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SILVERSMITHING

Silver metal comes in either flat sheets or wire. It’s then cut, shaped, soldered and polished into a piece of jewellery through silversmithing techniques. This is a breakdown of the steps involved.

1. Sawing / cutting the metal

If using flat sheets of metal, a silversmith will use a special jewellery saw to cut out shapes or strips for making a piece of jewellery. When working with metal wire, wire cutters are needed to cut a length to size.

The type of jewellery saw used is important. Blades are available in different sizes – some are for all-round use for example and others are better suited to more intricate or detailed work. The smaller the size number of a blade means more teeth per inch on the blade itself.

The quality of a saw’s blades is also crucial for a silversmith. Blades need to be top quality to ensure the best results. They should be regularly lubricated with Bees Wax or similar, which helps with keeping a steady sawing rhythm.

2. Filing

Once the metal has been cut, the rough edges then need to be filed down using a jeweller’s file, before the piece is shaped and soldered. Filing also needs to be done later on in the process, once soldering has taken place.

Jeweller’s files come in various types too. A file graded to a size 0 or 1 is used when heavy filing is required. These files will quickly remove sharp edges of metal. Files graded to a higher number have a finer cut and are generally used for detailing.

3. Hammering and shaping (metalwork)

Silver metal is shaped while it’s cold. It can be hammered, textured and bent into shape using a raw hide jeweller’s hammer. There are many different types of hammers available. Silver metal can be shaped around a ring, bracelet or neck mandrel to make the required curves, or hammered and textured on a flat metal block.

4. Soldering

To attach two pieces of metal together, for example to join a ring band or to add detail to a piece, a solder will need to be used. Solder is available in flat sheets or wire too.

Before solder is used, a silversmith will clean the shaped metal in an acidic solution which is referred to as “pickle”. Then they will apply something called “Flux” – a treatment that keeps the metal clean while it’s heated and helps the solder to flow.

The metal must be heated with a torch to the right temperature before it can be soldered. This can be tricky to get right at first but a general rule of thumb is to ensure that the metal is glowing red before adding the solder to join the metal together. After soldering, the metal is cleaned again in the “pickle” solution for a few minutes.

5. Finishing and polishing

Once the silver metal has cooled, the silversmith may reshape by hammering again if required. Then, to ensure that the metal is smooth and no joins can be seen, additional filing and sanding will take place.

To finish off a piece of silver jewellery, it will need to be polished to achieve a smooth, shiny surface. This can be done by using a buffing wheel and afterwards, by hand with a cloth and rouge (a jeweller’s polish) as a final step. Other finishes can be added to silver jewellery at this stage, such as a patina or antique silver finish.

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