Jewelry Making Techniques and Definitions

This list contains brief explanations of jewelry making techniques and terminology used in my product descriptions. I hope you find this information helpful.

BAIL A component that allows you to hang pendants or charms from a necklace. 

BASSE-TAILLE [ bahss-tah-ee ] is an enameling technique in which a low-relief pattern is created in metal by engraving or chasing.

BEZEL SETTING is a type of setting that is normally used for cabochon stones in which a vertical rim (bezel) is pushed around a stone or enamel piece to firmly hold the stone in place.

CABOCHON is a gemstone or stone with a curved top and a flat back, making it ideal for setting into a bezel setting. 

CHAMPLEVE' [ shahn-luh-vey ] requires a thick metal base. The name comes from the French for "raised field". It is an enamel process where the surface of the metal object is carved, cut, stamped or etched away, creating depressions or cells in the metal thereby leaving thin ridges (raised fields) that form the outline of the design. These thin ridges remain visible in the finished piece. 

Several thin layers of enamel are meticulously placed in the partitioned cells. Every time a layer of enamel is applied, the piece is fired in the kiln. 

When the desired thickness of enamel is achieved, the piece is ground smooth then polished. The piece is complete! With champlevé, the top metal piece creates the framework and therefore eliminates the need to create a bezel setting.

A modern alternative to cutting away the surface of the base metal is to use two pieces of metal. The shape of the design/pattern is cut out of the top piece; the uncut portions remain visible and act as the framework in which the enamels will be placed. The bottom piece remains solid, uncut. The two pieces are then fused together by either using a torch or firing in a kiln. The piece is finished by applying enamel, grinding, and polishing in the same manner as mentioned above.

CLOISONNE’ [ kloi-zuh-ney ] is an enameling process in which small flattened wires are bent to the outline of a design then carefully placed onto the metal base being decorated, so as to create tiny mini-walled cellular spaces, called cloisons (French for "partitions" "compartments" or "small cells"). The wires are fused to the metal base by either using a torch or firing in a kiln and they remain visible in the finished piece.

Thin layers of enamel are then meticulously placed in the partitioned compartments; there could be 14 or more layers in one piece. Every time a layer is applied, the piece is fired in the kiln.

When the desired thickness of enamel is achieved, the entire construction is ground smooth then polished. The finished piece is now ready to be set in a bezel setting!

ENAMEL / ENAMELING - See "Vitreous Enamel" and "Vitreous Enameling"

GOLD is treasured for its natural beauty and radiance. Gold comes in various karats and colors, depending on the other metals mixed with it.  Pure gold is labeled 24K. In the USA and many other countries,10K gold is the lowest level of purity that can be legally marketed and sold using the word “gold.”

HANDMADE JEWELRY: The simple definition of handmade means artist designed and made. Handmade jewelry (or crafted by hand) is made by an artist without the use of mass-manufacturing machines. There is no standard "look" for handmade jewelry. It can range from simple pendants and bracelets to intricate designs that take hours or days and skilled techniques to finish. What they all have in common, though, is that a jewelry artist makes the individual pieces using only their hands and simple tools. 

LOST WAX CASTING, also known as "investment casting", is a process where you create your desired design in wax. Using this method of casting captures fine detail in the metal. 

The wax model can only be used once. A sprue of wax must be added to your wax model to allow the molten metal to flow down into your design. 

A flask is placed over the wax model then a mold compound (typically plaster) is poured into the flask, totally encapsulating the wax model and most of the wax sprue, leaving the top of the sprue exposed. 

Once the plaster sets up, the flask is placed in a kiln and fired at a high temperature to melt the wax, leaving a cavity in the shape of your design. Molten metal, such as gold or silver, is then poured into the cavity. 

When the molten metal is no longer red, yet still very hot, the flask of plaster is quenched in cold water. The water shocks the hot plaster breaking it into tiny pieces, leaving you with a metal piece in the shape of your design.  

Cut the sprue off, file down the edges, clean off the remaining investment compound, and polish.

OBJET D'ART versus OBJET DE VERTU  When you hear the phrase objet d’art, you probably think of textiles, porcelain, and three dimensional items; and you would be right. An objet d’art refers to art objects that are not paintings, sculptures, prints or drawings. It’s the term for “everything else”.  An objet de vertu is intended to suggest a higher standard of objet d’art using precious metals and gemstones.

POLISHING Making the surface of a metal smooth, shiny and removing flaws by rotating an instrument or cloth with a polishing substance over it.

PRECIOUS METALS are metals that are rare and have a high economic value, due to various factors and role throughout history as a store of value. The most popular precious metals are gold, platinum, and silver.

SILVER - Fine silver has a silver content of 99.9% (.999) pure, with the remainder being trace amounts of impurities. Sterling silver has a silver content of 92.5% (.925%) and 7.5% copper. Argentium silver is a relatively new silver alloy that contains more pure silver than traditional sterling silver, containing either 93.5% or 96% pure silver. All Argentium Silver is made with reclaimed silver; however, it differs from traditional sterling in that it is alloyed with germanium. The germanium forms a transparent oxide on the surface of the Argentium Silver, making the alloy tarnish resistant and requiring less maintenance than traditional sterling silver. Argentium Silver is also slightly brighter in color than traditional sterling silver.

VITREOUS ENAMEL The word vitreous comes from the Latin word vitreum, meaning "glass". Vitreous enamel is formulated to adhere to the surface of metals.

VITREOUS ENAMELING is the art of fusing finely ground pieces of glass - usually smaller than a grain of sand - onto a metal surface (typically silver, gold or copper) to add color to the piece and enhance its design. Enamels can be transparent, semitransparent and opaque. After applying each layer of enamel the piece is heated (also known as "fused" or "fired") in a kiln, usually around 1450°F. Then the piece is cooled and the procedure repeats again until the required enamel hue and color depth are obtained. Fire enameling is one of the oldest methods used to decorate metal, practiced since ancient times.