Jewelry making is a complex, painstaking yet incredibly interesting process. It may feel like some sort of magic to a person in the street. Indeed, crafting an intricate and exquisite piece of jewelry from an unremarkable chunk of metal is nothing sort of remarkable.
Meanwhile, jewelry making is not magic whatsoever. Instead, it is a fusion of knowledge, experience, and a great deal of skill. A silversmith must be simultaneously bold and gentle, strong and delicate, creative and precise. This is the only way to craft a real jewelry masterpiece.
Here, at Bikerringshop, we pride ourselves on assembling a team of experienced and talented silversmiths who fill our catalogs with striking pieces. It is thanks to them we can offer a great variety of unique silver rings crafted by hand. Have you ever wondered how we turn silver ingots into badass biker rings? If so, this post is going reveal the mystery of sterling silver handmade ring manufacture.
How Rings Were Crafted in Antiquity
Before we dive into it, let us first say a couple of words about millennia-old rings and how our ancestors made them.
So, many many centuries ago, when people had no idea how to craft jewelry, they still wanted to spruce themselves up. Historians believe that the very first rings were made of blades of grass. Of course, these hand accessories were very fragile, so ancient people were looking for more durable options. Flexible branches of trees and shrubs, bones, leather, stones – these materials formed the basis of early jewelry making.
Everything changed when people discovered metals and learned how to smelt them from ore. It gave an impetus to the flourishing of jewelry craftsmanship. Ancient craftsmen were able to develop multiple methods of metal processing:
Many of these methods are still in use.
Craftsmen were really creative when it came to the construction of jewelry from precious metals. Because gold and silver are pretty expensive, jewelers tried to stretch them thin and make the price of the final product more attractive. They heated ductile metals and spread them into a thin sheet of foil. Then this foil was pasted over base metals. A foiled ring looked gold but in reality, it wasn’t. According to Roman historian Pliny, ancient jewelers were able to stretch 30 g of gold into 750 square sheets of foil four fingers in width. Today, this method is largely out of commission because it is time-consuming. Nevertheless, jewelers still cover cheap precious or base metals with luxurious noble metals but their favorite method is electroplating.
Gold-plated Sterling Silver Cross Ring
Besides foiling, ancient jewelry crafting techniques leaned on amalgamation. Amalgamation is another way to ‘gild’ surfaces, especially those having a large area. Amalgam is a mixture of gold and mercury. After smearing a copper ring with amalgam, both were sent to a hot oven. Mercury evaporated leaving gold on the copper surface. Clearly, this method is abandoned today because, as you know, mercury is toxic.
One more popular way to craft jewelry was a production of gold and silver wire, which was bent and twisted into a specific shape. Craftsmen of Ancient Egypt were able to produce wire that has 0.3 mm in diameter - this is the thickness of a human hair.
Handmade vs Machine-Made Rings
Needless to say, antique jewelry was made by hand. Automated methods of production didn’t exist until the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Hand-crafted rings were (and still are) predictably expensive. After all, it requires so much time, skill, and talent to craft a piece of jewelry in a single copy. However, the result exceeded all expectations – people could benefit from unique jewelry that distinguished them from the rest.
In the industrial era, the majority of jewelry is manufactured mechanically. On the one hand, it allows producing large batches at a much more affordable price. On the other hand, it came at the expense of uniqueness – rings from the same batch look absolutely identical. That being said, you shouldn’t think that mass-produced rings are the fruits of the labor of only soulless machines. A portion of manual labor is put even in machine-made pieces of jewelry. At the very least, they are designed by humans.
Sterling Silver Handmade Rings by Bikerringshop
At Bikerringshop, we utilize human hands at every stage of the manufacturing process. Designers come up with ideas, they finalize them in drawings, silversmiths recreate their designs in metal, and then embellish them with carvings, precious stones, and add final touches. Yes, it takes more time to make everything manually with hand tools but we want you to have rings with their own individuality, so it’s totally worth it.
How Sterling Silver Handmade Rings are Produced Today
Today, jewelry manufacturers utilize four popular methods of ring production: casting, drawing, rolling, and stamping. The first method is widespread in both machine and manual production while others are deployed at jewelry factories.
Below, we are going to walk you through the entire process of crafting a silver ring from conception to production.
Stage 1. Jewelry Sketching
Before a fantasy turns into reality, this fantasy must be conceived. Once a designer has an idea in their mind, they showcase it in sketch or drawing. This drawing becomes a master plan of ring manufacture.
Designers draw a future ring from several angles to show how it is going to look. Some designers work in the old-fashioned way - they transfer their vision to paper with a pencil. Most modern jewelers, however, use CAD software, which makes sketching faster and more accurate.
During the design phase, an artist's vision takes on concrete forms. A jeweler comes up with:
- decorative elements;
- the number, type, size, and shape of stone inlays;
- type of setting and other elements of functionality.
Stage 2. Master Pattern
The stage the follows design finalization is a master pattern production. This is a type of mold that shows how a ring is going to look after casting. There are a few materials utilized for master patterns:
- nickel-zinc alloys or other non-precious alloys. A ring is made of an inexpensive material, which is then smeared with rubber and got baked. Next, the rubber gets cut and its internal portion featuring a ring imprint is used for making wax models;
- If a ring is manufactured in a single copy, a model is often made of wax directly. A jeweler literally grinds out a model of a ring-to-be from a chunk of wax;
- The other popular method to make a model is 3D printing. CAD software is hooked up to a 3D, which recreates a ring in wax. The material is cut with a laser; therefore, the accuracy of this method is beyond any praise.
Stage 3. Clay molding
The most important stage in manufacturing a handmade ring is casting in silver. As a rule, rings are not cast one by one since it takes too much time. Instead, a few wax models are attached to a thick rod – jewelers jokingly call it a tree. Then this ‘tree’ is carefully molded into special clay and baked. This process requires accuracy and attention to detail. A silversmith needs to make sure that clay cakes and dries evenly, without a single crack. Plus, all the wax must melt and pour out. When everything is the way it is supposed to be, jewelers obtain a hollow mold for jewelry casting.
Stage 4. Casting
You probably know that silver rings are not entirely made of silver. Various ligatures (non-precious metals in various combinations) are added to the supple precious metal to make it harder and more durable. Sterling silver – this is the allow we use for our products – contains 92.5% of pure silver while 7.5% is copper.
The molten metals are thoroughly blended to achieve a homogeneous alloy. Once the alloy is ready, it is poured into clay molds. Some manufacturers utilize ready-made sterling silver. They just need to melt it and fill up the mold.
Stage 5. Rings out of a mold
After the alloy solidifies, a silversmith removes the clay layer with a high-pressure water jet.
Stage 6. Optional. Assembling a ring
At times, rings feature such a fancy design that they need to be assembled from several parts. After casting, these parts are soldered or screwed together. After this stage, an item looks almost finished.
Silver Medieval armor ring comprised of three parts
Stage 7. Polishing
When a silversmith gets rings out of a mold, they look rather unpresentable. These grimy rough pieces are ugly ducklings that are yet to become beautiful swans. And to finish their transformation, they need to undergo grinding and polishing.
- grinding - the process of initial, rough finishing; it helps remove defects and even out a ring’s surface;
- polishing - the final touch that gives a ring smoothness and mirror shine.
Sometimes, grinding and polishing are combined in a process called tumbling. Rings are inserted into a vibratory tumbler (a drum) with some kind of abrasive, normally small steel or plastic spheres. Metals and abrasives rub against each other thus removing burrs and dislodging grime.
Stage 8. Optional. Embellishment
Quite often, you can see a variety of carvings on a ring’s shank. Carving is applied when a ring is already ground but not yet polished. More often than not, carving is combined with blackening and oxidation, i.e. a process of artificial and accelerated tarnishing to make a relief (especially its sunken areas) more pronounced and accentuated.
First, a technician prepares the so-called silver black, which contains silver, sulfur, lead, and copper. Then he/she fuses it onto the surface of a silver ring. Silver black fills cavities, grooves, marks dents, and carvings that are at least 0.3 mm in depth. These recesses are obtained with engraving, gouging, embossing, or etching. A particular method affects the look of the blackened design.
Sterling Silver Wave Ring With Blackened Carving Detailing
To create a bond between a piece of jewelry and black silver, both need to be heated in a special oven. Black silver melts and fills sunken surfaces. A jeweler then removes excesses and polishes raised parts to emphasize amazing black and white contrasts. Such a ring is not only beautiful but also long-lasting, if you will, since it has an additional protective layer.
Stage 9. Optional. Finishing
Despite the fact that polished silver looks majestic, not all fashionistas consider polishing to be the only acceptable option. If you love matte or fancy finishes, your choices are:
- brushed finish - delicate longitudinal marks applied with a wire brush;
- sandblasted finish - grainy and coarse texture is made possible due to sandblasting that blows out fine abrasives under high pressure;
- hammered finish - a jeweler applies shallow dents with a special hammer, and then a ring’s surface is polished or a satin-finished.
Stage 10. Optional. Stones Inlays
If a ring is supposed to have stone inlays, they are mounted at this stage.
First, a gemologist, that is, an expert in the field of minerals, selects appropriate gems. This is rather a complex process: the stones must coincide in color, size, transparency, etc. Next, when the minerals are selected, a jeweler installs them into the special holes in the setting. This painstaking work requires a lot of care and attention. On the one hand, stones must be reliably attached to the metal frame. On the other hand, they should be treated carefully since fragile gems might acquire scratches or chips.
After all ten steps are taken, a ring is considered to be fully manufactured. But it is not quite ready yet. It still needs to be hallmarked. A hallmark is a stamp that shows which silver alloy was used. We work with 925 sterling silver, so our products bear the 925 hallmark. After that, the rings are carefully examined to spot any minor defects. And only then we send them to you, our dear friends.