Silver Fishes

New Sterling Silver Fish Pendants and Earrings

I’ve been nursing these designs for a while, sketching them out and refining them. I wanted to make something reflective of the beachy feel of coastal Cornish towns like Falmouth. Something fun but wearable that would sit well with all the stripey, seaside clothing that I see here in the summer:

These sterling silver fish began life as wax carvings. I got into working with wax a couple of years ago and it’s a wonderfully quick, expressive medium – I know that I’ve sung its praises on the blog before!

Working with wax is incredibly forgiving, cut too much away and you can just melt some more on! For me wax is a fantastic bridge between a drawing and metal as you can turn the carving around in your hands as you work, fully appreciating the emerging 3D form.

Wax Carvings

From here I send my wax fish to a casting company in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter where they are added into their lost wax casting process – going from wax to silver. I then hand refine these raw castings, perfecting the master patterns which are molded for re-production.

The moulds made from these master patterns allow me to build whole shoals of little fish. I have them cast to order by a small, family company who make a point of using recycled metal in all of the silver work that carry out for small jewellers like me.

Cleaning my castings:

Back in the workshop I cut away excess metal from the castings then file, sand and polish each fish by hand. Though the fish come out of a mould they’re all very slightly different as small flaws occur here and there and the pressure of my hand on the sandpaper varies across the day.

I make links to hang the fish from with silver wire, wrapping it around a drill bit to make them uniform. I cut the rings loose from the spool with a saw before they are fitted to the fish with pliers and individually soldered into place:

As soon as they’re assembled the silver fish are ready to wear. Personally, I like jewellery that I can leave on for days, sometimes weeks at a time – so I’ve designed these to be sturdy and wearable with just enough movement in them to make a statement.

Fancy a closer look? The fish are on my Etsy store here.

Press Forming Silver (for Jewellery)

I’ve had a lot of fun carving wax to make 3D forms lately but it’s been a while since I did any press forming to make a piece. This week I started a pebble shaped pendant that will be set with a constellation of topaz and diamonds. I made a note to document the process, to show my press forming method:

Press Tools in MDF and Acrylic

Press Tools:

I make press tools from MDF, which is easy to saw, or acrylic sheet, which is not so easy. The heat from sawing continually sticks the saw blade into acrylic (which can be incredibly frustrating) so for short runs/one off moulds I use MDF instead. I re-enforce both materials with nickel sheet, it’s tougher than silver and gives a nice, crisp edge to your forms.

 

Silver for  Press Forming:

Press formed work can be made in silver, copper, brass and a lot of other metals. The harder the metal the tougher a press tool you’ll need to work with it. I find that sterling silver doesn’t stretch that well under the pressure which I can apply with a hand operated fly press so I use Britannia silver instead. Britannia has extra stretch/flexibility and is legally hallmark-able in the UK.

Pressing:

I tend to go softly, softly with press work, building up the depth of the piece over several pressings instead of trying to stretch the whole thing in one go. I start with annealed silver sheet (this particular piece is also pre-textured) and sandwich it between the press tool and a sheet of firm rubber. Above this I add some cut down rubber, around the size of the mould, to give an extra push into the press tool.

Once I’ve got things started I’ll change around the positions of the rubber pressing pieces. I move the smaller, shaped pieces of rubber into the dips in the silver and then cover them with the larger sheet. I then press this, which forces the depression in the silver deeper:

As I go along I measure the depth of the pressed silver using a vernier gauge, ensuring that I’m pressing each half symmetrically for an even shape. I like the two halves to be symmetrical but I judge by eye when I feel that the shape has gone deep enough.

Cutting out the pieces:

Next step is to cut the pressed forms from the silver sheet, allowing the silhouette that I’ve been working on to appear. This part is always a little magical, until you get to the filing! I file the excess metal off the back of the cut-outs, removing the blocky edge from them and allowing them to join together smoothly.

Soldering Pressed Forms:

Soldering together and then reheating a hollow form isn’t advisable, you run the risk of exploding the solder joint as the trapped air expands on the second re-heat. This usually means that I put a couple of discreet drill holes on the back of a piece, to allow air to escape, but this particular pendant will be stone set so I can drill the setting holes in advance and solve the problem that way.

I stick solder the two halves together, keeping as much excess solder off the front and back faces as possible.

Cleaning Up:

After that I clean up the solder joint, fit a loop for the pendant chain and finish off adding drill holes/texture to the front of the piece. It’s now ready to hallmark (by laser, to avoid crushing anything) and set. Look out for the finished article appearing on the commissions page soon.

New Work: Birds

The late winter/early spring is always a quiet time for me. In a good way.

This year my first selling show will be in May so I’ve had the luxury of a lot of time to work out some of the ideas that I’ve been carrying around for a while. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen a few of these but, now that I feel like all the elements that I’ve been making are coming together I wanted to post everything in one place:

There are birds and leaves and little tapered silver twigs for them all to sit on … they’ll be evolving into final pieces over the next few weeks so keep a weather eye on instagram to see how things are going.

Tidal Pearl Rings

Becca Williams Tidal Pearl Ring 300dpi

 

Looking back at the blog, as I tend to do at this time of year, it’s become pretty obvious that I’ve made a fair few rings recently and, on balance, I’m pretty happy about that.

For a while I’ve been asked at shows and fairs if ‘I do that as a ring’ and whether I ‘make rings to commission’ (answer: yes, I’ll make anything to commission …) and I’ve spent some time during 2014 designing rings to sit alongside my existing work (like these stacking Flotsam ones) and to inspire new collections for the coming year. Here’s the final new addition to the online store in 2014:

Stacks of Flotsam Rings …

Becca Williams stacking rings in progress

I spent some time this week working on an idea for a new design of stacking rings, to compliment my Flotsam range, with hammered textures and a couple of different shades of freshwater pearls:

They’ll be winging there way out to my galleries soon …

Commissions: Stacking Rings

A little commission for a set of stacking rings went through the workshop last week  (they’re a larger sizer of a design that the customer liked on my stand at a show)

On the peg, before polishing:

Ready to go – the set consists of 2x plain and 2x decorated stacking, reticulated silver rings:

Reticulated texture

While my workshop was open over the weekend I used the opportunity to make a batch of my new seaside pieces for a couple of galleries. I find, when I have multiples of one thing to make, that I easily get into a good working rhythm and gain some good working momentum.

I’m fairly new to reticulation though and I have to watch these pieces like a hawk to avoid melting them! Lately I’m getting a better feel for how the surface textures of the silver changes, and how to spot the warning signs of over heating – but when  started out it was all rather trial and error.

So, you start off with your nice, shiny wire:

and get heating, with a nice, gentle, feathery flame. I use charcoal bricks to support work that I’m reticulating – it tends not to stick to the charcoal and the heat reflects really nicely (which helps to keep the temperature even through the metal). There’s a brilliant tutorial on Ganoskin which takes you through the process and a quick video of me reticulating the wire here. With this being the end result:

Going back over the piece with a slightly more intense flame, right at the end, seems to even out the surface really well too. Once it’s all pickled clean for the final time it’ll look something like this:

these polish up beautifully into a texture that proves to be  wearing ever so well:

Serendipity #3: Getting close to finished …

I ventured into the Jewellery Quarter on a Sunday today for the first time in aaages to get these pieces all ready to go off to Assay on Monday. There’s a couple of new pendant designs (and some more studs):

Plus, I got the pieces of that big new necklace sanded:

Satined:

and almost ready to string together:

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