So, I'm beginning a new piece, one of my Stepping Stones pendants and I've gathered together the semi-precious stones I may use along with some granulation and some already smashed granulation.
I've cut a couple of shapes that I want to use as the base of two pendants. They are cut from 24 gauge sheet of Sterling silver. At this point, I've got about an hour and a half of labor into the piece with the making of the granulation, smashing it with a 9lb hammer and cutting and lightly sanding the edges of the base.
Here you can see that I've set down the first large smashed stone, in silver. It has some paste silver solder under it that holds it is place temporarily as I work then when I heat it with the torch, the paste will liquefy and when I remove the heat, it will harden. I've added two 4mm silver bezels, one on each side of the large, flattened, silver stone.
Here it is with more small bits of smashed stones added in Sterling silver. I pay attention not only to the size of each new smashed stone that I lay down, but also to its depth or thickness. It is this play of size and depth that adds to the surface tension and therefore the visual interest of the piece. Each new piece goes down using fine tip tweezers and a bit of paste solder under it
Here it is with everything in place. I strive to balance out the sizes of each smashed bit of granulation, creating a sense of flow and moving the visual interest around. My idea is for it to look like a portion of river bed or garden path. This process takes about 30 minutes
This is what it looks like after I've torched it. The torching is the trickiest part. Because each of the smashed bits of metal is a different size, a different depth and in some cases, a different metal, they each respond to the heat differently. If I heat a small bit too long, it will melt into a puddle. If I don't heat a larger or thicker bit long enough, it wont adhere.
Another issue is that as the paste solder becomes a liquid, all of the tiny pieces want to move about and sort of swim in the liquid. I use a titanium stiletto to very carefully move them back into place. After about 5 minutes of slow, thoughtful, purposeful moving of the flame across the piece, all of the solder stops bubbling and starts to gleam telling me it's done its job. When I remove the heat everything tightens back up and basically solidifies. It's also covered in black fire scale.
Next, I throw it in my hot pot of pickle which is an acid that cleans off the bulk of the fire scale. Then I clean it the rest of the way with small rotary discs on my flex shaft. This takes about me about 30 more minutes. Next, I added a few more smashed stones scattered over the original ones. These are all bronze or gold. Then it's back to the torch, more pickle and more cleaning with the flex shaft. Once I have finished, I then take a different sanding head and remove all of the excess silver base from around the edge of the piece so that none of the background piece shows on the edges and it has a more natural look without hard edges showing around all of the smashed stones. Including the final sanding to smooth the edges with another tool, this takes about an hour.
After I drill a hole through the top for the jump ring, I then pop it down in to the tank of my tumbler along with a bunch of other pieces that I've been working on. The tumbler has about two cups of stainless steel shot in it along with cool water and 2 TBS of liquid cleaner/polisher. It will tumble in this contraption for anywhere from 3 to 8 hours, depending on how many pieces are in it and how much time I have. The tumbling action helps to clean out any debris I've missed in the recesses, polishes the surface to a mirror like shine and work hardens it. Work hardening is important because all of the heat used in the soldering process softens the metal, making it bendable. The tumbling action of moving against the stainless steel shot is somewhat like hammering which causes the work hardening. Basically, each step that I take with the metal changes it's molecular makeup. Tumbling takes it to it's hardest state.
After taking it out of the tumbler, I then dunk it into some Liver of Sulfur. This is a thick, gooey paste that smells like rotten eggs. It is mixed with warm water and the piece is placed down into it for about one minute. After bringing it out of the sulfur, I wash it with plain old dish soap and let it air dry. It now has a charcoal coloration on the silver and the other metals have darkened a bit. I want the piece to be it's regular shining colors of silver, bronze and gold, but I want the negative spaces in between all of the smashed metal stones to be dark, like grout in a stone pathway or sand in a river bed. So now, I have to use my flex shaft and a fine sanding head to remove all of the color from the surface making sure not to remove the color from the spaces in between the stones. Doing this makes the piece rather dull, so back into the tumbler it goes for just about one hour. Any more and it will start to clean the patina out of the spaces in between. Another 1/2 hour has been added to my work time.
Here it is after cleaning off the patina but before re-tumbling it. The surface is all a bit darker than it would be without the patina, giving it a somewhat aged look. I'm really liking the play of the second layer of stones that I added in gold and bronze.
As you can see, there are five, little empty bezels scattered across the surface too. I will set those with 4mm, rose cut, Peridot cabochons. To do this, I mix up some two part epoxy and place the tiniest dot of it in the bottom of each bezel cup. Then, using my tweezers, I carefully set the stone down into the bezel cup and push it down flush with the bottom surface of the cup. Once the epoxy has dried, which takes less than 5 minutes, I use a bezel edge turning hand tool to gently, yet firmly, turn the top edge of the bezel over the top edge of the cabochon to completely encase it in the silver. This takes another half hour or so.
The last step is to cut the Sterling silver chain to length and affix one end with a large, closed jump ring and the other end with a fish hook closure, both of which I have made at an earlier time and stored for later use.
And ........ here is the finished pendant. I have about five - to five and a half hours of active work in the piece along with five 4mm cabochons and Sterling silver bezel cups, about .7 ounce of silver, a negligible bit of bronze (bronze is inexpensive) and 5 itty bitty smashed balls of 14k gold. The cost of supplies is about $60.00 and the cost of labor is about $150.00. I priced the piece at $245.00 and it sold within 3 hours of putting it in my booth. Lesson learned - it was under priced!, which I kind of knew, but pricing for the Saturday Market is tricky, too low and I loose out on my profit, but it sells quickly, too high and it sits on my racks for a long time. Next time, I'll price something like this at $275.00.