In my previous post I discussed the shaping and soldering of fine silver bezel rings, and how to solder those rings to sterling silver back plates. This post will provide tips on mounting cabochons in bezel cups, and a few ideas on how to incorporate bezel cups into simple jewelry designs.
As I discussed in the previous post, before you solder the bezel ring to the back plate you shape it to fit the outline of the cabochon. Once you remove your newly soldered cup from the pickle you will be tempted to slide the stone into the cup to test the fit, but before you do be sure to lay a length of dental floss across the cup, so that it runs under the stone. If you don’t do this you will almost certainly find that the stone fits so snugly you can’t remove it (trust me). You can see the floss in the photo below, with 10mm denim lapis lazuli cabochons:
Once you’re satisfied with the fit you can put the cabochons aside and saw around the bezel cup (leaving a rim if desired) and file to shape. The examples in the photo above have already been cut to shape, and I’m at the stage of fitting wire trim to them.
Although bezels can be decorative, made of patterned, scalloped or otherwise ornamental wire, or accented with trim pieces. the primary purpose of the bezel is to hold the cabochon securely and display it in an attractive fashion. The best candidates for bezel mounting are stones (or glass) cabochons with a rounded profile, like the stone on the right below. The glass cabochons I’ve been making in my fusing kiln (left) have a more vertical profile, which is harder to set securely. In some cases it may be necessary to use jeweler’s adhesive to augment the grasp of the bezel.
Testing the height of the bezel
You want to choose a setting height appropriate to the cabochon and the design of the piece. Bezel wire (particularly plain) comes in different widths, so you can select a width that fits the thickness of your cab. The general rule of thumb is that the bezel should be 2/3 the height of the cabochon, so a cab 6mm thick could generally be mounted with a 4mm bezel strip, but this will depend on the profile of the cab. A very thick cabochon might require a thicker bezel.
Depending on the design of the piece you may want to use a relatively tall bezel to create a more substantial look. You’ll then need to raise the cabochon within the bezel, or the bezel will cover too much of the stone once it’s pressed over the cab. Raising the cab can be done by cutting a spacer out of an old credit card or similar material, but I prefer to use only metal, so I make my spacers by bending a circle of wire that fits inside the circumference of the bezel ring. The higher you need the stone to sit, the thicker the gauge of the wire you use. Be sure the wire fits snugly so that it won’t rattle once you set the cabochon, or the wearer will think the cab is coming loose. For the natural stone earrings I’m making this week I’m using a 4mm bezel strip, and then adding a ring of 16 gauge wire underneath the 4mm thick stones.
Setting the stone
To set the stone you’ll need two specialized tools, good hand strength, and patience. To use the bezel pusher (left photo below) you place the stone in the bezel, hold it down firmly, and use the flat tip of the bezel pusher to push the bezel against the shoulder of the stone. Then you rotate the piece 180 degrees and repeat, and then do the same at the other two right angles (N, S, E and W). Once you’ve pinned the stone in place with those initial indentations you continue around the entire bezel, pushing down high points until the bezel is uniformly molded to the stone and all the noticeable creases and wrinkles have been flattened. It takes a good deal of hand strength (even with the soft fine silver), and you’ll need to exercise control, or the tool will slip and scratch the surface of the stone or the face of the bezel wall.
Once you’ve molded the bezel to the stone with the bezel pusher it’s time to repeat the process with the bezel roller (the tool on the right in the image above) to further smooth and refine the bezel.
In class Leslie Ferrell taught us a simple but attractive earring design that features bezel mounted cabochons at the end of gracefully flared stems (featured in the photos above). I make the stems of 16 gauge sterling wire, bend them into a hairpin shape, and then spread the ends apart in a curved flare. Then I pin the “hairpin” down to a vermiculite brick with a couple of staples cut from a paperclip, (pictures below) and flux and solder the portion of the stem that still touches. Then I refine the curves of the flared ends, hammer them lightly to flatten, and then file to smooth the shape.
Leslie taught us a wonderful trick for soldering the bezel cups to these stems, and I learned so much in her class that I can’t wait to take another one. The trick is to set up the cup and stem and brace them in the proper position so that you can efficiently apply solder where it’s needed. Using a vermiculite or soft firebrick you dig out a hole for the bezel cup to sit face down in, and then slide the ends of the stem under the back plate so that they fit up against the bezel wall (leave a small rim of backing around the bezel facilitates this). Apply a little flux and then pick solder or place small balls of solder in the joint between the stem and the backing. Soldering on the back allows you to sand away any blobs of excess solder without damaging the front of the piece.
To finish this design I melt a ball onto lengths of 20 or 21 gauge sterling wire to form headpins, and then bend them into ear hooks and hammer the curve lightly to work harden them. (I also tumble them with stainless shot in my drum tumbler for a while to further work harden so they’re less likely to bend.) Then I drill a small hole in the bend of each stem and hang them from the ear hooks.
Other variations that I’ve been experimenting with include shortening the stems, hammering the flared ends at right angles and shaping them to curve around the bezel (below), making a ring of decorative twisted wire to fit around the bezel and soldering it in place (at the top of this post) and wrapping a curve of 16 gauge sterling around the bezel and forming a loop to hang from an earhook (in the picture with the floss above). Once I finish the work I have in progress my next experiment will be fused glass and sterling cufflinks.
I hope you enjoy this description of the process, thanks for reading.