Try Sam Patania’s Easy Prong Setting for Gemstones
Add dimension, color, and lots of life to earrings by doming the metal and adding faceted gems. Prong setting gemstones is easy using a versatile new gem setting system from Sam Patania.
Sparkling in 3D: Prong Setting Gemstones on Domed Earrings
By Sam Patania
from the January/February issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist
Opening photo above: Jim Lawson; process photos below: Sam Patania.
Prong settings let lots of light into a faceted stone so it can really sparkle for all it’s worth–but newer metalsmiths may not be ready for this type of setting, as many of my students have made clear to me. So I developed Sam’s Simple Mount, or SSM, to give jewelry makers the opportunity to incorporate a prong mount in their own designs without having to build one from scratch. The SSM comes in 9 calibrated selections with different sizes, shapes, and numbers of prongs to accommodate a wide variety of cut stones. What sets this mount apart from others on the market is that you can simply solder any of these mounts to any flat or domed surface, or just hang a pair from jump rings for simple earrings.
SKILLS: Basic metalsmithing
TIME IT TOOK: About 3 hours
22-gauge 1-inch diameter sterling silver
Sam’s Simple Mount 12mm round
12mm round faceted citrine
Disk cutter, drill and 1.5 mm drill bit, dapping die, ball punch, emery sticks: 220 and 320 grit, buffing machine with horse hair brush and cloth wheels with Tripoli and Zam compounds, side flush cutters, beeswax, bezel rocking tool, prong pusher/burnishing tool, large leather mallet, anvil
Steps for Prong Setting Gemstones on Earrings: Prepare the Disks
1. Cut the 22-gauge sheet disks. My disk cutter is a tool I cannot live without: hand cutting disks is what I did as an apprentice for many years, but the simplicity of a disk cutter is a life improvement!
Drill the sterling disks for ear wires using a 1.5mm drill bit in a flex shaft. The trick is to get the hole not too far from the edge, but also not too close. Stamp the back of the disks with your hallmark, if you have one, and .925 stamp for sterling.
2. I had to experiment with the dapping die to find the correct hole for my disks. The hole must work for both the size of the disks as well as the amount of dome I want them to have. Once you’ve decided on the right dapping die hole for you, pick the appropriate ball punch. You want to hit the disk only once to get the desired dome. With a large leather mallet, hit the ball punch into the dapping die placed on the anvil.
3. Using emery sticks, smooth the tops of the disks to start removing the dapping die marks, the 220 with 320 grit, and then finish with a worn side of the 320 emery stick. The worn 320 is the last emery I do before polishing.
Prong Setting Gemstones on Earrings: Solder on the Mount
Next, I take my domed and emeried disks and my SSM to the soldering bench. With your parts at your soldering station, dip the mount into paste flux and place it in the middle of the disk. Evaporate the flux with the torch so that the mount will stay where you want it, and move the mount into the center of the disk as well as you can.
4. Put two pallions of solder inside each mount and gently heat the whole disk and mount assembly until the solder flows. Heat the disk more than the mount because the mount will heat up faster, and the solder will flow onto the mount alone.
5. Although a tripod with mesh can be used to heat the disk from below, I find that just scooting the disk to the edge of the soldering block works perfectly. I leave about a third of the disk overhanging the block to let me heat under the disk. Once the solder flows, pickle, rinse, and dry the now assembled earrings.
Tip: Although a tripod with mesh can be used to heat the disk from below, I find that just scooting the disk to the edge of the soldering block works perfectly. I leave about a third of the disk overhanging the block to let me heat under the disk.
6. My favorite tool in the war against heat or fire scale is the horse hair brush. I use horse hair brushes on my buffer, and they can get into small crevices close to the soldered-on mount. I don’t bother to do a final finish now, just removal of heat scale.
Prong Setting Gemstones on Earrings: Prepare the Disks: Set the Stones
7. Drill a hole inside the mount so you can cut out its center. This will allow the bottom (pavilion) of the stone to sit in the mount. Clean up the hole you just cut with a large hart bur so it’s neat.
8. Gently open the prongs just enough to fit the stone held with the beeswax into the mount. Any flaring of the mounts work hardens them and makes them more difficult to push over, which is why you don’t want to open them any more than necessary.
9. Push the prongs a little bit at a time using the “four corners” method, working on one pair of opposite prongs, and then another, gradually pushing them down. I push them until all four prongs contact the stone and the stone is captured.
10. Next you’ll want to shorten the prongs and create a sharp point at the top. You want the point sharp enough so you can easily burnish it, which is important in making the earrings comfortable when worn.
Be sure to leave the prongs long enough to generously overhang the girdle of the stone and hold it securely. The angle of the cut will be close to the angle of the crown of the stone. Using flush side cutters, cut the prongs.
11. I use a prong pusher to burnish the prongs, which need to be burnished in three different directions: down the middle and left and right as you face the prong. This smooths the prongs; as you run your finger over the top of a properly burnished prong, you should feel little or no sharpness. The goal is to make the prong setting smooth and in close enough contact with the stone that a hair won’t get caught by a prong. If you are burnishing and the prongs are not getting smooth, you might not have cut the prong at a sharp enough angle.
Prong Setting Gemstones on Earrings: Polish and Hang
Once the prongs are burnished down against the stone so they don’t catch a fingernail, you are done stone setting. Buff with Tripoli and Zam to get a high polish and the earrings are finished. A bit of buffing across the tops of the prongs makes them look well finished.
12 With the addition of French wires, the earrings are ready to wear!
Try Prong Setting Gemstones with an Easy, Convenient Kit
Ready to easily set stones in gemstone jewelry projects? Get Sam Patania’s Easy Prong Setting Collection to make prong setting gems easy and rewarding. In addition to Sam’s premade prong settings, you’ll get five project downloads and the popular Gemstone Settings book. You’ll also receive both print and digital Jan/Feb 2018 issues of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, in which this project appears.
SAM F. PATANIA is a jewelry artist, owner of Patania Sterling Silver Originals in Tucson, Arizona, and fourth-generation jewelry maker. He apprenticed to his father, Frank Jr., for 10 years starting at the age of 15. The family was recognized in 1999 at the Tucson Museum of Art with the show “Patanias, A Legacy in Silver and Gold.” Patania jewelry is represented at several important museums, including a trio of cuffs at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, one cuff each created by Frank Sr., Frank Jr., and Sam Patania.