Jinks McGrath is a designer jeweller, teacher and author who trained at Berkshire College of Art and Design in the late 1970s. Jinks works in all the precious metals and enamels and also uses precious and semi-precious stones. She runs jewellery courses from her workshop in Sussex and also teaches in Thailand, Mexico and Afghanistan.
Jinks has written seven highly acclaimed books about jewellery making and enamelling and her work has been widely exhibited in venues including Goldsmiths Fair, Dazzle, Art in Action and Glyndebourne.
HAPPINESS (and loving the job) is: when each stage of making a piece of jewellery is, what you want it to be
UNHAPPINESS (and frustration) is: when each stage of making a piece of jewellery is hampered by having to deal with what went wrong at a previous stage.
I make no apology for keeping my 5 top tips very simple. I think it’s a good idea to get really good at the basics and, hopefully, some of my tips will help to understand about getting things right from the start and how time might well be saved by not having to go back over things or to have to do things twice.
Metal which has been correctly annealled is easily worked, as opposed to metal which has not been annealled. Annealled metal bends and curves smoothly and when hammered, to texture or stretch, it works easily in a way that hard metal never does. It is important therefore to make sure that the metal you are annealling is heated evenly all over. The metal should be placed on a clean soldering block and gently heated with a soft full flame (sometimes called a reducing flame). The most effective part of the flame is where the blue tip ends and becomes an orangey yellow. As the flame is passed evenly over the metal, it will oxidise, turning quite black and then gradually change colour until it is an even dull red. Once this colour is achieved, it can be held for a few seconds before the flame is removed. Allow to cool a little before either quenching in cold water or placing in a warm pickling solution.
As most of the metals we use are very good conductors of heat, the direction of the flame plays an important part of a good anneal. On a large sheet of silver for example, start the flame at the end of metal which is nearest to you and as the metal starts to turn the dull red, push that flame gently up the whole sheet until the colour has been achieved all over.
When annealling a long piece of silver wire or rod, start the flame at the end and push it up the whole length, watching out for the colour as you go.
I think sometimes students feel more natural annealling a long piece from side to side, rather than along its length, but try to avoid this as the anneal is never as complete or even if it is done this way.
When soldering a large piece of silver, for example a bangle, it is necessary to get the heat all over to allow the solder to run. This can take forever if the bangle is just placed onto a soldering block, because as one side is heated the other side loses heat, so the solder will often just run to the hottest side and not through the join where you want it!
To keep the heat even on a large piece, try making an ‘oven’ out of soldering blocks. These blocks will reflect the heat from the flame onto the metal and help keep the temperature even.
I usually put two blocks at right angles to each other and then another block over the top.
The bangle is then placed right into the corner with the join to be soldered facing you. The flame is then just spread evenly either side of the join, without having to worry about the back of the bangle, as the ‘oven’ will maintain the temperature required.
If the bangle is smaller, a smaller ‘oven’ can be made by simply placing a soldering block over 2/3rds of it, leaving the area to be soldered exposed. The flame is again splayed evenly on both sides of the join and heated until the solder flows.
3. Sometimes a chain needs to be fixed onto a pendant, so that the pendant does not fly off when the chain is undone. This means that the ‘bail’ or loop on the back can be just the right size for the chain,but not the fastener, to go through.
You will need a sheet of ‘Mica’ for this. Most jewellery and or enamelling suppliers should stock it, but if you have trouble finding it, try woodburning stove suppliers as it is used for panels on the doors of the stoves.
Use a size 02 or 04 blade in the piercing saw and thread it through the loop end of the chain and fasten it tightly. Hold the loop on the edge of your pin with the chain supported on the bench. Saw through the edge of the loop where it meets the chain.
Using a pair of round/flat pliers carefully unfurl the loop until it is straight. Try to do this with one action as it helps when returning it back to its position for soldering.
Then thread the opened chain through the loop on the back of the pendant and using the same pliers bend the loop back again. In order to get a good solder join, you may need to push the loop slightly sideways past the chain and then bring it back to sit exactly where it was before piercing.
Place the loop on the soldering block and use easy solder for the join. Balance the chain so that it doesn’t pull on the loop and cover it (to within a few millimeters of the loop ) with a sheet of mica. Use a small flame to solder the join. The mica will prevent the flame from reaching the rest of the chain.
4. Soldering close or on a textured surface can be tricky, but with a little forethought, spillages of solder on the texture can be avoided. Here, a silver collet is being soldered onto a textured background. The collet is fluxed around the base and the solder paillons placed inside the collet, touching both the sides of the collet and the textured base. The outside area is then heated before the flame is transferred to the collet and the solder runs.
Remember, always place the solder paillons inside a collet if you don’t want to have to file excess solder away from the surround,
When piercing out the interior of a pattern make sure that the size of your blade is appropriate to the thickness of the metal. Piercing into tight corners can be extremely accurate with little need to clean up with a file if it is done with the correct blade. The thinner the metal the finer the blade should be. I would use a 0 or a 02 with 1mm thick silver and a 02 or 04 with silver which is any thinner. I use a 06 with high carat golds of less than 0.5mm thick.
For this pattern I have used a little hand drill to make a 1mm hole to thread the saw blade through. The silver is 1mm thick and the blade is a 02.
Piercing into a sharp corner.
After the blade has been tightened, work left outwards to the outside line. The turn to cut up the outside line is made by working the back of the blade into the corner you are turning, so that there is no forward movement, and once in position, the cutting is continued up to the apex of the pattern. At this stage, don’t try to turn the tight corner, but come back to the original hole and then work right, outwards to the other outside line. Turn and cut up to the apex. You will now have an empty space which will make cutting out the rest of the segment much easier.
The finished piercing.