Dapping: How to Set a Cabochon That Doesn’t Have a Flat Back with Lexi Erickson
When you’re cabochon shopping, chances are you start just by eyeing the goods. Color? My favorite! Pattern? So dramatic! Maybe some thought to size and weight next. Is this stone big enough for a statement pendant? Light enough for earrings? How about shape: would the outline work in a bracelet link? Yes, yes, yes, and now you’re in love with it. But when you turn your perfect cab over, you discover that the 3D convex front comes with a concave back. How’s that going to sit on a back plate?
ABOVE: Lexi Erickson started a Southwest-inspired series of jewelry-making projects with this carved shell Zuni bear pendant; photo: Jim Lawson
The concho Lexi had selected was made of carved shell, which retained its curved form on both the front and the back. Here is how she created the setting for this piece.
Demo excerpted from Easy Concho Bear Pendant by Lexi Erickson, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, March, 2015:
Create the Back Plate
Photo 1 Laying the bear onto either gridded or blank paper, sketch the outline. Take into consideration that the quahog shell is curved, therefore, you will need to estimate that curvature into your design.
TIP: Cut out the pattern and fit it onto the back of the shell to ensure the back plate will fit the bear. Consider adding a bit of decorative design, such as I have done, by replicating the ‘spirit line’ of the bear to the top edge of the concho.
Photo 2 Saw out the bear from the silver plate. File and sand the edges. Sand any scratches off the sheet for a smooth finish.
Photo 3 Using the decorative Native American design stamps (equilateral armed crosses, spirals, animal stamps, lines, etc.), randomly stamp a variety of images all over the sheet. These represent petroglyphs often found in archaeological sites all over the Southwest. No pattern is needed; just go for it and have fun.
TIP: If you don’t want a petroglyph-like design, use a rawhide mallet and hammer the sheet, face down, on a rough rock or use one of my favorites: ‘Lexi’s front porch’ cement-induced texture for the rough, uneven look of raw rock. You may also create interest by filing some unevenness into the edges of the back plate with a needle file.
Photo 4 Fit the paper pattern that you have cut out against the back curvature of the bear, and locate where prongs will be placed. Mark this with a pencil, then double check for accuracy again. When satisfied, drill the holes for the prongs into the sterling back plate.
Photo 5 Cut the 14 gauge wire into a minimum of 3 pieces (more, if desired) and planish one end flat, being careful not to flatten the entire piece. Set aside.
Dapping: Dome the Metal
Photo 6 Here’s where it gets tricky: you must fit the back plate to the curvature of the quahog shell. It takes some patience. Do not hammer the plate onto the shell. Instead, use a large wooden dapping block and wooden punch, and hammer with the stamped side up, facing you. Don’t use a metal dapping block because it will give you too much curve. Dap and fit, then dap a bit more and fit until you have a back plate that fits well.
Photo 7 Sand the piece before soldering; it must be clean. Flux. Insert the prongs, cut small chips of medium solder and lay these upright, alongside the prongs. Heat and draw the solder around each prong and slightly up the prong with the flame of the torch. Quench, pickle, and rinse.” (Editor’s note: Learn to solder with Lexi in her five-star-rated video, How to Solder Jewelry, vol 1.)
From there, Lexi describes the final touches that you’d apply to any cabochon pendant. She forms and attaches a bail, finishes the metal, and places the carving into its custom setting, gently bending the prongs over to to keep the shell safely in place.
Journey Through the Southwest and Acquire New Techniques
Lexi designed this charming pendant as the first in a series of jewelry pieces broadly inspired by the Southwest. “Native American jewelry was a constant influence as I grew up in far west Texas and New Mexico,” she remarks. “Living in an area of minimal landscape and huge skies cannot help but establish a love for wide, open spaces. Artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Frank Lloyd Wright discovered this when they moved into the Southwest, and their minimalism has also affected my design aesthetic.
“When I was asked to create a series of Southwestern pieces, I was thrilled to share the beauty of endless miles of canyons, plains and desert, the land of three cultures, and its influence on my design. As you’ll see, contemporary Southwestern jewelry is so much more than the obligatory turquoise and silver.”
There’s also more to her series of print and video projects than projects. Just as she demonstrated how to set a concho with a curved back, as she designed each piece, Lexi also built in a technical challenge or two and solutions. That way, you learn or improve on particular skills every time you make a new piece.
Southwestern style is a classic, the techniques are evergreen, and right now is a great time to acquire any part or all of the entire series. Find every project on sale — right here, right now!
Merle White is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and Editorial Director for the Interweave Jewelry Group.
Join Lexi on Her Southwest Style Jewelry Making Journey!