Overcome the Challenges of BezelsLet us Help!

Fold Pendant: This piece has two bezels–a hand-textured one around the fold-formed copper metalwork (made with a cross peen hammer) and one around the stone.

Helen Driggs
is the Managing Editor
for Lapidary Journal

Jewelry Artist

I've never understood why so many teachers say that bezels are the easiest stone setting for beginners to learn. When you think about it, they are really quite complicated.

You've got to fit them properly to the stone circumference; solder them closed; make sure they are the correct height for the stone; solder them to a backplate; pray the stone still fits after soldering; file, clean up, and finish them; set the stone without kinking or wrinkling the bezel walls; and then polish everything to perfection.

That is a long list of tasks for a beginner, and yet, bezels are a very rewarding part of designing your own jewelry and well worth the effort. Here are my tips and solutions for all your bezel endeavors. 

Circumference Fit
The most important thing about fabricating bezels is getting them the correct size for the stone. Oval and round stones are usually the least challenging to fit; however, that is not always true. The circumference fit for high domes, undulating stone profiles, and thin or thick cabs makes getting a good fit a real challenge.  

Another thing to look at is the cab's edges or girdle. Severe angles will call for a snugger bezel in order to compress the metal of the bezel wall securely against the stone without creating wrinkles. But you can't make the bezel so snug that the stone won't drop in cleanly. That is a fine line-literally-between success and failure. We're talking less than a millimeter in many cases. So check that fit again and again-it's worth it!

Proper Bezel Wall Height
Another fabrication challenge is bezel height. When you are buying a cab, look at its thickness from the edge. Remember, manufactured bezel strip comes in specific sizes, so if you buy a thick or thin stone, the strip you have on hand might not be the proper proportion for it. You'll typically end up using much wider strip than you need and then have to file or grind away the excess. That often spawns deformation of the bezel, resulting in a bad fit.

A good way to avoid that problem is to use a rolling mill to roll fine silver wire flat and to the correct width for the stone girdle. You'll need to experiment some figure out what gauge wire to start with and how thin to roll it, but you won't waste metal once you figure it out. The good thing is, once you figure it out, you won't have to buy precut manufactured bezel strip to get what you need.

The difference in gauge between the bezel and the backplate is an important factor when soldering. Don't fry your bezel! Keep the torch on the thicker backplate until you are teetering on the brink of solder flow. Only then play the flame over those thinner bezel walls, and keep that torch flame moving.

Torch Control
If you're going to have trouble making a bezel, here is the place where it's most likely to happen because you must use hard solder to close the bezel walls, and the melting point for hard is very close to the liquid state for bezel wire. It's easy for a beginner to melt the bezel walls trying to get the hard solder to flow, but it's not that difficult to avoid a meltdown, either.

Remember this to stop meltdowns: the hot metal around the solder seam is what melts the solder, not the torch flame. Don't focus your torch on the solder. Heat the entire bezel gently to dull red, watch the flux go glassy, and only then run the torch flame over the seam when you see the solder run liquid. As soon as you see the white flash fill the entire seam, get that torch off the metal. 

The Backplate
The backplate is another danger zone for beginning metalsmiths. Typically, the gauge difference between the bezel and the backplate is more than a few steps. If you focus the flame on the thin bezel instead of the thick backplate, you will melt the bezel much sooner than you will bring the backplate up to soldering temperature.

So I will repeat the most important soldering fact: the hot metal around the solder seam is what melts the solder, not the torch flame. I heat my firebrick a bit, put the piece on the warm brick, and dance the flame around and around the backplate to heat it to dull red before I ever go near that bezel wall. I don't put solder chips inside the bezel walls or touching the bezel walls if I am cutting away the backplate because I pull the liquid solder to the walls with the torch for a super-clean join. If I am leaving the backplate intact, I do the opposite: solder chips inside the walls but never touching them. Oh, and don't forget to generously flux everything. I use Prip's in a spray bottle

Once you have a good bezel fit, the proper wall height, a cleanly soldered backplate, and a nicely finished piece, it is very hard to delay gratification long enough to set a stone in a bezel properly. You must, must, must be patient, go slowly, and chill your jets long enough to compress the bezel evenly and consistently around the stone. Don't rush to finish the piece. I often fabricate a piece completely to the stone-setting part and then force myself to step away from the bench, saving the setting for the next day, so I am mentally prepared to do a patient job of setting. It is hard to do, but worth it in the end. Clean bezels are a stone's best friend.  

Take the First Step
If you've decided to take the plunge into creating your own bezels, one excellent resource is Metalwork: Making Bezels for Stones and Found Objects. In this DVD, Denise Peck, editor in chief of Step by Step Wire Jewelry, gives you step-by-step instructions for making bezels in five lessons. It also brings you soldering basics, tips for using a wide range of objects for your bezeled jewelry, finishing techniques, and much more.

And after you've completed your first bezels and created your jewelry with them, don't forget to share your work with everyone on Jewelry Making Daily. Sharing is half the fun of creating!

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