Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Making Solid 14k Gold Wedding Bands - Behind the Scenes


My best friend since childhood, Ruohan, is getting married this July. Since I make jewelry for a living, she decided that I would be the best candidate to make her wedding band. You may think this totally make sense, but actually it doesn't! I specialize in wire wrapped jewelry, meaning I do not solder or do other complicated metalwork. And one simply cannot have an unsoldered adjustable wedding band.

Having said that, I agreed to do it anyway, thinking I could use this challenge as an incentive to learn soldering. I knew Ruohan and her husband would wear the rings even if they turned out looking only "semi professional". After all, according to her, the most important thing was that they were made by me. 

I have tried soldering before and made myself a few crappy looking sterling silver rings. I had fun, but felt there was still a lot to learn. Plus, since I'd never worked with 14k solid gold before, I really didn't know if I would encounter any issues. And this was when I thought of my master metalsmith friend Katy of Kathryn Riechert Jewelry.  I asked Katy tons of stupid questions about the process. She finally couldn't stand it anymore, so she told me to go down to her studio and make the rings there under her instructions, and in return I was to teach her to cook Chinese food. I thought that was a pretty awesome deal for me. :)

So, with excitement, I ordered some 14k gold wire strips and 14k gold solder, and headed down to Katy's studio that has all the fancy equipment and tools... 


How difficult could it be to make two wedding bands? I just need to solder two joints, right? I thought. 

Turned out I was SO wrong.

The 14k gold strips were much harder than the wire I usually work with because of the thickness and width. My first task was to bend the wire and make sure the ends meet absolutely perfectly without any gap. This step took me a very, very long time. 


After I was (barely) able to form the loops, I soldered the seam -- now, THIS was actually a little easier than I expected. Unfortunately it was just one of the many steps! 

After soldering, I had to shape the rings on the mandrel into perfect circles by hammering repeatedly with a plastic hammer. 

I'm not going to tell you how much time this step took me. The wire was REALLY HARD! (Wait, did I mention that earlier?) No matter how long or how hard I hammered, the rings stayed "almost perfectly" round, but just wouldn't get any rounder. 


And then, ouch -- check this out, I just hit my finger REAL hard with the hammer. 


But anyway, with a little extra help from Katy, we finished this step, and the next step was filing and sanding. Doing detailed wirework everyday, I always thought I was a perfectionist and was very good at details, but each time when I was happy with the result of my filing and sanding and took the rings to Katy for inspection, she would point out all the scratches I did not see. ("There's scratches everywhere!" "Where? I don't see them." "Here! Here! You see that spot?")
Seriously? Alright, back to work….  


The fire scale formed during soldering gave the rings a rosy tone. After sanding, they now finally looked like yellow gold. By this time I was exhausted and starving, so we had to take a dinner (cooking lesson) break… followed by a movie… We shall finish the rings tomorrow. 


The next morning we moved on to the last step -- polishing. Katy warned me that my finger would turn black. She was right. Here's an picture proof of my black finger. The groom's band is almost polished ( can you see the shine?) while the bride's is not. 


The rings were finally completed after polishing, and Katy engraved the inside using her fancy engraving machine. It was really cool, I tell ya.  


And LOOK! Here's the final result! OMG!! I'm so proud of myself! :D 


Check out these gorgeous, perfect round circles! I've never appreciated a perfect round shape as much as these. :D


Check out the perfectly polished surface! Isn't that the most shiny thing you've ever seen? Not a single scratch. :D


Check out the beautiful elegant engravings! Fancy! :D


Now I was finally able to go home with two beautiful rings and some awesome fresh eggs from Katy's chickens. She had four chickens of different breeds and they laid eggs in different sizes and colors. The smaller ones are just half the size of the big ones. Aren't these cute?


I know I seriously couldn't have done it without Katy. What was I thinking to attempt the mission impossible? I've no idea. Thankfully Katy came to rescue. She was really an amazing artist and teacher. :)

 Here's a picture of Katy taste testing our dumplings. That sure was a fun weekend. :)


And, of course, here's the link to her shop again if you're interested in her jewelry -- I'm sure by now you know the perfection of her craftsmanship. :)

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