I'm often asked if it's possible to make engagement rings without going through the process of carving wax patterns and/or investment casting. Absolutely it's possible! A lot of older Art Deco engagement rings were made using the hand fabrication process. This process is where the entire ring is manufactured using sheet and wire stock- no castings are used.
You start with simple metal shapes and form them into sections that are then soldered together to make the ring. One of the best ways to think of this process is to imagine each part of the ring as a sub assembly- the head, the shank, etc. Once each sub assembly is completed they are joined together to form a whole ring and then stones are set and detail work can be done.
While the ring in this instructable is made from Platinum there's absolutely no reason you couldn't substitute Sterling Silver or any color Gold alloy when using this process.
Let's get started!
Step 1: Tools and Materials
I covered in great detail most all of the tools that jewelers use in this instructable so please refer to that for learning about all of the tools and how they are used. Reading through that instructable first will also explain a lot of the terminology used. There are links in each section to specific tools used in the making of this ring. If there are ever any questions about tools or procedures please don't hesitate to ask!
There are a couple of tools used in the making of this ring that aren't in the mentioned instructable, notably the jeweler's torch, ring bending pliers and rolling mill.
My torch of choice is the Hoke brand. I've been using one of these torches for almost twenty years and it's been great. For gas I use a mix of Oxygen and natural gas. The Oxygen regulator is set to 35-40 psi and the natural gas is pumped straight into the building at approximately 5 psi. Oxygen and Propane are also a good mix if you don't have access to natural gas.
The ring bending pliers are really nice because they don't dent the material as it is bent into a circular shape. If you find you're making a lot of ring shanks I highly recommend them. A substitute for thin material is to use bow bending pliers. If you're using thick material to make the ring shank you can always do it the old fashioned way- anneal the metal to soften it and then hammer it to shape around a mandrel.
A rolling mill allows you to roll out material in either flat, square or round shapes depending on the shape of the rollers. The one I use has various sizes of square shapes and a large flat section. On the opposite side of the mill there is a set of shapes for making half round wire. Rolling mills are bananas expensive- new prices range from around $300 to well over $1000 but you can often find them used on Craigslist at bargain prices.
It's certainly possible to make this ring without the pliers or rolling mill- they just make it a lot easier. If you can find the proper thickness metal you want to use from a metal supplier that can save you the trouble of using a rolling mill.
A really good source for jewelry metals is Hoover and Strong. I've been using them as a supplier for as long as I can remember and they've always been great to deal with!
Step 2: Fabricating the Head
In order to fabricate the head the first thing that is done is to make a frame (called a bezel) that will fit just under the center stone. This bezel will provide an attachment point for the prongs that will hold the center stone and also allow for the setting of smaller side stones.
A small section of square wire is annealed with a torch. This will soften the metal and allow it to be bent to shape without risk of cracking. Small sections of the annealed wire are shaped using a forming block and punch- this allows the shape of the bezel to more closely follow the curvature of the center stone than if it were just left straight.
Once four equal sections are made they are soldered together and filed smooth. Then the four corners are marked and a straight cylinder burr is used to cut notches that will hold the prongs for the center stone. There are eight notches cut because this design is for what is known as "split prongs." Split prongs are when you have two small round wires joined together to form a larger prong. A round single prong of this width would have a really heavy appearance. Because split prongs are flatter in cross section than a single round prong there's also more room to set a stone next to them.
Once the prongs are soldered in place the underside of the bezel is filed flat and the head is ready to be attached to the ring shank.
Step 3: Fabricating the Ring Shank
The ring shank is made from a single long section of square wire. The wire is annealed and the metal is bent to shape using ring bending pliers.
The design of this ring also called for small stones to be set into round tubes just underneath the head. To do this the ends of the ring shank were tapered by cutting and filing and then two small tubes were cut to the same thickness as the ring shank. The small tubes were placed at the top of the ring shank, where they will sit just under the head.
Next two small detail supports were made by rolling a piece of thinner section wire and then bending them with a slight curve using pliers. Then they were cut and mitered to fit between the underside of the ring and the tubes. Once the proper fit was achieved they were soldered in place and the ring sides were sanded flat.
Before the ring shank was soldered to the head both the head and the ring shank received a light polish. Polishing these pieces before soldering them together makes the final polishing later much easier.
Since this ring was made using Platinum a 1700 Platinum hard solder was used for all joints. For Silver or Gold alloys I would also recommend using the corresponding hard solder for all of the joints.
Step 4: Setting the Side Stones
The small border stones are set using the bead setting method I described in steps 7-9 here. Since this can be somewhat hard to decipher from photos I've also added a set of drawings that helps explains the process.
The basic steps are:
Use a knife edge graver to cut a border on the outside edges of the stone openings. The grooves should just come to the edges of the stone seats. Use a round graver to remove material between the stone openings.
Cut small lines between the stone seats with a graver to create small triangular shaped metal prongs- there are four prongs for each stone seat. Remove any excess metal between the stone opening and the cut border with a flat graver.
Before setting the stones in the stone seats go over the border area with a small stainless steel brush with a rotary tool in order to remove any metal burrs that are present as a result of cutting the metal with a graver.
Once the stones are placed in the seats use a flat graver to push the prongs over the stones. Then use a small beading tool to shape the prongs into a round bead shape.
Finally use a millgrain tool to add beaded edges to the borders around the stones.
Step 5: Setting the Center Stone
Since the center stone is a Round Brilliant cut Diamond it is set in the same manner as how I described here. This can be hard to show with photos so I've also included drawings of the process that shows the individual steps.
The basic steps are:
Gauge the height of the stone and mark the prongs where you want the girdle of the stone to sit.
Using a 90 degree hart burr cut the seats for the stone, taking care not to cut more than half way through the prong.
Bend back the prongs slightly using needle nose pliers. Bend them just enough to get the stone into position.
Now gently squeeze the prongs together so the top of the prong is just touching the top of the stone.
Using gem setting pliers grab prongs in pairs and squeeze them together to tighten the stone.
Once the stone is tight file down the height of the prongs and round them off using a small file.
Polish the prongs using a small polishing wheel.
Once the center stone is set the ring gets a final high polish and it's finished!
Step 6: Going Further
Here's a few jewelry pieces that show what you can do with hand fabrication. All of these were made from sheet and wire stock- no castings were used.
One of the big advantages of hand fabrication is that if you have a design that has lots of small openings and details it can sometimes be not only difficult to cast but also difficult to clean up the casting. Hand fabrication can sometimes alleviate this problem as you can cut each shape, clean it up with files and polish it before soldering an assembly together.
The other benefit is that with any casting there is always the risk of porosity- small imperfections that can form in the metal during the casting process. This can lead to poor surface finishes since microscopic pits can show up on the surface of a finished piece during polishing, giving a milky appearance. Since hand fabricated pieces are manufactured from wrought material it's very unlikely that porosity will be a problem.
The biggest downside to hand fabrication is often time- for a complex piece like the first two rings shown above it can take a long time to make a finished piece. Each ring has over forty soldered joints, all of which have to be perfectly cut and mitered before soldering! For simple designs you can sometimes make a hand fabricated piece in the fraction of time it takes to do a wax carving and casting.
Another benefit of learning hand fabrication techniques is the ability to repair damaged jewelry. The last two rings shown above were both severely damaged and very much in need of restoration. The first ring had one whole side missing and the engraving was worn. A new piece of metal was rolled out and fit to the side of the ring and then the pattern was pierced out. After that was finished all of the engraving was redone.
The last ring was damaged in an accident and was severely bent and several small bridges were missing- it was almost considered a total loss. After straightening the ring the cracks were repaired and the missing bridges were replaced so they ring could now be worn every day.
I hope you enjoyed this instructable and as always if there are any questions please don't hesitate to ask!