Sunday, January 29, 2012

Artist’s Journal: Kuppa Stone Setting

Posted by Yvonne Yao
Guest Blogger

I must first start out by saying that this type of stone setting (which I call Kuppa), was not an original design, but was inspired by a recent trip to Alexis Bittar’s jewelry boutique in Venice, California. The spikey look of her inverse gemstones so captured my heart that I could not help but want a piece of my own recreated in a similar style. Since I have been bursting to try stone setting in a PMC project, this seemed like the perfect opportunity for experimentation.

I started out with a simple pair of ‘Kuppa’ earring studs. I rolled out two small balls of clay, flattened them slightly to give them a plump, oval, cabochon shape, and started setting 1mm and 2.5mm round CZ’s into depressions I made with my fingernails and a set of fine point pliers. I had to re-roll and re-set the first ball of clay a couple of times before getting a feel for the minimum distance required between each gemstone, keeping in mind that shrinkage during firing would bring everything closer together and reduce the gaps between each setting.

The time spent during my ‘trial and error’ stone setting technique meant the clay was a bit more dry than is ideal for setting stones. This made it difficult to set the girdle of each stone slightly below the surface of the clay as I’ve learned to do. But at the same time - I found that I really liked the dimensional look that the upside down stones gave. Since I didn’t have a bur or other tool that would allow me to set the stones in dry clay by drilling holes, I decided to reinforce any loose gemstones by scratching out a deeper foundation with my pliers, re-attaching the stones with slip, letting the piece dry, and hoping for the best during firing.

Editors note: Most stones can be set easily in wet clay or by using a stone setting bur in dry clay. The unusual orientation of this setting might have been made easier with a diamond coated cylinder drill. If the clay is too dry to press stones in, but too wet to drill – either rehydrate it by kneading water into the clay and letting it rest for a few moments or let it dry completely so you can drill a seat for the stone.

Once both studs were completed, I used a drinking straw to cut two circles from clay rolled one card thick to act as the backing for each earring stud, and to function as a base in which to insert 22 gauge fine silver wire posts. I realize that fine silver is a very soft metal to use as earring posts, however, I have never tried it personally and wanted to fire at a higher temperature than sterling would safely allow, again, hoping for the best.

Editors note: Most earring wires are 19 or 20 gauge and would have been a better choice for fine silver posts.

Having made the pair of earrings I decided to try a matching ring as well, practicing my ring sizing for custom pieces. As you may remember, my very first ring turned out to be a baby pinky ring, so a friend of mine told me her easy method for calculating sizing was just to make the ring 2 sizes bigger than desired. I rolled out a fresh ball of clay in a bicone shape, flattened it slightly, and shaped it into an arch to act as the decorative top of the ring. Then I cut a ring band 3 cards thick, taped a sheet of plastic around a ring mandrel, and placed the clay strip on the mandrel. I used the bi-cone topper to join the ends of the freshly cut band before starting to set the stones.

What I did not anticipate was that as I worked, I was unintentionally enlarging the ring both as I used my fingers to press the ends of the decoration onto the open band, and as I pressed the stones deeper into the clay to make sure they stayed set as the piece dried. This probably caused me to enlarge the ring by one whole size.

Editors note: Fine silver metal clay ring bands are more fragile than those made with milled metal or by casting. The usual formula is to use PMC3 and make the bands at least 5 cards thick and 2.5 sizes larger than the final size. I always do complex designs in stages, letting elements dry in between processes so I can perfect each part before adding another and to make sure I don’t accidentally make unwanted marks or stretch the clay.

After firing my pieces, I nervously did a fingernail test on the gemstones to see if any were loose. They all stayed! My next test was polishing the piece by wire brushing. Not too shabby - I lost only one gemstone. Then my friend suggested I twist each earring post once or twice with a pair of pliers and work harden it with a rawhide mallet to lend it more strength. Finally I sanded the post tips to round them, added a pair of ear-nuts - and I was done!

Another beautiful project Yvonne! Thank you.


Holly Anne Black said...

Yvonne - Thank you for sharing, your work is lovely! That is a great project for folks like me just starting with stone setting [and scared to ruin things!] But I do have a lot of little CZ's and I really like the different look of this 'technique'.
I haven't made any rings yet but as with everything else, we just keep learning as we go, don't we?
Just wondering, have you tried this in any other metal clays other than silver?

Radiant Jasmin said...

Beautiful technique!