Experts Share How To Turn Your Jewelry-Making Mistakes Into Masterpieces, No Foolin'!

Tammy Jones editor Jewelry Making Daily  
Tammy Jones is the
editor of Jewelry Making  Daily.


Today is all about trickery and pranks, but messing up a piece of jewelry is no joke. The costs–in materials, time, sanity, and heartache–are too much to trifle with, so I try to never let a jewelry-making mishap be a dead end. There's usually a way to salvage a jewelry design gone awry, even if it involves entirely rethinking your plan for the piece. The important thing to remember is not to give up on it too soon, if ever, as these tales of jewelry-making woe from expert jewelry designers and friends of Jewelry Making Daily will attest.  

Snake Eye Pendant by Helen Driggs

Cracking Up with Helen Driggs
"I had been experimenting with dapping a piece of corrugated copper for my Cool Tools column in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, and I got a little too enthusiastic with the dapping punch. I cracked the sheet right down one of the corrugation lines. For weeks, that piece sat on my bench, taunting me. But, I wouldn't let it get me.

"As I was preparing to shoot my second Metalsmith Essentials DVD, a brainstorm hit me: If I combined that cracked copper hemisphere with just the right vintage moonglow lucite cabochon, it looked like a reptile eye! So, I figured out a quick demo piece, carted the parts with me to the Colorado studio for my video session, and voila! Instant demo pendant. Not bad for a big mistake . . . and it just goes to show you, never discard anything, especially metal."

Layered Lily by Lexi Erickson

Lexi Erickson's Lily Tiara
"The biggest failure in my history of making jewelry happened very early in my career–it was my second piece. My college professor gave us our first soldering assignment: a simple overlay, one piece soldered onto a bottom piece of silver. Being the overachiever I am, I designed an Arts & Crafts style tiara, which was a two-inch lily of three overlays, 22-gauge silver, 22-gauge copper, and 18-gauge silver. (What was I thinking?) Plus it had various buds, tendrils, and leaves interwoven and soldered all around. Being scared of the torch, I of course used the smallest head on the Smith torch, which is just fine for soldering jump rings but not for something large–and certainly not for three layers of metal! It took several class hours to solder down the center large flower of my tiara, and man, the amount of firescale on the lily was unbelievable. It took hours of sanding to remove. Then I could never get the heavy lily to solder to the the five strands of twisted 22-gauge wire, and the 18-gauge leaves wouldn't solder to the wire, either. . . .

"Not to be deterred, I decided, 'Who needs a tiara, anyway?' I cut off the lily with some shears and made twelve pairs of earrings from the wire and leaves. I learned a lot with that piece, like how to solder divergent metals and sizes and how to get rid of firescale. Then I moved up to the #1 head on the Smith torch, which is still my favorite. Now I can do anything with that #1 head! So, if you are just beginning, please know that dreams of what you want to make may be beyond your technical ability for now. Don't give up. One day soon it will just all fall into place."

Silverweave Ring by Donna Lewis

Metal Clay Repair by Donna Lewis
"My Silverweave ring (in the PMC Guild Annual and Holly Gage's calendar) was in its green state, and I was doing my final 'face rub' as I do with every piece before firing. I dropped the ring and it broke into three pieces. There was so much work in that ring that after a couple stiff drinks, I rolled up my sleeves and said, 'Oh, no you don't!'

"I sanded away a small amount from all the breaks, moistened the edges, waited, rolled tiny snakes, and pushed them together on the mandrel one piece at a time. I added to the thickness of the band slightly; finished and fired it, and holy smokes! It worked perfectly. That ring has been all over the place; I've worn it lots of times, and the repairs are a total success! Yay! It was worth not giving up!"

Velvet Celt Cuff by Mary Lynn Maloney

Mary Lynn Maloney's Celtic Choker-Turned-Cuff
"I'd been wanting to make a choker with a black velvet ribbon (probably channeling my '70s youth), so I put one together using one of my Irish postage stamps in a pewter bezel. Although it looked nice on my work table, when I put it on it was so goofy looking I had to laugh. The proportion was all wrong: ribbon too skinny, pendant too large. The choker woggled around on my neck in a most unbecoming manner! I was discouraged after the work I'd put into it. I tossed it aside and thought I might use it later in a collage piece or for some other jewelry.

"A few days later I was experimenting making wrist cuffs out of cut-off shirt cuffs from Goodwill, and, lo-and-behold, I spied that cast off choker. Suddenly it was not a goofy thing but rather an ideal focal point for a fabric cuff that I'd been layering and quilting. I loved the results! I dubbed it my Velvet Celt wrist cuff and put it in my Etsy shop."

Leslie Rogalski's Idea Board

Leslie Rogalski's Board of Possibilities
"I pin lots of things on a cork board. You never know when roses will grow from . . . um, you know . . . and inspiration will appear! Some are definitely, 'What was I thinking?' and some are, 'Hmmm, maybe someday.'"

Roger Halas's Mokume Gane Tooth

Mokume Gane Pendant Bail by Roger Halas
"A recent mishap I experienced was while working with mokume gane to set an alligator tooth. For some reason this material has this inherent self-destruct mechanism that goes off if you even look at it funny, yet it's so fascinating, I just can't keep away from it. Moth to the flame metaphor, by all means intended.

"Anyhow, I miscalculated the volume of the billet and heated it with a torch rather than the forge, so when I struck it on the anvil, it started splitting. The core hadn't heated enough! And I should have known better! At this point, placing it in the forge would have been too risky, so I used a graphite rod and a torch to press the layers back into place and soldered it. After that, it was business as usual. But it could have cost me the entire billet. The moral of this story: Never panic. A little ingenuity goes a long way."

Lilian Chen: Third Time's the Charm
"For me, any mishaps or blunders are my next creation, but how to make a good, different ending is a challenge. I always keep looking forward, moving on to see what will happen next. I try to repeat the design again to remember what I did, to see where it needs to be improved. Usually I will repeat it three times while making a new design–the one I wanted. There are lots of mistakes, but I can tell what I want to make next and have a vision for my next creation.

"I really enjoy the mistake re-creation, working toward my new design. So I always tell my students, don't be afraid to make a mistake. Listen to your heart, follow the inside of you, you will find out an amazing thing happens to you. That is your natural, original design. Follow the vision to keep improving, work on that until a new style, new design, is showing in front of you."

Design #1 Design #2 And #3, Watersplash by Lilian Chen

The moral of the story (stories)? Jewelry-making mishaps can become masterpieces when you apply a prescription of a little time, some ingenuity, and a big dose of patience! Another way to get around jewelry mishaps is to design jewelry that's made to look like that–a little wild and freeform. Sounds liberating, doesn't it? Instantly download the Tornado Beads how-to video by Lisa Niven Kelly and learn to make eye-catching wire beads.

Have you ever made a masterpiece out of a jewelry mishap? Share in the comments below–we'd love to hear!

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