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Argentium sterling layered cuff

Elegantly simple fabrication tricks are the key to making this intricate bracelet
Argentium sterling layered cuff
Carefully placed rivets let a pierced layer of Argentium sterling silver float above a textured 2 1⁄4-in. (57 mm)-wide Argentium sterling cuff.

Creating a two-layer bracelet doesn’t necessarily require master-level skills. What it does demand is solid planning. With a bracelet like this one, you can’t simply hope all the parts line up evenly. You’ll need to sketch, measure, adjust, remeasure, and readjust until you’ve tweaked each layer into a perfect fit. Then you can create and assemble your cuff, piece by piece. When your results look effortless, with that intricate pierced layer naturally hovering over your stone, you’ll know that all the preparation was worth it.

SUPPLIES

  • Brass sheet: 16-gauge (1.3 mm), 1 1⁄2 x 7 in. (38 x 178 mm)
  • Argentium sterling silver sheet:
  • 20-gauge (0.8 mm), half-hard, 2 1⁄4 x 6 in. (57 x 152 mm)
  • 20-gauge (0.8 mm), dead-soft, 2 1⁄4 x 5 3⁄4 in. (57 x 146 mm)
  • 24-gauge (0.5 mm), dead-soft, slightly larger than cabochon
  • 26-gauge (0.4 mm) or thinner, half-hard, slightly larger than cabochon
  • Scrap: about 6 g
  • Sterling silver wire: 16-gauge (1.3 mm), dead-soft, 21⁄2 in. (64 mm)
  • Fine-silver bezel wire: 26-gauge (0.4 mm), height to fit cabochon
  • Cabochon (I used 25 x 18 mm amethyst)
  • Sawing/piercing toolbox
  • Soldering toolbox
  • Riveting toolbox
  • Wirework toolbox
  • Finishing toolbox
  • Rolling mill (optional)
  • Etching supplies: Press-n-Peel paper, ferric chloride solution, glass container
  • Baking soda
  • Masking tape
  • Fabric for roll-printing
  • Bracelet mandrel
  • Ultra Lite Beehive Kiln or trinket kiln (optional)
  • Mesh tripod
  • Jeweler’s scale
  • Plastic mesh strainer
  • Paintbrush

INSTRUCTIONS

Argentium sterling layered cuff 1
Photo 1
Argentium sterling layered cuff 2
Photo 2
Argentium sterling layered cuff 3
Photo 3
Argentium sterling layered cuff 4
Photo 4

Part 1: Pierced overlay layer

Patterning the metal sheet

I etched a brass pattern plate, then used it, along with a rolling mill, to transfer a pattern to Argentium sterling sheet for my overlay layer. If you don’t have access to a rolling mill, you could skip the pattern and jump right to the piercing. 

Etch the brass pattern plate. Select a copyright-free image or draw your own for the cuff’s pierced overlay layer. Make sure that the image is appropriately sized for your bracelet and that there’s adequate room in the design to accommodate your bezel-set stone. 

Following the manufacturer’s instructions, etch your image onto 16-gauge (1.3 mm) brass sheet [PHOTO 1]. I used Press-n-Peel Paper as my resist and ferric chloride as the etchant. Etch to a depth approximately half the thickness of the metal. Clean the brass pattern plate thoroughly with baking soda and water, and dry it completely. 

Prepare silver sheet for the pierced overlay layer. Cut a sheet of 20-gauge (0.8 mm) Argentium sterling to approximately 2 1⁄4 x 6 in. (57 x 152 mm). Anneal this overlay layer, then pickle and rinse it thoroughly.

Roll-print the pattern onto the overlay layer. Place the annealed overlay layer on the pattern plate, and use narrow masking tape to join their edges; be sure the tape doesn’t overlap your pattern, or you could mar the pattern.

Insert this taped sandwich into your rolling mill [PHOTO 2], and adjust the rollers so that the opening between them is slightly smaller than the sandwich. Pass the sandwich through the rolling mill once to imprint the pattern.

The sandwich will curl in the rolling mill. Remove the overlay layer from the pattern plate. Anneal the patterned overlay layer [PHOTO 3], then pickle and rinse it. Using a rawhide mallet and a bench block or anvil, flatten the overlay layer.

Piercing the overlay layer

I simplified the copyright-free image I used by removing some details that were too thin to work well in pierced metal. 

Pierce the overlay layer. Using a flex shaft with a small drill bit, drill a hole through each part of the pattern you’d like to pierce. Using a jeweler’s saw with a deep throat, pierce the pattern [PHOTO 4]. 

TIP: If you break a saw blade while you’re piercing, it’s sometimes easier to drill a new hole nearby rather than try to insert your blade through the original hole and trace back through the line you just sawed.

Using needle files, smooth and refine all edges of the pierced overlay layer. If necessary, use a sanding attachment in a flex shaft.

Argentium sterling layered cuff 1b
Photo 1
Argentium sterling layered cuff 2b
Photo 2
Argentium sterling layered cuff 3b
Photo 3
Argentium sterling layered cuff 4b
Photo 4

Part 2: Base layer

Texturing and shaping

Cut out the base layer. Cut a 21⁄4 x 53⁄4-in. (57 x 146 mm) piece of 20-gauge (0.8 mm) dead-soft Argentium sterling sheet. 

Roll-print the base layer with fabric (optional). Select two pieces of fabric (I used sheer organza) that are slightly larger than your base layer. Sandwich the base layer between the two pieces of fabric, and roll this sandwich once through the rolling mill [PHOTO 1]. This will impress the fabric’s texture onto both sides of the base layer at once. Anneal, pickle, and rinse the base layer.

Hammer-texture the base layer.
Place the base layer on a bench block, and use a domed embossing hammer or a small ball-peen hammer to randomly hammer the front and back of the base layer [PHOTO 2].

Then, lightly hammer all edges of the base layer [PHOTO 3] to thicken its edge slightly; this will make it stronger and create a subtly textured reflective edge.

Mark the bezel position on the base layer. Lightly scratch the base layer to indicate where you’d like your bezel to go; the mark will last even through soldering or pickling. Since the scratch is permanent, this method works best when you plan to cover the scratched metal later with an element like a bezel. 

To do this, use dividers to scribe a short, light line at the center of the base layer, halfway between its short sides. Measure the length of the base layer, and lightly scribe the midway point where it crosses the centerline. These crosshairs are the center mark for the bezel.

Shape the base layer. Using your hands, begin to form the metal into a C-shaped cuff. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as this is not the final shaping. Make sure to leave a flat spot on top of the bracelet that’s large enough for the bezel. If necessary, use a bracelet mandrel and a rawhide mallet to further shape the metal.

Bezel cup

Make the bezel. Determine the correct height of your bezel wire. 

NOTE: You will later place an Argentium sterling insert below your cabochon when you set it. Do not forget to consider this added height when you determine your bezel height. (I used 1⁄8-in./3 mm bezel wire.)

Measure the circumference of your cabochon, and cut a piece of fine-silver bezel wire to that length. Bring the wire ends together so they meet flush.

You can solder this seam, using hard solder, or you can fuse the seam, using a torch and a miniature kiln like I did [PHOTO 4]. See “How to fuse a wire bezel."

Pickle and rinse the bezel. Shape the bezel to match your stone. Using 600-grit sandpaper, refine the bezel’s seam and its top and bottom edges. Check the fit of the stone in the bezel, then remove the stone.

Make a bezel cup. Cut a piece of 24-gauge (0.5 mm) Argentium sterling sheet slightly larger than the bezel. Flux the sheet and bezel. Using medium solder, join the bezel to the sheet, forming a bezel cup. 

NOTE: I like to solder assemblies like this on a mesh tripod, because I can position my torch flame below the bezel cup to avoid melting the thin bezel wire.

Using a jeweler’s saw, trim the excess sheet from the outside of the bezel. Pierce the interior of the bezel to remove all the metal except for a thin supporting border.

Use sandpaper to refine the joins and edges until they’re smooth. Check the stone’s fit again, and, if necessary, use pliers to reshape the bezel walls to fit the stone.

Argentium sterling layered cuff 5b
Photo 5
Argentium sterling layered cuff 6b
Photo 6
Argentium sterling layered cuff 7b
Photo 7
Argentium sterling layered cuff 8b
Photo 8

Granules

Weigh your scrap metal. By weighing bits of scrap silver sheet or silver wire, you can ensure that all the decorative granules you’ll make are approximately the same size. Weigh your scrap metal with a jeweler’s scale, separating it into piles that weigh 0.23–0.27g. I needed 19–22 of these piles to make enough granules to surround my bezel; you may need more or fewer.

Melt the scraps into granules. Place the scrap piles on a flat charcoal block, positioning them far enough apart that they won’t melt together. 

NOTE: Because you form your granules on a flat charcoal block, they’ll each have a flat bottom, so they won’t roll away as you position them on the bracelet and they’ll have a larger surface area for soldering.

Pointing your torch at one scrap pile at a time [PHOTO 5], melt the scrap until it balls up into a rounded granule. As soon as the granule forms completely, move the heat to the next pile. Allow all the granules to air-cool completely. 

If the granules are black, pickle and rinse them. Use a plastic mesh strainer to contain the granules in the pickle.

Soldering

Make sure that the top of the cuff is as flat as possible prior to soldering. If necessary, use a mallet and a bench block to flatten it slightly. You can reshape it later.

Solder the bezel cup to the base layer. Flux the bottom of the bezel cup, and use medium solder to sweat solder the bottom of the bezel cup.

Center the bezel cup over the base layer’s crosshairs. I used two pairs of cross-locking tweezers in third-hands to make sure that the bezel cup was tight to the base layer [PHOTO 6]. Heat the entire assembly until the solder flows evenly.

If the bezel cup isn’t completely connected, flow additional solder on the interior or exterior [PHOTO 7] of the bezel cup. Pickle and rinse the bracelet.

Add decorative granules. Using easy solder, sweat solder the granules in place around the perimeter of the bezel cup [PHOTO 8]. I applied easy paste solder to the flat base of each granule, and then soldered the granules to the bracelet. You need enough solder that the granules will not come off later when you’re shaping the bracelet or setting the stone.

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