Dome Ring and Matching Earrings– By Jane Font

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This ring combines several different design elements to create lots of visual interest. The earrings are a fun, simple and striking complement, and you can customize all these pieces just by varying the finish inside the domes.

Project and photos: Jane Font
Editors: Jeannette Froese LeBlanc and Margaret Schindel

Project Materials and Supplies

  • Materials
    Low-fire silver clay
    Low-fire silver syringe type clay
    Three 2mm round white CZ chatons (or other kiln-safe stones)*
    Three 2mm round colored CZ chatons (or other kiln-safe stones)*
    Sterling silver ear wires or 18-22 gauge wire to make your own
  • Tools, Supplies and EquipmentBasic Metal Clay Set Up_Page_2Basic Metal Clay Set Up_Page_1
    Basic Metal Clay Set-Up (see image: click to enlarge)
    Basic LOS Patina Set-Up (see image: click to enlarge)

    Set of finger sizing gauges
    Ring mandrel and holder
    HattieS® Ring Forming Strip, or a 4” x .75” [10.2 cm x 1.9 cm] strip of wax paper
    Adhesive tape (e.g., Scotch® tape)
    Pencil
    Pin vise with 2mm drill bit
    3 small marbles
    Small 5/8 inch [1.6 cm] round cutter
    Fiber blanket
    Tweezers with fine tips
    Syringe tip
    Jeweler’s investment ring sizing pellet in desired finished ring size
    Wire cutters
    Round-nose pliers (optional)
    Kiln shelf or firing brick

*Use only CZs or other gemstones that you know will survive kiln firing without damage. Even some colored CZs can change color at certain temperatures or hold times, so purchase your stones from a supplier that guarantees its stones to be kiln-safe at specific firing schedules or test the stones yourself. Heat them slowly with your torch until they glow and hold them at that color for about 2 minutes. If they crack, start to burn, or change color, they’re not safe to fire. Trust me, you don’t want to ruin a piece of jewelry you’ve worked hard on because you used stones that weren’t safe to fire.

Project Step-By-Step

Step 1

Prepare the ring mandrel.
Use a finger sizing gauge to determine your desired ring size. Wrap a HattieS® Ring Forming Strip or a 4” x .75” [10.2 cm x 1.9 cm] strip of wax paper around a ring mandrel two sizes larger than the desired finished ring size. For example, if you want the finished ring to be a size 6, you should form it around a size 8 mandrel. Secure the ends of the strip together and to the mandrel with a piece of adhesive tape. Set the prepared mandrel aside.

Step 2

Create the ring band.
Apply a small amount of olive oil, hand cream or balm to your hands and olivea thin film of olive oil or another clay release to your texture. I used a textured wallpaper sample. (Tip: Wallpaper stores are a great source of textures! Ask your local store if they have books of discontinued wallpaper samples. If so, they may sell them to you at a great price!)

Roll about 15 grams of clay into a thick snake about 2” [5 cm] long and ¼” [6.5 mm] wide. Place the snake between two stacks of 5 playing cards on top of your oiled texture. Starting with the clay roller in the middle of the snake, gently roll forward and back several times until the clay strip is level with the cards. (Don’t try to roll the snake flat in a single pass or the strip may be too wide and too short.) Peel the clay from the texture and place it on a piece of non-stick sheet. Trim the long edges with an oiled tissue blade into a 3/8” [9.5 mm] wide strip.

Wrap the clay strip around the prepared ring mandrel (not snugly) and overlap the ends. Use an oiled blade to cut through the overlap on a diagonal [1]. Remove the excess clay. Moisten both ends of the strip with a wet clay shaper and overlap them slightly. Re-wet the clay shaper and stab through both layers of clay repeatedly along the length of the seam [2]. Smooth out the holes and fill them in with additional clay, if necessary, so that the seam is completely invisible and the thickness around the joint is the same as the rest of the band [3]. Re-moisten the clay shaper as needed to get a smooth, invisible joint. Don’t worry about trying to make the joint neat; it’s impossible to make a strong joint without messing up the texture, and the seam will be covered with the dome later anyway. The important thing is to make the joint strong and secure and the same thickness as the rest of the band. Place the band (still on the mandrel) over a cup warmer or hotplate to dry.

Step 3

Cut and shape the domes.
Roll out 5 grams of clay to a thickness of 3 cards and cut out three circles with the lightly-oiled round cutter. Place each circle onto a small glass marble and press it gently so that it covers half the marble [4], making sure there are no thin spots. Leave the edges uneven for a more organic look, as I did, or trim them level with an oiled blade. (Don’t be worried about the clay sticking to the marbles. The dried domes will fall off the glass.) Set all three marbles on the cup warmer to dry, and then air cool them.

Step 4

Create the decorative components.
To create tiny silver balls to decorate the band, cut scrap clay into bits no larger than about 1/16”-1/8” [2-3 mm] or make tiny balls out of fresh clay. (I made about 40 of them for my ring.) Place them on a kiln shelf or firing brick set on a heatproof firing surface. Torch-fire the clay bits or balls with a butane torch until they melt and form tiny spheres. Remove the flame as soon as this happens so they don’t all melt together! [Editor’s note: Work in a very well-ventilated area, especially when you are torch firing. Allow the balls to cool and then bring them to your work area. Video demo on torch firing]

Step 5

Reinforce the ring band.
When the ring band is dry, slide it (still on the paper strip) off the mandrel and let it cool. Loosen the ring forming strip from the inside of the band by gently and carefully pulling the sides of the strip inward. Once it has been completely loosened, slide it out of the band carefully.

Use a dry clay shaper to caulk the inside of the seam with fresh clay [5]. Wet the tip of the shaper and smooth the joint. Make sure to fill in any gaps around the joint – not only the inside of the band but also both edges and (if necessary) the outside of the seam. Inspect the entire band carefully and fill in any cracks with fresh clay. Dry the band on the cup warmer and let it cool.

 

Step 6

Refine the band and the domes.
Once the band is completely dry, place the ring flat on the coarsest grit of the sanding abrasive of your choice and rub it in a circular or figure-eight motion to make the edges level [6]. Turn over the band and sand the other side. Repeat with successively finer grits, keeping the band level to maintain a consistent width. I used 3M™ Softback Sanding Sponges, starting with the fine grit sponge and continuing in order with the superfine, ultrafine, and microfine grits. Cut small pieces or strips of the same abrasives and sand the inside of the band completely smooth.

Next, sand the edges of the domes. You either can sand the outside of the domes to make them smooth or leave your fingerprints visible, as I did. Do not sand the inside of the domes.

[Editor’s note: We recommend wearing a particulate respirator/dust mask NIOSH-rated N95 or N100 when sanding or polishing.]

 

Step 7

STEP 7: Set the colored CZs into the ring.

With a pencil, mark the ring band where the dome will be attached (covering the seam) and where you want the three colored CZs to be set. (Leave room around the base of the dome to add the decorative silver balls later.) Fit your pin vise with a 2mm drill bit and slowly drill all the way through the band at the three marks for the CZs [7].

With tweezers, place the colored CZs on your work surface with the points facing up. Align one of the holes in the band directly over a CZ [8] and press down gently with your fingertip from inside the band, and then rock the band slightly from side to side to ensure that the stone is seated correctly. If it is not, use a needle tool to pop out the stone from the back of the hole. Re-seat the stone properly, enlarging the hole slightly first if necessary. Repeat with the remaining two colored CZs. Important: Make sure that the table of each stone is level with the top of the band and no higher [9]. If any stone is even slightly proud of the band, the girdle may not be captured securely as the clay shrinks and the CZ may come out at some point. When all three CZs have been set, wet the tops generously with a wet brush and then dry the band on the cup warmer. Allow it to air cool.

Step 8

Set the clear CZs inside the domes.
Drill matching hanging holes near the top of two of the domes for the earrings. With the pencil, mark the desired placement of the white CZs inside the three domes. For each dome, extrude a blob of syringe clay about twice the size of the CZ at the pencil mark. Pick up a CZ with tweezers, place it gently into the ball of syringe, and press it all the way into the syringe clay, making sure the entire girdle of the stone is below the surface of the syringe clay and the table of the stone is level. Use a wet paintbrush to smooth the syringe clay and moisten the surrounding clay [10]. Dry the domes on the cup warmer and then air cool them.

Step 9

Attach the dome to the ring band.
Sand the apex of the undrilled dome to create a flat spot. With a wet brush, moisten both the spot you just sanded and the attachment area on the ring band. Remove the syringe tip and extrude a generous blob of syringe clay onto the moistened band. Place the dome on the syringe clay and press down gently. Smooth the excess syringe clay with a wet clay shaper [11]. Extrude a little more syringe clay around the base of the dome, moisten it with a wet brush, and gently press in the decorative silver balls. Brush them with a little water. Dry the ring on the cup warmer and allow it to cool.

Step 10

Fire the pieces.
Nestle the domes for the earrings on the fiber blanket to support their shape during firing. Place the ring on its side on the fiber blanket and support the dome with a strip cut from the blanket. Place a ring sizing pellet in the desired finished size inside the band [12]. Fire at the recommended schedule for the brand of clay you used. Wait for the kiln to cool completely before you remove your pieces.

[Editor’s note: We recommend wearing a suitable particulate respirator and gloves when working with fiber blanket, and cleaning every surface the fiber blanket touches thoroughly with a wet cloth afterward to remove any lingering fibers or dust.]

Step 11

Burnish and polish the ring and earrings.
Place the ring in a small disposable cup or container half filled with water. Wait briefly until the pellet starts to dissolve, and then push it out of the band. Set the container aside to allow the water to evaporate and then throw the container and its contents into the trash. Note: It is important not to allow any of the investment to go down the drain, because it will harden in the pipes once it dries and cause plumbing problems. Rinse and wire-brush the ring and the outsides of the earrings with a soft brass- or steel-bristle brush (you can use a brass or steel brush attachment and a motorized tool, if you wish). Do not wire-brush the insides of the domes

Polish or tumble the ring and earrings. To polish the pieces, use successively finer grits of the polishing abrasive of your choice. I used 3M™ radial bristle polishing discs, working through the grits in order from 36 grit to pumice grit. I left the insides of the domes unpolished to get a contrast of matte black against shiny silver. If you prefer to tumble your pieces and want to keep the insides of the domes matte, cover the openings with adhesive tape.

Step 12

Add the patina and finish the jewelry.
Prepare a solution of liver of sulfur (dry chunks or gel) in hot water in a disposable cup. In a separate cup or bowl, prepare a neutralizing solution of baking soda dissolved in warm water. Hold the ring with tweezers or hang it from a scrap of wire and dip it in the patina solution repeatedly until it turns black. Then place it in the warm neutralizing solution. After about a minute, remove it from the baking soda solution, rinse thoroughly in clear water, and dry well. Repeat with the earring domes. Note: If you plan to dispose of the liver of sulfur solution down the drain, neutralize it first by mixing in a little of the baking soda neutralizing solution and wait until it turns a milky white color before disposing of it.

Remove the patina from the high points of the ring band and from the domes with a polishing cloth, leaving it in the recessed areas of the ring band to accentuate the texture. You also can leave the matte patina inside the domes, if you wish. Burnish the lip of each dome for bright shiny silver edges.

Step 13

VARIATIONS
Vary the look if you wish by changing how you finish the insides of the domes. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Omit the CZs and fill the domes with colored resin.
  • Tumble the pieces and then enamel the insides of the domes for a deep reflective color.
  • Add a layer of gold to the insides of the rings (with Accent Gold for Silver™ or gold foil applied using the keum-boo technique) to give them some extra bling.

 

Step 14

Make Your Own Ear Wires (Optional)
If you would like to make your own ear wires for the earrings, here’s how. I usually make mine while the metal clay is in the kiln.

Cut two 2-½” [6.35 cm] lengths of 18-22 gauge sterling silver wire with wire cutters. Use the tip of a pair of round-nose pliers to form a small, open loop on one end of one of the wires. Use the widest part of the pliers to create the hook (see photo).

Keep the first ear wire on one jaw of the pliers while you for the second ear wire around the other jaw. This will help you to make both ear wires the same size and shape. Hold the two ear wires together and, if needed, make adjustments with the pliers so that they match exactly. Trim the ends of the wires with wire cutters, if desired, and sand the cut ends with successively finer grits of sanding abrasives until they are completely smooth.

Variation: Ball up one end of each wire with a butane torch and then pickle the wires. Use the balled ends to make the small hanging loops.

About the Author

Jane Font has been working with metal clay since 2007 and recently started branching out into more traditional silversmithing techniques. She finds inspiration in organic and industrial forms, and in the unpredictable nature that results in the combination of both.

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