“I want to learn to make silver jewellery, where do I start?”
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and starting on the first one.”
As with everything you tackle in life, it’s the starting point that is the toughest. The internet is a great resource, but it is packed with opinions and conflicting information, to the point that it can actually become confusing, and you often get clouded and even put off.
Every tutor is different in their approach to helping you get started, but we thought this might be a helpful guide for those who are looking to make jewellery, from our perspective at least – be it a hobby, a career, or just as an occasional creative outlet.
Generally, when starting, you want to get a really clear understanding of the key skills of jewellery making…. soldering, piercing, how to form the metal, how different thicknesses of metal behave etc. This will really benefit you within every project your tackle. From there it is important to develop further with each project you choose while continuing to practice the core skills of jewellery making. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but aim to push yourself a little further with each project you take on.
For the complete beginner I usually suggest our weekend Stacking Rings course. It’s 3 hours long so gives you a really good feel for jewellery making if you have never done it before without having to commit to a full day. You will cover a range of techniques – ring sizing, soldering, texturing the silver and polishing. From here, you can decide if jewellery making is for you. Another option is trying a term time class (although we currently have a waiting list, so you might have to wait for a space to become available). Term time classes are a great places to share project ideas, be inspired by others and to develop new skills over a period of weeks, months, years… however long you decide to stay with us.
If you can’t join us on one of our term time classes, we run a wide range of weekend classes including, spinner ring making, design and make a cocktail stirrer, bangle making, earrings and pendant making, stone setting, wax carving, etching, chain making, fold forming, sand casting, threading and knotting, and spoon making. These weekend classes are great for helping you develop your skill set.
When teaching students, I tend to follow their own preferences and wishes as they learn, and gently guide them to develop new skills along the way. Every student is unique and will have preferred projects and a preferred direction. Some students are really drawn to geometric designs and stone setting, while others like organic jewellery – casting, fold forming, and textures. I try to get to grips with each student as an individual and work with them to develop from there.
I usually suggest ring making to introduce a new student to the key essential equipment so it doesn’t feel so alien and then I find chain making a great lead on project. Chain making really tackles soldering head on, you can work with a variety of metal thicknesses to get an understanding of how different metal thickness behave and how they react during soldering. From here I might suggest learning how to create a bezel stone setting if stone setting is of interest as it helps you gain an eye for detail and how important measuring and soldering heat control is. If you enjoy stone setting, I would then introduce you to tube setting and flush setting.
I find it useful to encourage piercing out metal alongside projects (aka cutting out your metal with a saw) using the saw is very important, and it takes a bit of getting used to, many broken saw blades, and a few naughty words, but tackle it head on and suddenly you get to grips with it; as much practice as possible along the way is a massive benefit for developing good hand control and an eye for detail.
I generally then try to introduce students to a range of new techniques to try including fold forming, water casting, granulation, golf leaf, oxidising, fusing, press forming, resin firstly so you know what techniques exist out there, but secondly to help you find your style and techniques you enjoy. Some students are very drawn to some techniques and not others, and that is ok, it is what makes us unique, I therefore will not force projects on students for that reason, but I may encourage you try new things, and I will try ease you forwards if I see you getting too comfortable making the same style of project over and over again.
I asked two of our tutors to provide an insight into their teaching steps to help beginners get started. Krista Thomson runs some of our term time and weekend jewellery making classes and Stephen Barnett runs our intermediate stone setting classes…
Krista Thomson’s Guide to Learning:
I tend to start my beginners off learning to make textured rings as you cover all of the following basics by doing so:
- Measuring / Size calculations
- Annealing / Using blow torch
- Texturing – hammer / stamp / rolling
- Re-shaping / forming
I get them to make basic earrings out of any off cuts, which is a satisfying extra and adds (12.) drilling/piercing to their skill base.
From there I go onto a basic bezel setting as you’re using all or the majority of the above techniques plus adding (13.) bezel pushing and (14.) burnishing.
By going up in small increments adding a new skill each time, their confidence builds and the basics get practiced over and over again.
Stephen Barnett: Stone Setting Where to Start…
Coming specifically from a stone setting perspective, I feel that the most important thing is to get a grip on some of some of the basics of manufacture first, so practice soldering filing sawing etc. and only when you have a grasp of the basics would I move on to setting.
There are many different types of stone setting from the very hard (Pave) to the relatively basic (rub over) but they all follow the same four basic rules
- Measure the stone
- Create a negative space to fit the stone
- Remove the metal stopping the stone fitting into the hole.
- Replace the metal over the stone to hold it in place.
Once you have grasped these basic rules all stone setting is just variation on these basic themes.
So with this in mind here is my guidance for starting out in stone setting.
Stones used in jewellery are often very small and, although it is usually actually easier to set smaller stones for the practiced stone setter, it is very hard for the beginner to see what they are doing at such a small scale. With this in mind learn with larger stones to get the principal and then when you know what you are doing you can start to scale down.
START AT THE BEGINNING:
A lot of students want to do pave straight off but don’t try to run before you can walk. Learn rub over, claw set and flush set first, and then move onto the big boys, like pave, fishtail and thread and grain settings.
DON’T BELIEVE WHAT YOU SEE ON T.V:
There are lots of videos of people on you tube doing perfect settings with tools that cut the metal like butter and every stone clicking into place like clockwork. This is not always quite how it works out in real life though, so remember the microscopes and pneumatic gravers that make the setters work so much easier, are great but cost a lot of money.
Start off with hand held scorpers and a good quality visor first and buy the Ferrari once you can drive it. Trust me in the long run this will make you a much better setter.
And all the clicking stones? It’s just someone behind the scenes with a clapper board.
And the golden rule?
When I started learning to set I sat I my workshop with a Sainsbury’s bag full of settings and a Sainsbury’s bag full of stones and practiced every night for three months before I even told my boss I was ready to start learning. Twenty years later and I’m still practicing (and still saving up for one of those fancy microscopes).