Customer-Focused Adaptations for Jewelry Making: Creating a Hinged Ring to Fit Arthritic Knuckles with Judy Hoch

I have sweet memories of going through my maternal grandmother’s jewelry box when I was a very little girl. That’s probably where my passion for jewelry began. In with all the pearl and pearl-y earrings, big sparkly clip-ons, and a wide variety of Sarah Coventry necklaces, she had several rings, both “real” and costume. I was a few years older when I noticed that some of the rings had hinges that allowed them to open and close. Arthritis has made itself known in her sweet hands, so she had to have her most special rings modified with hinged openings to fit over her knuckles. I wish I’d been able to make rings like this for her back then. Thanks to Judy Hoch for sharing how she made this special ring for a very special customer.

Photos by Jim Lawson.

Developing a Hinged Ring
by Judy Hoch

We were at 9800 feet in the Colorado Rockies doing an art show. The lady in my booth was looking longingly at the pretty jade ring that I was wearing. She asked to see it and liked the square shank and slightly unconventional setting. I said that I could make one just for her.

“I haven’t had a pretty ring like that for quite a few years,” she said.

“Ok,” I replied, “let’s get started.”

And then she held out her hand and I swallowed hard. Her hands were average size, but the knuckles on her middle and ring fingers were really enlarged. The real ring size was about a 7-1/2 or 8, but the knuckles measured 12 and 13. I mumbled something about getting an arthritic expandable shank and took the order.

I got back to the studio and quickly discovered that no commercial arthritic shank would handle anything more than 2 1/2 to 3 sizes, and many only came in gold. I then researched patents on such adjustable shanks and found several that are not manufactured commercially. Many have clever internal springs and tiny releases or sliding components, but I couldn’t see how I could make any of them work within the design constraints I had: a square shank to keep a large cabochon from turning turtle.

So I did the stubborn thing. I decided that I could make a shank that would work.

Some considerable time later, I have that shank. When you see it now, it is pretty obvious how it works. Getting there wasn’t easy. Here is the tale of one stubborn goldsmith fulfilling a commitment.

Find, Er, Cut the Stone

First the easy part–I thought. Go through my jade cabs and select one similar to my ring. No such luck. This is jade with well-organized actinolite, which creates a “cat’s eye” in the stone. This is an unusual stone I got in Tucson 15 years ago, and the only stones I had now were the wrong shape for the ring.

So I needed to cut a stone. Only one little problem here: I had never cut and polished jade. It has a reputation of being difficult to polish, so I went to my notebooks for one of the classes that I took years ago from Michael Boyd. It said that I needed to use 50,000-grit diamond to polish jade. So I dopped up the stone closest to the size and shape I needed and recut it into more of an oval. I’d been cutting stones in my Genie, so that wasn’t a big deal.

Diamond polish is used on wood, and the diamond dust is held with bag balm. I went to my sewing room and found some old wooden spools. I chucked them up on a table lathe and used a bast*rd file to shape the spool. I mixed up some 50,000-grit diamond with bag balm in a little can, put a bit on the spool, and in an amazingly short time had a beautifully polished, nicely shaped jade cabochon.

I had figured that picking out a stone would take 10 minutes. Instead, it took about six hours to cut it, make some polishing gear, polish it, reshape it, and polish it again.

Making The Bezel Was Easy

The next step was simple. Make a bezel for the stone and solder it to a 20-gauge textured back plate. I texture all of my silver pieces so that they don’t show fingerprints.

Making the Shank

The next step was to make the shank. I made some comfort-fit-shaped silver using 8-gauge round sterling and shaped it with the half-round rolls on the side of my rolling mill. This shape is available commercially from Hoover and Strong, but I didn’t have any, so it was easier to make than order it.

I then shaped the shank into a U and realized that I didn’t have a good enough measurement of the lady’s real ring size. So I took the U-shaped piece to my next art show where the lady came to see her ring. She was disappointed to see that it wasn’t done, but happy to let me measure her finger with the real shaped shank.

Incidentally I used a Pepe brand square ring mandrel to shape the ring shank. I did discover that a round shank of the correct size measures at about the same place on the Pepe mandrel when measured from its narrow end.

The Mechanism

In the meantime I realized I was going to have to make a mockup of the mechanism. I decided early on that it had to be hinged on one side so that it could really open to insert the finger–and then needed to seat in a tube on the opposite side.

That’s where the problem started. It wasn’t hard to make an oval tube so that the shank fit securely. The catch is–just that–the catch. How do you keep this hinged shank from pulling out of the tube?

Swivel Pin? No . . .

I started down the long path of ways to hold a vertical piece in place. I wanted to make a swivel pin that went into the tube, through the shank, and out the other side to make it secure. It needed to be small. It needed to be comfortable. And most important, it needed to be manageable by somebody with fingers that didn’t move well. The swivel with the pin failed in execution because you had to be able to get the pin to go in the hole and that required some maneuvering.

One Side Attachment? No . . .

So I went to the second notion. A pin that couldn’t pull out of the hole from one side but that could release the shank and put it back in, and go through and turn on the other side to lock it in place.

At that point you have a wide slot in the shank and a slot in the back with a keeper when you turn it–and the handle–to maneuver. All this has to fit between your fingers. I made one, but by the time I had reamed out the shank to hold the locking mechanism and then made space to accommodate the mechanism where you put the shank in the tube, it had gotten very small and thin. So I abandoned that design.

Make a Catch

The next notion was to make a small catch like the safety catch found on the side of a box clasp. I soldered a piece of tubing on the side of the receiver tube and made the wire catch. The problem was that the knob to which the catch attaches was too far down on the ring to work.

I then soldered another bit of tubing on the backing plate next to the receiver tube. That worked fine. I realized I needed one on each side of the shank to keep everything secure. So I then had a solution for holding this thing together.

Attach the Hinge, Draw Down Tubing

The next problem was attaching the hinge for the shank to the backing plate. I had a lot of different sizes of tubing, but the wall thickness wasn’t sufficient. So I needed thicker wall tubing for the hinge, but with a large enough inside diameter hole to insert a substantial hinge pin. For something that is to be used daily, I wanted a hinge pin of 18 gauge. For durability, I would use nickel because it wears much better than sterling. I went to my catalogs. I called my suppliers. Nobody had what I needed.

I called Pat Flynn. He had taught a class on hinges and mechanisms and had used some heavy wall tubing for his demonstrations. I asked him where he got his tubing. He told me he drew it down himself. Oh boy. I had never drawn tubing down. I didn’t know what the relationship was between wall thickness and opening.

So we go off on another tangent. I asked the Orchid forum how to do it. I got some clues. I read my books–Brevpohl, Untracht, and McCreight. The simple answer is that the wall thickness stays the same and the inside diameter is reduced, unless you do some very fancy stuff to change that.

The bigger problem was I didn’t have a draw bench. So I looked in the catalogs to buy a draw bench. They were really expensive. I am fortunate that my spouse is creative and handy, so I asked him to make me a draw bench. I showed him a picture from the Web of what a homemade draw bench looked like, and a couple of days later I had a draw bench.

I had found the heavy wall tubing to draw down from Indian Jewelry Supply and proceeded to file down the end of the tubing and solder in a sterling wire plug to give me something to hold onto. We’re almost there. (Yeah, not really.)

I remembered I hadn’t annealed the tubing. So I did that and pickled it. And then went to the draw bench. Boing! The neatly soldered wire in the tubing thinned and broke.

Okay, back to square one. I whacked the end of the tubing and filed it into a triangle shape. And then the draw tongs could grasp the tubing. It worked! I used regular cooking lard for lubrication.

We drew it down through five holes to get from 3.6 mm outside diameter to 2.6 mm outside diameter. The 0.9 mm hole was exactly what I wanted.

So now I could cut the little tubing bits I needed for making the hinge. I filed the bits flat so it was a very tight fit. I made a locating hinge pin from 18-gauge wire. I used the broaches from the Pat Flynn class to slightly taper the three tubing pieces. Wow! I remembered what I needed from the class. And I have a working hinge. And it’s sturdy.

The Ring

So I did all of this stuff to determine a working mechanism between the time I took the order and when I got the good ring size measurement. I then went to work on the back plate for the ring. I soldered the hinge pieces, the oval tubing, and the tiny tubes for the catches to the back plate. There was a lot of measuring and checking going on.

I then measured out a gold 22K over-bezel for the ring. I always undersize these so that I can get a really tight fit. With enormous care, I soldered the gold bezel over the fine silver bezel.

The chance of moving all of the carefully placed pieces on the back worried me a lot. And one of them did move. So I fixed it. I then filed and sanded off the edge of the back plate to make it flush with the bezel. It would have been smarter to solder the over-bezel first, then add the hinge and receiver tube on the back.

Square, Heavy, Large

This design would not work very well with a round shank. You need to have a straight piece to go into the oval receiver tube. The 90 degrees that you can get with the shank hinge would be reduced if you had a round shank coming up to the back plate.

The design also presumes a fairly heavy shank. It has to withstand side loading and be strong enough to have opposing balls for the catches. It also assumes that you have a large cabochon or a design extending to a large back plate so that you have enough room for all the mechanisms underneath. Now that I have the design in place, it wouldn’t be difficult to execute again.

While this is a good design, it simply uses existing mechanisms in the jewelry business, so it can’t be patented. It’s there: feel free to use it. And this documentation shows prior use, so it won’t work for someone else to patent it or to get design protection.

Learn more: Judy’s “Hinged Ring with Cabochon” project and demos on making a “Simple Draw Bench” and “Drawing Down Tubing” appear in the September/October 2013 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

About the designer: Judy Hoch is a graduate gemologist, jewelry designer, and educator. Her work has been recognized with first place and best of show in juried art festivals over 20 years. Her book, Tumble Finishing for Handmade Jewelry, is a singular reference on mass finishing for jewelers. She lives in the high mountains of Colorado and serves on the board of Colorado Metalsmiths Association. She first wrote for Lapidary Journal in March of 1994.

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