by Alex White
What is jewelry fabrication? After all, to fabricate something is just to make it, right? Yes and no. In a general sense, to fabricate is to construct or manufacture, invent or create. But in the world of jewelry making, "fabrication" takes on a very specific meaning.
In making precious metal jewelry, there are two main ways of constructing a piece, fabrication and casting. First, let’s define casting. Casting is a very widely used method of manufacturing precious metal jewelry both with individual artists and large manufacturers. In casting, the metal is melted down to a liquid state and then, by one of several different methods, transferred to a hollow mold that is in the shape of the jewelry, sort of like pouring melted chocolate into an Easter bunny mold, only much more complex, since, for one thing, precious metals melt at degrees up in the thousands Fahrenheit. After the metal is transferred and cooled, it is in the shape of the jewelry piece. Of course, there’s a lot to do to a piece after it comes out of a mold before it is considered a finished piece of jewelry, but that’s the basic concept. The great advantage of casting is that you can make multiple pieces at once, and they’re all exactly the same.
Fabrication starts with sheet metal and various shapes of wire and lots of hand tools, such as jeweler’s saws, special pliers and files and, the mainstay of jewelry making, a small motorized tool called a flex-shaft. There are many, many more tools involved in the process, but we need not go into all of that here. If you’re really interested in jewelry making, visit the jewelry making pages of about.com, jewelrymaking.about.com. They have projects, articles, tips and links for all levels of jewelry making from beginning to advanced.
In fabrication, the jeweler makes each piece of jewelry individually, since there is no mold to go by. How closely one piece of the same design resembles another depends entirely on the jeweler’s ability to do every step exactly the same every time. Machine-like perfection is not generally feasible, so fabricated pieces of the same design usually have very small, most often not noticeable, differences among one another.
A jeweler who uses the fabrication method, as Ariel Silver uses for their handmade sterling silver jewelry, must make each piece of his design separately and then put them all together by soldering them. Rather like building a model airplane where, instead of buying a kit, you have to make all the pieces first. For putting the pieces together, jewelry fabrication uses solder instead of glue. Precious metal solder is a metal alloy used to join pieces of metal. The heat of a blowtorch melts the solder, and when it solder cools, it bonds the metal pieces together.
For instance, in our Lattice Pendant#1 with Citrine, shown at left, the background lattice piece is first textured by rolling a small piece of sterling silver sheet metal through a rolling mill with a material which will impress its texture on the sterling silver. Then, the open squares must each be individually cut out with a jeweler’s saw. The flower with the setting for the gemstones, the butterfly and the leaf are each formed individually from sheet metal. The flower stem is made of sterling silver wire. After all these pieces have been made, they must be carefully soldered together using silver solder and a jeweler’s torch. Sound complicated? Well, it is sometimes. In fact, it can be rather exacting work dealing with such small pieces. But it’s lots of fun and really exciting and gratifying when you finally get to the end with a beautiful finished, polished piece of handmade sterling silver jewelry!
A piece of handmade fabricated sterling silver jewelry, like that of Ariel Silver, is a work of artistry and love, the love of designing and creating a special piece. When you buy this type of jewelery, you know the jeweler is creating a work of art especially for you, just because you want it. That’s a nice feeling. Plus, the quality of your jewelry is assured since the fabrication jeweler takes great care to assure the perfection of your finished piece.