Notice - Ben Gorman's wife Yvonne has received her college degree and both Ben and Yvonne have found new jobs. Ben is no longer making jewelry. The story below is preserved as it shows how jewelry is made.
The Making of a Hummingbird Bracelet
by Ben Gorman
Usually, the design process starts with a sketch of the jewelry using pencil and paper. This sketch is scanned into the computer where it is made into an illustration using computer imaging and illustration software. In the case of the hummingbird bracelet design, I already had a computer illustration of a hummingbird pendant which I had completed several months earlier. click to see an enlarged image
Design for Hummingbird Pendant
Since the bracelet was to be a matching piece of jewelry for the pendant, I used my computer illustration program to bring in the pendant's hummingbirds into a new illustration document. I made some changes to the design so that it would work on a bracelet design. The most significant change was the separation of the birds to allow a larger stone to be placed in the middle. Also, the wings of the hummingbirds were flared out to fill out the bracelet. Then I added some stamp patterns to accent the design. In my illustration application, I have created precise illustrations of my silver stamps by scanning their print into the computer and creating accurate illustrations for each stamp. This allowed me to place various stamp patterns into the bracelet document and place them in a pleasing pattern. This makes the process of creating stamp patterns very simple, but it took me many hours to illustrate each stamp pattern. click to see an enlarged image
Pattern for Hummingbird Bracelet
When the illustration of the design is complete it is time to create from this illustration a template that can be used to begin the cutting and stamping of the silver. I found a special paper called Appliqué laser film that works very well in transferring the computer design to the silver. This thin self-adhesive film is very tough and can be printed on by a laser printer. It is very much like contact paper with a sticky side which can be applied to a flat surface. I usually create two templates for the silver. One is for the top layer of silver and the other for the bottom layer of the overlay. After printing the templates on a single sheet of film, I cut out the templates for each layer. click to see an enlarged image
Printing the Appliqué
The backing for the film is removed exposing the sticky side. click to see an enlarged image
Removing the backing
The film template is then carefully placed on the appropriate sheet of silver. The hummingbird bracelet uses an 18 gauge sheet of silver on the top layer and a 20 gauge sheet on the bottom. click to see an enlarged image
Template on raw silver
Now, I am ready to stamp the silver. The film is tough enough to withstand light stamp work. If you hit the stamps too hard, the film may come off. I usually stamp hard enough to leave a deep enough impression to be able to restamp later in the jewelry making process. click to see an enlarged image
Stamping the Bracelet
After stamping the silver, I will drill small holes into the top layer of silver so that a saw blade can be inserted into the holes to cut out the designs. I like using my Dremel mototool to do the drilling. click to see an enlarged image
Drilling small holes
Sawing the designs out of the silver is a time consuming and meticulous process. click to see an enlarged image
Sawing the silver overlay
Unfortunately, there is no "Undo" command if the saw makes a bad cut. I have instinctively reached for my mouse many times while I was sawing silver. I use 5/0 size saw blades. These blades are very thin and are the same size as the .5 point size of the lines printed by the laser printer. I usually cut right on the line except in some special cases where I must cut on the outside of the line. Sawing intricate designs in silver requires a lot of experience and practice to do a professional job. After the sawing is finished, the silver is further enhanced by filing away any rough edges using a set of jeweler's files. When this is complete the film is removed from the silver. click to see an enlarged image
Removing the Appliqué film
The next step is soldering the top layer of silver to the bottom layer. Soldering is the process of joining two or more pieces of silver with solder by heating with a torch. Solder is a mixture of silver and other metals such as brass that has a lower melting point than silver. click to see an enlarged image
Soldering the overlay to backing
This has always been a tough process for me. This is where a nice piece of half-finished jewelry can turn into a piece of class B scrap. The basic rule to follow is to keep your silver clean when soldering. The basic method to soldering an overlay piece is to first melt small snippets of solder to the bottom side of the top layer of silver using an ample amount of flux (flux helps your solder to flow and protects the surface of the silver from oxidation). After the solder is melted onto the top layer, it is put into an acid solution. This process called pickling cleans the silver of the melted flux and any oxides. Now the two pieces are placed one on top of the other and heated until the two pieces solder together. Again, fluxing and pickling are required to do this right. When the soldering of the overlay is complete it is a good time to take a big sigh of relief and to restamp your bracelet. It is very important to make the stamp impressions deep enough so that the upcoming sanding process will not sand away the stamp patterns. click to see an enlarged image
Now it is time to shape the bracelet. During the design process I used information from my buyer to determine the size of the bracelet. This bracelet measures approximately 5 and 1/4 inches in length. This length is appropriate for a woman's size "small" bracelet. A rule of thumb that I use to get the bracelet measurement is to wrap a strip of paper around the owner's wrist to determine the circumference. Then the desired opening in the bracelet is subtracted from the circumference to get the length of the bracelet. The opening for this bracelet is about one inch. click to see an enlarged image
Forming the bracelet
Next, the bracelet is sanded to get rid of scratches and red scale. Red scale is a reddish tint on the silver that occurs from heating. All of the red scale must be sanded off. Progressively finer grits of sandpaper are used to get the silver to a nice smooth finish. After the sanding process, the bracelet is buffed and polished on a buffer. A buffer is a machine with a motor and spindle. The spindle spins various replaceable buffing and polishing wheels. There are many buffing and polishing agents that are applied to the wheels to get the desired buffing and polishing.
Between the buffing and the final polishing I will apply a darkening agent (oxidizer) to the incised design on the bracelet. This darkening provides a contrast between the incised design and the polished surfaced of the bracelet. click to see an enlarged image
Bracelet with darkened incised design
The last step is to insert the turquoise stone. The making of the turquoise cabochon for the Hummingbird bracelet is another story that will have to wait.
That is it. I hope you have enjoyed reading the story of the hummingbird bracelet. This bracelet is not the most difficult I have done, but it illustrates my method of silver design and creation very well. Ben Gorman
This hummingbird bracelet by Ben Gorman, similar to the one shown above, is no longer available. Ben is no longer doing silversmithing.
Ben Gorman Clip Art
Ben has created a disk of Navajo clip art. The Map of the Navajo Reservation, below, is taken from Ben's disk of clip art. click to see an enlarged image
Map of the Navajo Reservation
Copyright by Ben Gorman
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