For a few years now I have been making these delightful fine silver earrings.
They are entirely hand fabricated, starting with the moulds – which I made from old buttons – through to the casting of the metal and the finishing of the final piece. I sell the earrings for $45 a pair, which I think is pretty good for something that takes two days to finish and is a unique design exclusive to L’Atelier de Talaru.
I thought I’d let you in on my production process so you can see (and appreciate) just what goes into these little wonders.
It starts with silver clay. Yes, clay. Not molten silver poured into a mould, but tacky clay pressed into a mould, removed and then allowed to dry.
Here are the moulds I used for the current batch:
They are made with two-part silicone moulding putty. I press the buttons into the putty and when it sets, it is flexible but it holds the pattern. Here are some of the buttons I made moulds from:
The silver clay looks fairly innocuous – it’s just greyish, sticky clay. It does dry out very quickly so you need to work fast.
I take out a little bit at a time and press the clay into oiled moulds:
There is no waiting time. The flexible moulds can be twisted a bit and the piece falls out.
I used a whole 50 gram packet of clay today and here is everything I made from it. I added little fine silver eyelets for hanging. The eyelets are gently pressed into the clay and as the clay fires, it shrinks a bit and holds tight to the eyelet.
The clay pieces need to be completely dry before you can fire them. You could leave them overnight in a warm spot, or do what I do and put them on a baking tray in the oven on a very low heat for an hour or so. Once dry they can be sanded, filed, drilled and placed into the kiln.
The kiln heats up to 1800 degrees fahrenheit. There are all sorts of rules and measures for ramping up the heat etc – I just turn it on and come back two hours later and they are done. I never have any problems with this method.
Once fired the pieces will shrink a bit – maybe 10% – which makes it tricky if you are making something that is measured, like a ring. They will also be white, as there is a residue from the binding agent in the clay that remains, but which can be brushed off – I use a brass brush.
Using the brass brush, I scrubbed a few pieces so you can see the difference. The clay fuses in the firing process and all that remains is 100% fine silver. It is bright and shiny.
In order to shine them up and strengthen them, I put them all into the tumbler for a few hours. I link them all up with brass wire, as the little eyelets are so small that they will often get a bit of the tumbling shot stuck in the hole, which is a bugger to get out.
Now they will tumble for a while and once done, you are left with these bright solid fine silver charms.
To finish the design I oxidise the metal so that the detail in the pattern can be brought out as a darker oxidised surface. After oxidising I sand them back and add a coat of sealant so that the metal does not oxidise any further. Once I add ear wires, you end up with what is shown in the first photo at the top.
In case you were thinking of setting yourself up to make your own fine silver jewellery in this way, be prepared for a high initial outlay:
- kiln – shipped from the USA around $500-600 USD for the smallest of electric kilns
- internal trays, fireproof tiles to protect your surface and other tools about $200 USD
- step down transformer to protect the kiln from Aust voltage – about $100
- tumbler and shot – about $200 AUD
- silver clay – varies from $100-$125 US for a 50 gram bag depending on the market price for silver plus shipping
- moulding putty – about $35 US with shipping from the States
- other bits and pieces like eyelets, gemstones, settings, tools etc about $100 USD
So it’s pretty pricey, and only something you would invest in if you are really keen to start up and produce work to sell. You can learn torch-fired silver clay, which works well for small designs, however the kiln set up gives more flexibility.
So there you go – if you would like to buy any of my fine silver designs, if still available they will be for sale at L’Atelier de Talaru