Faux Plique-à-Jour Enamel: Make Colorful Earrings Using Resin and Glitter

I love this resin project by Tom and Kay Benham, Contributing Editors to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine. It combines a simple but fun jewelry-making material–resin–with a more serious technique–metalwork–along with my favorite supply of any craft: glitter! I love how the resin holds the metal shapes in place, floating in the open-back bezel. This is a great example of creating an open-back bezel for resin using tape, too.

I strongly recommend reading the directions all the way through to get a general idea of how the Benhams created their earrings; then, if you're already comfortable working with resin, making ear wires, etc., you can simplify the process and possibly skip some of these steps/materials.

 

Photo by Jim Lawson.
Project photos below by Tom & Kay Benham.

Colorful Resin Earrings
By Tom & Kay Benham
Originally published in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, October 2009.

A friend's new pendant immediately caught our eye. At first glance we thought it was a piece of enamel–but then she explained that she had recently created it in a resin workshop. She had added some glitter to the resin to create the enamel effect. We were so intrigued that we had to give it a try.

Working with resin wasn't as easy as we'd initially thought. We experimented with several resin systems and colorants before deciding on this project, a pair of earrings that give the impression of plique-à-jour enamel (open on both sides), using transparent resin in place of enamel. The resin holds the wire design in place once it cures. The addition of fine glitter creates a stained glass effect with the open back letting the light shine through. Best of all, no kilns necessary!

Materials

24-gauge sterling silver strip: .020" x .125"
28-gauge fine silver bezel wire: .013" x .125"
sterling silver seamless tubing: .188" OD x .156" ID
18-gauge sterling silver round wire
double-sided carpet tape
two-part epoxy
work lamp
ICE Resin *
mixing cups and spatula
eye dropper
assorted colors of fine glitter
Renaissance Wax
assorted pliers and files
jeweler's gram scale
tube cutting jig
jeweler's saw and blades
flush cutter
cup bur
pencil, paper for layout
beeswax and tumbler for finishing
wooden toothpicks
acetone
soldering setup (torch, tips, striker, flux, easy solder, soldering block, quench, pickle)

* We chose ICE Resin because of its ability to produce a glistening dome finish.

Steps

 

1.       Once we agreed on our design, we used tracing paper to create our pattern. With fingers and an assortment of forming pliers, create frames of earrings from lengths of sterling silver strip, similar to forming a bezel. Mark and cut strips, then file ends square.

2.       Solder outer frames using easy solder. Quench, pickle, rinse. File and sand solder joint smooth.

3.       Again using fingers and an assortment of forming pliers, this time with lengths of fine silver bezel wire, form each partition piece to fit pattern. Take time to adjust and readjust each partition until satisfied that it fits pattern snugly.

4.       Use tube cutting jig to cut four .125" lengths of sterling silver tubing. Two tubing lengths will create the openings for the ear wires; the second set will be used to create two teardrop shapes–which we formed with our small needle-nose pliers.

5.       Mix up a small batch of two-part epoxy to secure each intersection to the outer frame. Apply epoxy to each joint with the tip of a wooden toothpick; then place assemblies under work lamp to allow the epoxy to properly cure. We did not bond the teardrop shapes or the ear wire openings at this time.

6.       Place a strip of double-sided carpet tape to a sheet of paper, then remove release strip from top side of carpet tape. Carefully press each assembly onto the tape to seal the bottom so it won't leak when liquid resin is poured into each cavity. Press small teardrop shapes and pieces of tubing for ear wire openings onto tape according to the pattern.

7.       Carefully weigh equal amounts of resin and hardener with jeweler's gram scale.

8.       Mix resin with spatula for two minutes per manufacturer's recommendation. Because we wanted our earrings to match, we mixed a batch large enough so that we could fill comparable partitions in both earrings in one application.

9.       Add glitter in small amounts using a micro-spatula. Add glitter in several small batches, rather than adding too much to avoid having to mix up another batch. Mix glitter thoroughly into resin after each addition.

10.    Using dropper, add each batch of resin in appropriate cavities. Fill cavities only 3/4 full to allow for final doming layer of clear resin. Clean eye dropper with acetone between each resin batch.

Editor's Note: The final layer of resin not only domes but also helps hold the entire assembly together. I don't recommend skipping this step.

11.    Allow resin to cure at room temperature for one hour according to directions. Place assemblies under work light for 24 hours. Then turn light off and allow resin to cool to room temperature before proceeding.

12.    Mix a large enough batch to dome both earrings at same time. Again, with eye dropper, add resin slowly and carefully so it domes up. Don't allow resin to flow over sides. Allow resin to cure at room temperature for one hour, and then place under work light for 24 hours. Remove from light and allow to cool to room temperature before removing tape from back. Avoid touching the resin surface as it can acquire fingerprints for several days before it is fully cured.

13.    Create ear wires with 20-gauge sterling silver round wire. Round each end with the cup burr lubricated with beeswax before shaping. We placed the ear wires into a vibratory tumbler for a couple of hours to work-harden them. Before attaching earrings to wires, apply a coat of Renaissance Wax to protect resin surface. —Tom & Kay

I'm in love with glitter in resin now, and I can't wait to make similar earrings. I want to use all round tube slices to make a polka-dotted design. Naturally you can modify this project into any design you like, and since you're using resin instead of enamel, you can use just about any metal you want.

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