Leaves and Beads: Turn One Metal Jewelry Design Into Two
Explore jewelry design development making two different brass pendants from the same start
By Bill Fretz
Originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.
Designing a line of jewelry is about finding a theme. In this exercise, we’ll explore using a design concept in different ways to form two pendants.
Look at the drawings in photo 1, below. Each one starts with a basic freeform leaf. One interprets this form as a bulbous fluted bead, the other as a single-sided element with variously shaped beads at the top. The difference between the pendant units is that one piece is single sided, and the other is folded over to form a large, hollow bead. The necklaces we will explore will use the same techniques, and will end as different but still related designs.
Flat, concave, and convex areas of the pieces are formed on different stakes and using different hammers that make up the basic vocabulary of metal forming. One piece drapes over a strand of beads, while the other adds bead elements at the top. One is an enhancer, while the other is a pendant. They relate to each other by shape and texture.
Metal Leaf Jewelry Design Tutorial
beginner metalsmithing, including: hand sawing, annealing
Time it took:
about 3 hours for each design
brass sheet (fold over pendant), 5-1/2″x2′, 18 gauge
brass sheet (single sided pendant), 4″x2″, 18 gauge
1/2″ brass tubing, or 40mmx11mm, 18 gauge brass sheet
3-7/8″ pure silver circles,18 gauge
1/2″ brass tubing or 40mmx11mm brass sheet
hard silver solder
thin leather cord
Fretz Tools: H-1L holder, F-7 thin shell stake, M-119 large spoon stake, M-113A beginning fluting stake, M-113B finishing fluting stake, HMR-1 planishing hammer, HMR-3 narrow raising hammer, HMR-7 insert hammer, HMR-9 rounded wide hammer
pencil and paper
dapping block and punches
jeweler’s saw and 2/ 0 saw blades
7-1/2″ x 10″ x 3/4″ pine wood and c clamp or a bench bin
soldering and annealing torch
hard silver solder
block of wood at least 1-1/2″ thick x 1/4″
3/8″ drill bits with power drill
Cutting the Blanks
1. Working your concepts out with drawing is much faster than working with the metal directly. We will make the top two drawings and see how they compare. The first we will make is the folded over design on the top left.
Make a template by folding paper in half and cutting the two sides out together. Make sure to add enough material at the top so the metal can go around the size of the selected beads. The basic forming of both abstract leaf designs are the same. The design on the right is the same silhouette but with a narrow top unit that is just formed into a pendant top. Both pieces were cut from 18 gauge sheet brass.
2. We will use the folded version to follow the forming process.
The first step is to anneal the metal with a torch, working in an annealing pan filled with pumice to reflect the heat. This is best done in a darkened room to properly see the dull red color of properly softened brass. The brass used is cartridge brass, which is 70% copper and 30% zinc.
Doming or Blocking
3. Using a large ballpein hammer (HMR-4) or an oval headed hammer (HMR-9), the metal is blocked or domed in a sandbag. If you have a concave shape chiseled out of a stump or block of wood that also works. The idea is to cup the metal, by stretching, to the desired shape.
Forming to the Stake
4. The domed area is next smoothed on the large spoon stake (M-119). The hammer used is the nylon insert hammer HMR-107, but the smaller HMR-7 would also work. A planishing hammer is another option, but will leave subtle hammer marks. Next, I’ve hammer textured the back of the folded leaf on the spoon stake (with the HMR-9). This hammer is also used on the front for forming and planishing.
Forming the Flute Jewelry Design
5. A raised fluted line is formed through the middle of the piece by changing the stake to the M-113A stake. This stake is curved with a wedge-shaped top that allows the metal to be driven down on either side of the drawn line. The hammer used is the HMR-9, a rounded wide embossing hammer. Because the hammer face is a rounded curve, it is able to work curved flutes.
Flute forming is first done with the M-113A stake because the crest of the stake is slightly dull and will leave a rounded tracer line. Make sure the hammer blows overlap so that a rounded crest is formed. First do one side and then reverse the metal to do the other side of the flute.
6. Continue fluting by switching to the M-113B stake. This stake has a sharp top edge and makes it possible to move the metal to a sharp crest line. The hammer blows should become lighter and overlap more so the line becomes fluid. Use the HMR-9 hammer to finish planishing the domed area on the large spoon stake. It is important to use the same hammer so the marks are uniform.
7. In the folded design, the two sides of the pendant are folded over so that at least one area touches. Measure the diameter of the beads you want to fold the metal over, and bend it over a wood dowel or metal bar about 2mm larger than those beads. After folding, the contact spot is tack hard silver soldered using plenty of Handy Flux. The two sides are then gently tapped tighter with a nylon hammer or a soft mallet, and at least two more areas are soldered together.
Forming the Top Jewelry Design
8. The top section is made concave so the design will be more fluid; this will also make the pendant slide more easily over the beads it will be hang from. The narrow crosspein (HMR-3) drives the metal into a concave area of a shell stake (F-7).
This is the same stake used to form the concave top section of the single-sided leaf after it has been bent into a hook shape.
After the two pendants are polished, the design similarities end.
Punching Circles Out
9. The second pendant has two design elements that are above the single leaf element. The top section is a split ball connected to the torus, or doughnut shape, with a hollow edge. The top ball element is formed from two 7/8″ circles that are domed and a 7/8″ wafer between the two half balls. Together they form a ball with a center rim.
Before stamping out the circles, it is a good idea to drill or punch out a small hole in the middle about 3⁄32″ (approximately 2.5 mm). Place the 18 gauge pure silver sheet metal between the two circle cutter parts. Align the hole in the sheet metal as close as possible to the middle of the 7/8″ hole. Then put the black nylon center finder cone into the punched/drilled hole to accurately find the true center of die’s hole. A shim of the same thickness is used on the opposite side of the two parts of the cutter to keep the holes aligned. Tighten the circle cutter’s plates and hit the punch with a heavy hammer to punch out the circle.
Dapping the Circles
10. The circles will be planished over a 14 mm round stake (M-3), so start with a large dapping punch, then end using one 14 mm or slightly larger. It is important that both the punches and dies be highly polished and clean so as not to transfer marks to the metal.
Planishing the Cups
11. The cups are now planished with the domed side of the planishing hammer to leave a soft shimmer over the small mushroom stake (M-3). They could be left smooth or worked with another hammer chosen to leave a different texture.
Jewelry Design: Top Elements
12. The center flat unit is now polished smooth and the edge is “upset” or “coined,” or simply textured with a sharp crosspein (HMR-12) to thicken it and add interest. Upsetting the edge is best done on a urethane sheet or soft pine wood so the early hammer marks are not damaged. The hammer used should hit the edge of the circle while it is held in an upright position. Striking the edge of a shape compresses the metal and makes the edge thicker. Different hammers will leave different textures.
The holes on the cups can be enlarged by reaming if the cord is to be easily changed. For a really tight fi t, the hole can be made oval with a round needle file or a tapered burr in a flexible shaft machine. Now is the time to true up the half beads fl at on 320 emery paper or cloth.
Cutting the Torus
13. It is important to choose a torus shape that is large enough so the pendant top will easily pass through the torus’s hole. The torus is made by cutting an 11-12 mm length of 1/2″ (12.7mm) brass tubing with a tube cutter. Just align the blade on the cutter to the measured pen mark and tighten the tool a little. Simply rotate the cutter around the tube and repeat the process and the part will fall free. The ends need to be filed or sanded flat, so cut a little longer than needed.
If you prefer to start with flat sheet instead of tubing, make a small band and solder shut with hard solder. Round the ring on a bezel mandrel with a nylon hammer, and you are ready for the next step.
Forming the Torus
14. Forming the torus with the I-13 concave taper end in an H-2 holder makes this part very easy. Just place the I-13 through the tube and into a 1/4″ predrilled piece of wood or nylon, and tap with a hammer twice. Reverse the tube and tap twice again. You then need to anneal and repeat until the shape is formed. As the piece flares, you will have to switch to a 3/8″ hole to keep the I-13 from getting caught in the smaller hole as the taper moves deeper into the block. By hitting only twice with the same force, you can control the process and keep the shape very even.
Jewelry Design: Connecting the Elements
15. Take all the small pieces and polish them to the desired finish. Make a loop with the 1.8 mm leather cord and capture the torus shape before putting both ends through one cup’s hole. Now take the flat washer shape and thread the cord through that also, and make a tight single knot. Thread the final half bead and lower until it hides the knot end. Add the pendant by tightening the top through the torus unit with the nylon hammer. Because the metal is hard, the units will not come apart.
16. Creating the start of what could be developed into a jewelry line, the two finished pendants relate but are not the same jewelry design. One is an enhancer for a bead necklace; the other is a unified piece.
While shape and texture are important in jewelry design, color should not be underestimated. By varying the metals used, you can bring a new element to the design. Changing the size and shape of the beads would again change the mood. The main pendant profiles could be changed endlessly to keep the line fresh.