like heavy.  But, the catch is you can’t generally use a nice bezel roller to get the bezel down nice and tight. 
This is what I use:
...and a chasing hammer.
You can use any kind of chasing tool that is nice and polished up without obvious hard edges.  My favorites are nails I bought at the hardware.  I filed the tops down to have nice rounded edges and then I polished them on my wheel to a fine finish.  They are a good length so they don’t slip easily on the bezel or when I tap it with the hammer.  I tape the piece to my steel block or my table so nothing moves.  That table I work on is an old steel desk model and it took four men to carry it into the house - grunting all the way.   I tape the stone top too – I mean why go to all of this trouble to scratch that stone.  I’m pretty good but not infallible. 

Tape down the work on your steel plate. The tape is rolled up behind it. The stone is covered.

Then, it’s tap tap tap.  One side to the other in the usual pattern you would do to push any bezel down.  Granted, it takes a little longer.  But, consider this.  After your bezel is down you have plenty of leeway for cleaning and polishing.  On a thin gauge you have to be careful or you can go right through that thing.  It’s better to have that thin gauge bezel cleaned up and pre-polished (scratches out as much as you can) before you solder it to your back plate.  I've seen plenty of photos lately in magazines by people who say they know how to solder and yet I see gaps in bezels or places they should have used a file to take out some scratches.  There is even one person who has a DVD out on the topic.  How they can do that is beyond me.  I'd never want something on a cover to represent me that was like that - can you tell it makes me crazy?  Yes, a few things will always inevitably slip by anyone and be really viable pieces - beautiful pieces, but don't put them on the cover of something you're going to sell.
These are two of the hand positions I use for tapping down that bezel.  And I turn that steel plate around as I need it so I can get the best possible leverage.  I am not tapping hard but trying to be accurate.

Don't panic as you are tapping that bezel down.  It's going to look wobbly just like any bezel....just keep taking down the slack with your well placed taps.  And if the stone still moves just keep going, eventually it won't and you will know you are there.

See, I told you we'd get's nice and tight on that stone.
This is it!  The bezel is down nice and tight and I've begun polishing it down with my foredom and a fine silicone polishing disc
And just so you can see how fat a bezel can be and still be laid down easily with this method I've included this example.  It's old and dirty and I got it out of my example box.  The total length of that bezel is 3/4".  The stone is a hematite cab and the bezel is square wire.  It was good and annealed and made into the bezel shape to go around the cab.  After it's soldered down and the cab put in you use the same bezel punches I've showed you and tap around it at an angle and push the wire into the cab.  A quick polish after and it's great.  It traps that cab the same way rubbing a thinner bezel over the lip of the stone works.  Comparatively that bezel on this is huge but it does the job and would look way cool on a ring or on an accent stone on a broach.  You could even pattern the face of the bezel with stamps.  The only draw back to this heavy duty bezel is that you have to pick and choose what kind of stone to use.  There is plenty of tap tap tap with a hammer on the punch to go around and I would never use a stone that couldn't handle the pressure.  For example - skip opal, chrysocolla, labradorite, or anything with a hardness scale that isn't high on the scale or that is prone to splits or cracks.


Anyway, that’s my method for a thick bezel and I hope it answers any questions everyone might have about it.  Will I ever do a thinner bezel – absolutely.  I’m just about out of that wire, LOL, and it might be time for a few changes in designs.  We’ll see.  

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