Big Prongs, Wire Cages: How to Set Little Treasures and Found Objects in Rings and Pendants
(Or, 7 Confessions and Happy Accidents from the Girl Who Winged It)
Whenever I think of Susan Lenart Kazmer’s work, I think of textured and patinated wire, balled wire ends, wire cages, and big prong rings and pendants with big fabulous things in them.
After watching Susan’s newest video tutorial about making jewelry featuring big prongs and wire cages, I finally decided to take the leap and make a ring for myself using a teeny citrus-green geode that makes me smile. Quite some time passed after I watched Susan’s video before I actually sat down to make the ring, however, and I’d forgotten some of the particulars from Susan’s instruction–so I winged it.
As you can imagine, that meant there were several learning opportunities and happy accidents in my practice run . . .
1. Since it was my first attempt, I raided the scrap box for supplies, which turned out to be a serendipitous idea. I cleaned up and reused a sterling ring band I’d rescued from another ring project that turned out too small, a small disc of sterling sheet from my recycle cup, and some short pieces of wire that I believed were silverplated copper-core wire but that might be sterling. Knowing I’d be okay with whatever the wire turned out to be made that decision a lot easier! I soon learned I was right; it was copper-core wire, and the copper came through when I balled the ends. I liked the look of it, though, and the color of the copper looked good around the yellowish-green tiny geode I was planning to set in the ring. Serendipity!
2. The silverplated copper-core wire is 16-gauge wire, so it took a good long while to ball the ends. Even thought balling wire ends is one of my favorite things to do with a torch, I grew tired during the process (patience is a virtue I do not have), which affected my technique and therefore my results. I think that along with the wire being copper-core plated contributed to the pointy shape of my not-so-balled wire ends. However, the more I looked at the pointy balls, the more I liked them. (When the ring was done, I filed a flat area on the wire ends and they ended up looking like polished prongs. Another happy accident!)
3. I knew they wouldn’t show, but I flattened the other ends of the wire prongs so they’d be easier to solder to the silver disc and so they wouldn’t take up too much room under the geode. The prongs go on top of the disc so they won’t show once the rock etc. is set and so they won’t take up too much real estate on the underside of the disc where the ring will be soldered.
4. When I soldered the prongs to the disc, you guessed it–the copper came to the surface in the rest of the wire as well. As the sassy cartoon kids say, duh! It should have occurred to me that it was going to happen. I still like the look of the copper prongs, but I really liked it when it looked like copper that just faded into silver. Lesson learned.
I’ve been thinking about a way to recreate that copper-fading-into-silver look, and though I haven’t tested it yet, I think I have an idea. Next time, I’ll use sterling wire, and when I ball the ends, it will remain sterling. When I solder the prongs, still sterling. When I’m done with the fabrication, before I set the rock, I’ll dip the prongs a bit into some really blue pickle along with a piece of steel to plate part of the prongs with copper. It won’t be as gradual or natural looking progression from copper to silver as before, but I think I might like it. It’s worth a try!
5. Once my prongs were soldered to my disc (Susan calls this the “spider piece”–it’s the only spider I can tolerate!), I flipped the disk over and soldered the ring band to the back of the disk. T pins helped hold the ring band in place and upright during soldering. This was silver soldered to silver–no surprises there. But . . .
6. See anything wrong with this picture? I forgot to dome the silver disk, in order to make room for the rounded back of the little geode, before I soldered this whole shebang together. (What’s that word the sassy kids use? Duh? Yep.) So I used Lexi Erickson’s tip for taking the soldered pieces apart: After I secured the disk and prongs to the dirty side of my soldering brick using T pins, I heated the whole thing until the solder melted again and I could pull the band away from the disc using burn ’em up pliers.
7. Quench, pickle, clean up and resolder–after doming the disk. I used painter’s tape to protect the metal and the dapping tools during that process. When I do this again, if I’m making a ring, I’ll (hopefully) remember to dome the disc first, if it needs to be domed, and then solder the prongs and band in place. (If you’re making a bezel, you’ll have room to dome the piece later in the process if need be, since there’s no ring band in the way on the back.) It will be harder to solder little prongs to a domed piece of metal, but it’s the way it has to be done for a ring.
Well there you go–my “learning opportunities” along with my happy accidents. That’s why I did a test run, so I think I’ll call the testing process a success–I found all the mistakes to be made! Haha. It was easier to make than you’d guess based on the above, and even though it started out as a practice piece using scraps, I like the fun little geode ring and can’t wait to make more big prong settings.
I’ve been a fan of Susan’s artistic wire cage “bezels” and bold wire prong rings for so long, I’ve started a collection of things to set in them: small geodes, Roman glass pieces, river rocks, rough gems, and a variety of found objects. Our friend John Heusler G.G. of Heusler Academy gave me these fabulous fairy stones, and I believe I’m going to use them in big prong bezels–as soon as I can bear to use them in a piece! My plan is to set some of them individually in big prong wire bezels and then attach them end to end to create a statement necklace. Stay tuned for that tutorial!
If you have small treasures you’d like to set in bold wire prongs or cage bezels that are easy to create, you’ll love Susan’s video workshop, Forge Wire Cages and Other 3D Forms for Jewelry Making: Capture Stone, Glass, and Found Objects. In her friendly and interesting way, Susan demonstrates how to create a variety of wire bezels and cages to support and show off your found treasures–round ones, flat ones, big ones and small ones! You’ll learn about soldering and annealing metal along with some basic metalworking techniques applicable to these pieces, as well as important particulars like how to determine how long the prongs need to be, how to create extra support for extra large pieces, how to incorporate bezel wire, and more.
Want more? Learn five secrets for creating artistic wire jewelry from Susan’s Forge Wire Cages and Other 3D Forms for Jewelry Making: Capture Stone, Glass, and Found Objects video.
P.S. Are you a big fan of Susan’s work, too? Wouldn’t you love the opportunity to take classes with her? You’re in luck! Susan is teaching FOUR fun and informative jewelry-making classes at Bead Fest Santa Fe in March 2015. It’s not too late to ask Santa for a workshop with Susan for the perfect holiday gift!