Recently, I wrote about a design and fabrication project that I was commissioned to do by a relative. The commission was to create a pendant setting for an oval Sunstone that she had in her possession. In this particular case, the challenges were rather daunting, and if this hadn’t been a relative, I would have politely declined. The Sunstone face had quite a few large chips, and the back was uneven and crumbling.
I started the project by sanding the back of the stone to level it out and make setting possible. As I worked carefully on the stone, I discovered as chunks fell off the back, that originally the back had been the front. Tiny micr0-mosaics began to emerge. Unfortunately, the micro-mosaic inlay was also damaged, so I couldn’t make use of the design. To stabilize the stone, I created a bezel out of masking tape and poured black resin level over the back. Once this was cured, I was able to sand the resin down so that the stone wouldn’t be so bulky.
The next step was to fabricate the bezel itself. My design incorporated strategically placed leaves to hide the rather large flaws on the face of the stone. I hand-fabricated each of these, as well as creating the corkscrew “vines” that would tie the leaves together visually.
Much to my great frustration, I had just put the finishing touches on my bezel/leaf combination when I discovered, in trying to set the stone, that the bezel I had created from 24 gauge Argentium Sterling sheet was too thick to push successfully over the stone. I had to scrap the entire bezel, carefully cutting it apart so that I could extract the stone without damaging it. (I didn’t damage the stone, but I did slice my finger in the process.)
Bezel #2 needed to be constructed differently and I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I realized that re-fabricating the original design with much thinner gauge Argentium Sterling sheet wouldn’t solve the problem. Because the stone top was completely flat, I would still end up with unattractive puckers in the bezel setting when I went to bend it over the stone. (Think furniture and upholstery…if you are trying to upholster a flat round table with a piece of round cloth, you’ll have extra folds of fabric to overlap.)
In venting to my husband about the problem, he inadvertently gave me the perfect solution when he said, “too bad you couldn’t set the stone from the back.” (If I had emoticon capability on this blog, you’d see a light bulb here.) I ended up constructing a new setting – a pedestal prong design- for the stone. In this type of setting, a collar of metal surrounds the stone, and prongs soldered to the outside of the bezel are bent over the stone to affix it in place. For my adaptation, the longer end of the prongs extended to the back of the piece so that I could bend the prongs over the back instead of the usual over-the-front setting. The beauty of this solution is that I could also solder all the leaves on the front of the bezel strategically in place to hide the stone’s flaws, and also display the stone’s back with the tiny micro-mosaic original flower visible.
Here is the finished piece (front view):
And, back view (note the micro-mosaic flower):
So in the end, although I might be sprouting a few gray hairs from the frustrations I encountered during this process (not to mention actual blood and sweat), I did learn some very valuable lessons, including even a new setting technique!