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Layered metal leaf necklace

Layer different metals to give your jewelry texture and dimension

Basic artistic concepts, such as creating a three-dimensional form, using contrast and texture, and manipulating positive and negative space, all come into play when you mix metals. Layering different metal elements will literally add depth to your jewelry and also add visual complexity. 

How the layers of different metals relate to one another determines the order in which you’ll fabricate a jewelry piece. Pre-planning will help prevent you from overheating the joins or secondary metals so you don’t damage or destroy the piece. You’ll learn these techniques by making the pendant of the featured necklace. You can then apply what you’ve learned to make the links to finish the necklace. 

SUPPLIES

  • Sterling silver sheet: 22-gauge (0.6 mm), half-hard, 6 x 1 3⁄16 in. (15.2 x 3.0 cm)
  • 14k gold wire: 16-gauge (1.3 mm), square, half-hard, 3 5⁄16 in. (84 mm)
  • 14k gold wire: 18-gauge (1.0 mm), square, half-hard, 4 5⁄16 in. (11.0 cm)
  • Copper wire: 18-gauge (1.0 mm), round, half-hard, 3 in. (76 mm)
  • Sterling silver wire: 14-gauge (1.6 mm), square, half-hard, 2 1⁄2 in. (64 mm)
  • Tracing paper
  • Glue stick
  • Manila file folder or cardstock
  • Permanent marker
  • Jeweler’s saw, 2/0 blades
  • Rawhide mallet
  • Wire cutters: flush
  • Polished steel block
  • Soldering station: torch, paste solder (hard, medium, easy), syringe applicator (optional), wire solder (hard, medium, easy), soldering pad, annealing pan with pumice gravel, pickle pot with pickle, flux, self-pickling liquid flux (optional for gold soldering), steel tweezers (cross locking and soldering), copper tongs, solder pick
  • Hair dryer (optional)
  • Straight-cut compound-action metal snips
  • Masking tape
  • Sandpaper: various grits
  • Pliers: flat/round forming, flatnose
  • Wooden dapping block and punch
  • Hammer (optional)
  • Large steel forming set (optional)
  • Scribe
  • Buffing machine: medium synthetic satin-finish buff, Scotch-Brite (optional)
  • Silver oxidizer: liver of sulfur or Win-Ox
  • Toothbrush or brass brush
  • Flex shaft
  • Sanding disks: fine, medium, coarse
  • Muslin buff
  • Tripoli polishing compound
  • Paste wax

INSTRUCTIONS

Layered metal leaf necklace 1
Photo 1
Pre-plan with sketches. Sketch your design by breaking it down into layers [PHOTO 1]. Decide which parts must be soldered to which layer and how you will join the layers. When you’re planning the piece, consider the texture, form, shape, and size of each decorative gold or copper element (see “Why Not Brass,” below). Use tracing paper to create the individual layers, and then use a glue stick to transfer the drawings to cardstock. Cut out each layer to make your templates. Manila file folders work well for making templates because permanent marker will not bleed through them and soften the edges or blur the outline.

Select a gauge for the leaf layers.You will have better results with mixing metals if you use 20–22-gauge (0.8–0.6 mm) sheet metal for the leaf layers (see “Gauge Advice,” below), because those are moderate gauges. The leaf pendant in the featured project is over 3 in. (76 mm) long and the leaf layers are 22-gauge (0.6 mm) silver sheet. If you make the leaf layers from a metal gauge that’s too thin, the secondary metal elements may pool or sink (see “How to prevent pooling or sinking when soldering"). 

Cut out the layers of the leaf pendant. Use a permanent marker to trace the template for the top and bottom layers of the leaf pendant onto 22-gauge (0.6 mm) sterling silver. Using a jeweler’s saw with 2/0 blades, cut out the two leaf shapes. Flatten the metal with a rawhide mallet, and mark a front side on each leaf.
Tip!
Why not brass?

It’s not advisable to use brass with sterling silver in mixed-metal designs, because brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Silver solder is an alloy of fine silver, copper, and zinc. So, when you’re soldering brass to sterling silver, the zinc and copper present in the brass tend to alloy with the silver, turning all the metals into solder. The result is heavy pooling of silver solder around a sinking brass element. You can solder brass to copper without this problem occurring.
Layered metal leaf necklace 2
Photo 2
Build the top leaf layer. Cut a 3-in. (76 mm) piece of 16-gauge (1.3 mm) gold wire for the main vein. The wire should be long enough to slightly overhang the leaf at one end. To get a good solder seam, make sure to fit the vein to the front side of the top leaf layer [PHOTO 2] without any gaps. Flux each piece, placing the vein on the top layer, and then allow the pieces to air-dry. If they’re still wet, the flux may bubble while you’re soldering and cause the pieces to move. You can speed up the drying process by drying the pieces with a small hair dryer.
Tip!
Gauge advice

Selecting sheet in thinner gauges, like 26–28 gauge (0.4–0.32 mm), for the leaf layers will present more challenges during soldering. The thin metal may melt or cause the secondary metal elements to sink. 

On the other hand, soldering small secondary metal elements is more difficult with 18-gauge (1.0 mm) or heavier leaf layers. Because 18-gauge (1.0 mm) metal requires more heat overall to bring the entire assembly up to the solder’s flow temperature, using a thick-gauge sheet makes it more likely that the smaller metal elements will pool.

Sheet in the 20–22 gauge (0.8–0.6 mm) range offers the best results for mixed-metal designs.
Layered metal leaf necklace 3
PHOTO 3

Heat the entire piece, keeping the torch mainly on the perimeter instead of directly on the vein [PHOTO 3]. This will prevent you from overheating the vein before the metal reaches soldering temperature. When the flux on the piece begins to go clear, indicating the metal has reached soldering temperature, bring a ball of hard silver solder on a soldering pick to the edge of the join where the vein overhangs the leaf. Keep the torch moving, but concentrate more heat on the join. Watch for the solder to flow. Then move the torch along the vein to keep the solder moving along the vein.

If the vein begins to warp, use the soldering pick to gently push it down while you continue to heat it. Remove the pick as quickly as possible because it acts as a heat sink and will stop the flow of the solder. If you can’t get the vein down, or if you see metal starting to pool around it, stop heating the piece. Pickle, clean, and re-flux it, and then try again. You can improve the fit of partially soldered pieces by using a rawhide mallet to tap them down before reheating. Correct any irregularities in the join of the main vein before you add the smaller metal elements. Clean and flux the top leaf layer and then set it aside to dry.

Layered metal leaf necklace 4
Photo 4
Layered metal leaf necklace 5
Photo 5
Add the smaller metal elements. Cut 18-gauge (1.0 mm) gold wire to make small veins that abut the large vein. Make three copper balls from 18-gauge (1.0 mm) copper wire. Flux the copper wire before you make the balls, and then pickle them afterward. To clean the smaller metal elements, adhere them to masking tape and sand them lightly on 400-grit sandpaper [PHOTO 4]. Flux the smaller metal elements and allow the flux to dry. Use a syringe applicator to apply medium silver paste solder to each small vein and copper ball [PHOTO 5].
Layered metal leaf necklace 6
Photo 6
Layered metal leaf necklace 7
Photo 7

Position the veins and balls on the leaf, using small soldering tweezers; the paste solder will hold them in place [PHOTO 6]. 

Heat the entire piece until the solder flows [PHOTO 7]. Hold the torch briefly on stubborn areas, but be careful not to overheat the join of the main vein. Keep a soldering pick in hand to realign the metal elements if they move. When the solder flows, remove the heat and then quench and pickle the piece. Trim the excess from the ends of the small veins with flush cutters, and then sand the edges of the top layer smooth.

Layered metal leaf necklace 8
Photo 8
Form the layers. Place the top layer of the leaf pendant in a wooden dapping block. Place a wooden punch on the veins and then tap it with a hammer or rawhide mallet end-to-end a couple of times to make the leaf concave [PHOTO 8]. Clean and flux both sides of the piece, and allow it to dry.
Layered metal leaf necklace 9
Photo 9
Layered metal leaf necklace 10
Photo 10
Repeat to form the bottom layer of the leaf pendant; or, use a large steel forming set [PHOTO 9]. Turn the piece over on a steel block, and hammer the leaf tips [PHOTO 10] to create undulating curves. 
 
For complete project instructions, click here to download & print this PDF
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