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How Do You Make A Silver Ring? Create One Of Our Bestsellers With Me


Ever since I sold handmade Fimo brooches in the school playground, I've had a passion for making beautiful jewellery. The materials and processes have advanced over the years, but the joy is just the same.


But what actually goes into the process of making a designer ring by hand? If you've ever wondered how rings are made, this one's for you!


For the very first time, I'm bringing you along for the ride as I create a beautiful silver ring. 


Without further ado, let's head into the studio to get started...




Step One: Ring Design


Our first step is to decide on a design for our handmade ring. 


I've decided to go for a nibbled-edge patterned silver ring with diamonds - it's one of our most popular designs.


Our clients choose it as an eternity ring, an engagement ring, a wedding band or a "just because" ring (my personal favourite - who needs an excuse to buy beautiful jewellery anyway?). I already wear one of these in gold in a different width, so I've decided to make a slimmer one today that I'll wear on the middle finger of my other hand.


Getting the size right


The way we're going to determine how much silver I need to start off with is surprisingly low-tech and old-school!


The width of the finished ring will be 6.5mm, so I'm going to cut a strip of paper that wide. I'll now wrap my paper around the ring stick, which has all the different sizes on it. I know the finger I will be wearing it on is a size Q.



how to measure the length of silver needed for a ring


I'll now measure the length of that piece of paper where one end meets the other, which comes to 59mm.

In jewellery, we do everything in millimetres, because if you go a couple of millimetres one way or another it can be the difference between the right or completely the wrong size.


So it's incredibly important I do this part accurately!


On top, I'll add a 1mm tolerance, so that when I order this sheet of metal I've got a little bit of room to play with if I need to neaten the ends up. I'm also going to add on the thickness of the metal, which is 1.5mm.


59 + 1.5 + 1 = 61.5mm


62mm is how much silver I'm going to order from our bullion supplier to be on the safe side!


silver sheet ready to handmade a ring from

Made to order


Now I've picked the silver up from the bullion dealer. I'm left with a nice strip to work with.


The reason I don’t cut it to size myself is because I'd have to have sheets of silver in stock and we'd be left with lots left over we couldn't use, so this way is more efficient and economical - we order what we need to make each ring.


The silver comes with a blue plastic protective coating on it which is very satisfying to peel off!


With the protective plastic now removed, the next thing we’re going to do is anneal it.



What is annealing?


Annealing is a process of softening metal - I need to bend the silver into a ring shape and it's very hard in its current state. 


In the annealing process, we gently heat the metal using a little torch and we're looking for a pinky, cherry red heat throughout - which you can just see at the top part of the silver in the picture below. 


That's when we stop heating and take the flame away - if we go any further, it will melt!


heating annealing silver ready to bend into shape


After heating the silver, I wait for it to cool down before placing it carefully into the pickle pot.  Like lots of jewellers, my pickle pot is actually a slow cooker.


A slow cooker as an acid pickle pot for jewellers

A pickle pot is essentially like a bain-marie used in cooking.


It's filled with water, then a container is placed in the water that holds a solution of safety pickle (a mild acid). This is warmed up and over the course of ten minutes, the acid removes all of the oxide build-up that's attached itself to the metal during the heating process.


Piece of silver before the pickling process
The silver's pre-pickle colour after being heated
Piece of silver after picking process
Ta-dah! The silver looks very white after pickling

Now, I can give it a good rinse, dry it off thoroughly and I'm left with some very soft silver to work with!



Shaping the silver



The next task is to shape the metal into the ring shape itself, which I do with a pair of gently curved half-round pliers. Luckily I've had my Weetabix this morning, because I need to use the strength of my hand and the pliers to get the ends to meet.



Holding it up to the light, I see the ends aren't completely parallel, so I need to cut through that joint with a saw frame to make the ends meet entirely before soldering.


One of the golden rules of soldering is that you need really good contact between the two pieces of metal for it to work.


So, I pierce through it with a saw frame then hold it back up to the light and there's no gap anymore - all it took was a really thin saw blade to cut through it and take away any unevenness for the ends to thoroughly meet. Success!


Next, I place it back on a heat block and paint on some Auflux, a solution that protects the silver while it's being heated so no oxidisation/dirt can get into the joint.


Another rule of soldering (it's all about the rules!) is that you have to have thoroughly clean pieces of metal to be able to solder them together.



Soldering the ring


Ahead of soldering, I cut up tiny pallions of silver and use Auflux solution to stick them in place on top of the ring, then once that's tacked on I'll heat it up again.



cutting silver solder up


Which brings us nicely onto our third rule of soldering...


The heat needs to be evenly balanced out for the melted solder to jump - as it were - to both sides of the metal to bind it together.


This means heating the back of the ring as well - if just the front parts are heated, the back will remain cold and will always suck the heat away from the solder joint. If we heat one side of the joint more than the other the solder will jump to that side - as it will always go to the hottest point.



All parts of the ring have to be heated evenly for the solder to flow
All parts of the ring have to be heated evenly for the solder to flow

I heat both sides of the joint evenly until the solder is ready to flow, then it melts in a split second, the heat is removed and the solder hardens just a second later.


I wait for it to cool slightly before putting it's back into the acid for another good clean. Placing red-hot metal that's been soldered straight into the pickle can shock the solder joint and potentially weaken it. I leave it for ten minutes and it comes out lovely and white.


We now have a great solder joint to work with!



Making the ring round! 


You might have noticed the ring isn't very circular. And that's okay - the first part of the process is all about joining the ends up. The ring is now placed onto a ring mandrill and I'm going to use a rawhide mallet and give it a few good hits and get it into shape so it’s nice and circular.





Once I’ve given the ring a really good whack with the mallet it’s still a bit uneven in places, so I put it onto the ring stretcher/reducer (shown above)


The ring stretcher/reducer does exactly what it says on the tin. We can gently increase or decrease the size of a ring by a small amount using the lever to expand the segmented upright section (stretching the ring from the inside) or compressing the ring (that is placed in the appropriate size hole at the base) by applying pressure down onto it, using the same lever, but in the opposite direction.


Using this equipment serves two purposes on this particular occasion:


Firstly, it helps to round our ring completely.


Secondly, our ring came up slightly undersized so I can stretch it up a little bit at this point.


I'm going to keep it slightly undersized as there's still cleaning up to be done, holes to drill, and internal edges to be filed for roundness. All of these adjustments take small amounts of silver from the inside which can make it bigger and that affects the finger size - so keeping it about half a finger size under is perfect at this stage.




Cleaning up the solder joint



using a half round file to remove excess solder from the joint

Once it’s been made completely round, I'm going to clean up the solder joint using a file on the inside and outside of the ring, then use rough texture sandpaper on the polishing wheel to clean the joint even more and smooth it all out.


I'll make sure both edges of the ring are even and straight by rubbing it across the same grade of sandpaper that's laid across a steel block, so it's perfectly flat.



Curving the edges





At the moment, our ring still looks quite geometrical with a chunky feel to it, so it's time to curve the edges inside slightly, which starts to refine the overall look. I'll do this with a file to begin with, going around the inside and putting a slight curve in.


Then, I'll use an attachment on the micromotor (a high-end Dremel drill) to smooth over the marks I put in with the file and blend them in.



Adding the nibbled edges


Now it's time for us to add the nibbled edges!


I'll do this using a very fine, round needle file. It's a little bit like painting or drawing - I'll add the nibbles by filing it from different directions so it looks organic and a little bit uneven and add them gradually until I'm happy.




Once I've done all the nibbles around both sides, I soften them up using the silicone attachment on the micromotor so the edges are smoother. We're moving away from a geometric-looking ring to something more organic-feeling now.


Q. What is firestain in a silver ring?


A. It's the scourge of all jewellers working with silver.


You can see in the picture below a few blotches of purpley grey on the unfinished ring - this is called firestain and quite frankly, it's a pain in the backside.



An example of firestain on a silver ring

The reason it happens is because silver is an alloy, so it has copper content in it. When silver is heated for soldering, the oxygen in the air oxidises the copper element of the alloy and the result is what we see on the surface here. It's often very patchy and looks horrible - but we're not getting rid of it right away.


The next stage is to mark up where I plan to drill holes into the ring, using a centre punch. We remove firestain by sanding, and we'll be sanding after drilling the holes anyway, so we don't want to sand twice and risk taking some of the thickness away from the silver (and doubling the work!). So let's park the firestain issue for now.



Delicate drilling


The next stage is to mark up where I plan to drill holes into the ring. Using a centre punch and mallet, I create pilot holes in preparation for drilling! The smallest is 0.6mm, and I'm using oil to lubricate the drill.


If I use too high a speed or don't use oil, the drill bit will break because it's so fine - often, inside the piece of jewellery itself, which isn't ideal. So, I take this stage nice and slowly. I've got quicker over the years, but it's not a process you can rush.




Now I've drilled all the holes and used different sized drill bits to create a varied effect, I'm going to give it a good sand down on the polishing machine.


That’s going to remove any lifted bits of metal caused by the drill, smooth down both surfaces and allow me to get rid of the firestain using the sandpaper on the polisher.



how to check for firestain


A good method for checking if all the firestain has been sanded off is to hold the ring against a white sheet of paper. This works because such a white reflection onto the ring really shows up the firestain more than in any other light.


Time to turn this into a diamond ring


I could leave the ring at this point and move onto the final finishes, but instead I'm going to add some diamonds!


To mark up where the diamonds are going to be set, I use an extremely sophisticated and high-tech method - drawing on it with coloured Sharpies! We vary the size of diamonds, so we've got a colour coded system going on.



marking up where the diamonds will be placed on a silver ring using coloured Sharpies
Sharpies at the ready! Deciding where the diamonds will be set.

I mark up exactly where I want the diamonds to be using red and blue Sharpies, then it's off to our stone setter.



Setting diamonds



Our diamond setter always does a fantastic job so I eagerly await the return of the ring for its finishing touches!


A frosting wheel used to apply a textured finish to a handmade silver ring

The ring is back from the stone setter a few days later and I'm back to work on our finishing touches.


Using the micro-motor again, we put a soft satin finish on inside and then use a frosting wheel to give the ring an unusual, beautifully frosted and sparkly finish on the outside.


We have to be very careful going over the diamonds - they're so hard that they can withstand the pressure, but we don't want to compromise the actual settings. Experience tells us how much pressure we can apply.



A burnishing tool is used to highlight the ring's edges
A burnishing tool is used to highlight the rings edges

Next, we use a burnisher to give the very edge of the ring a glimmering, shiny finish. The tool is run along the edges (with a lot of pressure) to create a highlight that contrasts nicely with the frosted finish we just applied.


Finally, it is suspended in an ultrasonic bath for five minutes.





When the machine is turned on, ultrasonic waves are pushed through hot water with a cleaning component in it - this lifts all the grease that's built up through different parts of the making process. The jewellery stays in here for five minutes to thoroughly clean it.


After a final rinse, it goes into a drying grain, which absorbs any water from the jewellery so it can dry without us touching it - if we're placing it straight into a box to give to our customer, we want it to be spotless with no marks from our fingers.



Handmade alternative eternity ring with diamonds by Kate Smith Birmingham Jewellery Quarter
Handmade silver eternity ring with diamonds and nibbled edges

And there we have it - our finished ring! Ready to be worn for years to come.


Hopefully, this has given you an insight into the intricate process of making a ring by hand. So the next time you look down at one you're wearing, you'll be able to tell someone a little bit about how it was made.



Interested in owning a handmade piece of designer jewellery?


All of our pieces are designed and crafted in my studio, which is located in the heart of Birmingham's world famous Jewellery Quarter.


You can shop for jewellery online (we ship worldwide!) or arrange to come and visit us at the studio to try on pieces or even start designing your own bespoke or remodelled piece together.


contemporary handmade silver rings by Birmingham jeweller Kate Smith


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Check out this modern guide to the most sparkling postcode in the Midlands and start planning your visit now...FIND OUT MORE




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When I’m not at the bench creating jewellery or sitting at the laptop writing my next blog post for you, I can usually be found cuddling our fluffball of a cat, Kenji, watching Tottenham getting thrashed with my eldest son, or playing table tennis with my youngest at the kitchen table. Oh, and I happen to be married to the most supportive man, who still makes me giggle after all our years together. Yep, I lucked out there didn't I?

 

And here's the thing: I'd love to share with you my latest commissions that are hot off the bench, new additions to the website, with some life chat thrown in there for good measure ...

and give you special discounts. 

 

Sound good?

 

Just pop your email below.

I'm Kate

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Solitaire twist 0.80ct diamond gold engagmement ring by Kate Smith, Jewellery Quarter. UK.
contemporary gold pendant by West Midlands jewellery designer Kate Smith

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