Making New Earrings From Old Jewellery
In my last post, I introduced you to the Rolling Mills and, as promised (although a little later than expected), in this post I am going to show you how I make a gorgeous pair of earrings using the rolling mills as a primary forming tool.
I’ve started out with some scrap 9ct gold here. I have used an old wedding ring and a broken chain, with a total weight of 4.6 grams. After giving it a clean and removing the steel components from the chain clasp (we don’t want that turning up in our newly melted gold!), I’m ready to fire up the torch and melt it down.
Fire Up The Torch...
I actually love this part. The glow, the flame, the gorgeous melty blob of liquid gold….very satisfying.
The molten gold is poured from the crucible into an ingot mould. My mould has a range of channel sizes. Since I am only using a small amount of gold, and I want the end result to be a fairly thin strip, I will use the smallest channel.
Once the gold is poured and cooled it kind of looks like a tiny loaf of bread, don’t you think? And most people are surprised to see that, while in its working stages, gold isn’t actually very gold. It is in fact quite dull, not at all what you’d expect. Yeah, this jewellery making gig is not as glamorous as most people think.
So now we have this bread-ish shaped piece of gold, this is where the rolling mills come into effect. In fact, this is their exact purpose.
Rolling the Metal...
Starting with the square rollers, I feed the bar of gold through the mill, reducing the gap slightly for each pass, and working my way down in size. As you can see, this transforms the oddly shaped rod into a nice square bar, whilst also lengthening it.
Note – As metal is worked (hammered, drawn, stretched, rolled) the internal crystal structure changes and it becomes harder, more brittle and prone to cracking. To restore the structure and re-soften the metal, it needs to be annealed. This is done by heating the metal to a particular temperature (the temperature depends on the metal being annealed), holding it at that temperature for a short period of time and then cooling. This needs to be repeated each time the metal hardens.
My goal here is to make the two earrings from one piece of metal. The centre of the rod will be the wider part of the earrings, and the ends will be the hooks. Making them as one piece means they are much more likely to turn out exactly the same. I will roll the centre wide and flat, and the ends very thin and square, then cut the piece in half to make two identical pieces.
So, I roll my entire rod through the square mill to the dimensions required for the centre section, which will end up being the flat front textured part of the earrings.
There are formulas to work out the dimensions, but after so many years at the bench, I just eyeball it and get pretty close every time. If you are working on rolling metal at home, and need a precise guide, I have found this super-handy online calculator, specifically designed for calculating starting lengths of metal for projects like this. It is absolutely brilliant, especially if you are just starting out or if you have very little scope for waste with the metal you have on hand.
I still have to take into account the flat rolling that is left to do but will keep the middle section square for now. Look how long it got!
The next step is to roll only the ends down to the size I want for the hook part of the earrings. I’ll feed the metal into the square rollers only part way, and I will do this on both ends, reducing the mills as I go until I reach the desired dimension. I am rolling square, but will file the hook end round for comfort, so I need to take this into account.
Then, I roll that centre section through the flat mills. This will, well, flatten it. But will also lengthen and widen it (think of rolling dough). If you are following along making this at home, remember that you have to allow for the length of two earrings in the centre. It’s an easy oversight, so plan it out before you begin.
Once I have the centre section done, I measure and cut it in two with my saw. A tip here is to measure the middle flat section and mark the centre for cutting. Do not measure the whole piece including the hook ends – just the middle section, because you’re two ends will most likely be different lengths at this stage (don’t worry, we will trim them up later).
Now I have two little canoe paddles!
Adding Some Texture...
The next step is to add the texture to the flat sections. I do this using one of my many texturing hammers, but it can also be done with a standard ball-pein hammer.
Then I add the carat stamp and my makers mark to the back. I am doing this because I tested the gold prior to melting, and therefore know for certain that this is 9ct gold. You really don’t need to do this if you are making these at home, but as I will be offering these earrings for sale, I need to guarantee the metal quality and mark it with my own, unique makers mark.
Now for the cleaning up and polishing. I do this while the earring pieces are still flat because it is easier to hold and I can reach all of the surface areas to ensure a really good finish.
Firstly, I file the ends so they are smooth and nicely shaped, making sure at this point that both of the pieces are exactly the same length. I also now file the hook sections so that they are a more rounded wire rather than square. This makes them much more comfortable to wear, although you could leave them square for a more contemporary look.
I use a variety of polishing wheels and grades of polish on my flexi-shaft to get a beautiful shine on the entire piece. Once I am happy with the polishing, I am ready to form up the earrings. We’re almost done and this is where they really come together. This is the exciting part…
Finally, using my round forming pliers, I bend the earrings from the top of the flat section to form the hooks, then trim them to an even length and smooth off the ends with some fine emery paper and a little more polish.
And here are our stunning reclaimed gold earrings, perfect for casual or formal occasions. This style really does suit everyone. I made myself a pair of these and I wear them nearly every day (my other earrings are all jealous!)
If you have some old jewellery and you love these earrings, I can make you a pair!
The length and size of the earrings depends on the amount of gold you have. These ones used 4.6grams of gold, which was a wedding ring and a broken chain pictured earlier in the post.
If you have a little more, your earrings will be a little bigger. I basically work with what you give me and no two pairs will be the same. Contact me for details and pricing. This is great way to use your broken jewellery, or perhaps an inherited item that is just not your style.
If you have the tools at home and are going to give it a go yourself, I’d love to see the results. Send me photos!!! And use #tkjd and/or #myTKJD on social media so I can find you.
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