Let a Metalsmithing Lapidary Teach You How To Make Metal Bracelets into Supporting Actors or Stars!
Now this is a bracelet and a half! A beautiful combination of metalsmithing and lapidary genius.
Look at the colors and patterns on it: stripes, dots, solids, and checkerboards in blue, white, black, and textured silver — all richly framed by smooth, gleaming silver. Even in a photo the cuff conveys the satisfying heft you’d expect it to have. Talk about a piece of jewelry with presence!
ABOVE: Jeff Fulkerson’s inlaid cuff is a masterpiece of lapidary and metalsmithing work. Photo: Jim Lawson
Jewelry artist Jeff Fulkerson is a master of stone inlay, and underlying this masterly bit of his inlay is his beautifully crafted silver cuff. Jeff would never commit the resources to creating such outstanding inlay on an indifferent bracelet, now would he? Certainly not.
When I came across this project again recently while going through some back issues of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, I had to stop and admire this cuff all over again. It also made think about how a nice, wide silver cuff is the perfect base for showing off inlay: lots of space and the wearer can see it, too. It also made me think about the extra considerations that go into making a bracelet as an inlay base: the work that no one ever sees once the bracelet is finished. Here’s a look at creating that framework, before Jeff covered it all up.
Jeff Fulkerson’s Instructions for Building a Silver Cuff to Support His Amazing Inlay Work
To make the cuff, Jeff used:
- 18-gauge sterling sheet: 2″ x 6″
- 2 15″ x .097″ triangle wire: 16″ length
- Medium silver wire solder
- Metalsmithing hand tools including:
- Jeweler’s saw and blades
- Leather mallet
- Steel block
- Bracelet mandrel
- Small square
- #31 & #48 drill bits
- Dremel or rotary tool
- Medium & fine silicone wheels
- Soldering setup
- Lapidary arbor with 220- and 400-grit belts. (He used additional lapidary equipment for the stone work.)
Make the Underlying Cuff
Photo 1 Temporarily straighten triangle wire.
Photo 2 Cut 2 side lengths at 6 1/4″(for a 6″ bracelet) and 2 end pieces that are 1″ wide at the top with a bevel that fits the inside of the sides exactly. The bottom will be slightly longer due to the taper of the triangle wire. You can make your bracelet as wide or narrow as you like. Just make sure both end pieces are the same length. The fit here is the most difficult part of the metalwork, and extra time spent getting it right will make your piece easy to solder and look good. Straighten and flatten the sides with a mallet on a steel block. If the sides are not straight, they will not be parallel, making your channel much harder to inlay, and the result won’t look as nice.
Photo 3 Cut a piece of 18ga sheet at 2″ x 6″. I like to roll-print a design on the inside of the bracelet using patterned brass. Anneal and flatten. If you want your signature or hallmark stamp on the bracelet, now is the time to stamp it.
Photo 4 Flux all pieces and lay out flat on a Solderite™ pad. Make sure ends are square.
Photo 5 Use medium wire solder to stick-solder the triangle wire to the sheet. Always point the flame away from yourself. Feed the solder into the flame from the inside of the piece, and draw the solder along first on one side of the bracelet and then the other. Ensure the ends get soldered both to the sheet and to the side wires. Try not to get solder on the outside of the triangle wire. Allow to cool before pickling.
Photo 6 Trim the excess sheet and wire from the bracelet with a jeweler’s saw.
Photo 7 On a bracelet mandrel, pound the blank into shape. Make sure it is symmetrical.
Photo 8 Go to your lapidary arbor, put a 220-grit belt on, turn on the water, and sand down the excess metal. (You could file the metal by hand, but this is so much easier!) After sanding the edges, switch to a 400-grit belt and go over both the edges and the face of the triangle wire to remove excess solder from the exposed surface. Check the inside of the channel and file away any solder on the top inside edge to ensure the channel will be straight and clean.
Photo 9 Use a large triangle file to add decorative notches along the edge of the bracelet.
Photo 10 Patinate the inside of the bracelet and brush it with a brass brush. Polish the bracelet.
Jeff Spotlights the Silver
From there, Jeff proceeded to notch the silver rim on one side of the cuff and drill holes for black jade dots on the other rim. Then he started on the main inlay on top. Carefully, painstakingly, he covered up his perfectly structured surface — but not quite. Besides the exposed rims, there is that mostly hidden, occasionally visible, checkerboard pattern roll-printed onto the inside of the cuff. I just love that kind of surprise in jewelry, but in this case I also think of it as giving the metal a bow from the sidelines.
Learn to Make Bracelets with a Bracelet Making Master
With all his experience, Jeff says it took him about 20 hours to make that fabulous inlaid silver cuff! But he can teach you to make make five, very cool but much easier silver and copper bracelets, too, in his video, One Hour Bracelets.
You can also learn to make a Soldered Charm Bangle with Jeff. The complete project is available in the April 2017 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.
And if you want to try your own amazing inlaid cuff, you can find complete instructions in Jeff’s Inlaid Cuff project.
Merle White is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and Editorial Director for the Interweave Jewelry Group.
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