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Silver and Enamel Palette Necklace Tutorial

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Hi there.  If you’ve read my other tutorial about miniature enamel paintings, maybe you would like to create a different piece altogether using metal working techniques, fine silver and enamel?

My friend Lea turned 30 in the spring.  We met at University where we were studying Animal Conservation Science.  She also loves to paint and draw animals like me, so I thought I would make her a palette necklace in fine silver for her birthday.



Working with metals seems a frightening prospect if you’ve never done it before, but once you’ve done it the first time all the mystery dispapears and you think ‘why was I so bothered?’

For this piece I used fine silver from Cookson Gold.  Specifially, I used two pieces of 30mm x 35mm half hard fine silver.  One piece was 0.40mm thick (front piece) and one piece 0.80mm thick (back piece).  Check out the prices – it’s not as expensive as you think because the pieces are so small (below left).

The back piece is thicker than the front piece because fine silver is flexible and can cause your enamel to crack as the metal warps with the heat.

Silver usually comes covered with a plastic film which helps prevent scratches.  I try to keep this on for as long as possible while I work with the silver.



You will also need some kind of bench peg.  You can buy these relatively cheaply.  My husband made me the bench peg in the picture above right for Christmas.  He used some angle iron to create a metal ‘anvil’ on the back of it too.  I use two clamps to secure it to my bench.



To cut out the silver, I recommend an adjustable jeweller’s saw.  Because it’s adjustable, when you break a blade (and you will!) you can still use the piece of blade that is left by adjusting the saw (below left).



The blades for these saws are very tiny (above right).  A lot of people recommend that saw blades should have 3 teeth on the metal at any one time, so when you are using very thin metal the saw teeth have got to be very small.  I used grade 0 blades, sourced from ‘Small Wonder Music’.  You can use smaller blades, such as grade 2/0 or 3/0 for small areas, but these blades break more easily.



The next step is to use double-sided selloptape to stick the two pieces of silver together temporarily, with the thinner piece of metal acting as the front.  I then marked out a palette shape on the silver.  Because the silver has a plastic film cover, you can draw on it with a ball-point pen or use a sharp implement (such as the point of file) to scribe it.

It’s easy to get the hang of using a saw like the one above.  The blade’s teeth should be pointing downwards and you will only get a cut on the downward stroke.  Move the blade up and down as straight as you can.  The biggest tip I can give you is to move the silver piece itself around as you cut out the curves, rather than the saw.  You should end up with something like the image below left.



I have a set of small needle files which I use to file down any rough edges and get the basic shape correct.  To hold the piece firm I use a tiny bench clamp.  I actually get on the floor to do this part because I need to see that I am not filing at an odd angle, so one side is not filed down more than the other (above middle).  I’m using a tiny flat file here.  You will notice that using a file will create a tiny burr, or lip, of metal that sticks out.  I remove that with the file as well, just ‘stroking’ the burr away at an angle.



The next step is to mark the holes to be drilled.  The palette’s ‘thumb’ hole will be drilled through both pieces of silver so it is better to do this one first while the pieces are still stuck together.  Use a drill with a small bit, big enough for you to get the blade of your adjustable saw through.  You can use a Dremel multitool for this.

The other holes only need to be drilled through the top piece of silver, as these will form a reservoir for the enamel (below left).  To get the pieces apart so you can drill the other holes, simply place the piece in some warm water with a little washing  up liquid in and prise apart.  Rub with your fingers to get the sticky residue off.



Use your adjustable jeweller’s saw to carefully create shapes that represent splodges of paint on a palette (above middle).  The result should look something like the photo above right.  I use a small round needle file to tidy up the holes and remove any burrs.



Now it’s time to stick the pieces back together with some double-sided sticky tape.  When both pieces are aligned, cut out the oval thumb hole with your adjustable saw (below left).  Use a round needle file again to tidy the edges, trying to keep the file as straight as possible so one side isn’t filed more than the other.  You should end up with a result similar to that below left.



At this point I remove the plastic covering on my silver and take the pieces apart again using water in washing up liquid.  I do the same with any scrap silver, and keep all the scrap in a little jar marked ‘fine silver’ (above right).



I’ll stop there for now as there’s a lot of information to take in! In the next instalment we’ll be moving on to soldering the two pieces together.  See you then!


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