Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Totally Tubular Construction

A few years ago, I started experimenting with white gold cylinders in my designs. I made several celestial pieces that were quite popular.

Constellation rings
Recently, a wonderful customer of mine was looking for something different and after discussing and sketching several ideas, we decided to “push the envelope”- I’d use a similar approach as I did with the rings, but apply it to a cuff bracelet.
Throughout the creation of this fun and unusual piece, I documented the process so that I could share the many stages, hours of labor, passion and skilled artistry that go into making something like this.
Unlike the Constellation Rings, the major challenge in creating the Cylinder Cuff was to bend the tubing. Imagine trying to wrap a drinking straw around a soda bottle without getting any flat spots or kinks in it; working with silver tubing has the same issues.
The solution to this problem was to fill heavy-gauge silver tubing with sand, solder the ends shut (2) and then very carefully wrap the annealed[1] tube around a bracelet mandrel (3).
The objective was to create three matching ovals that would then be stacked (4). The ends of the tubes were carefully cut to match and the sand was released (5). One of the issues was getting the rings perfectly symmetrical so that when stacked, they would lay flat against one another with out any gaps. I had to be extremely careful so as to not mar the now hollow tubing (6).

The next step was to cap the ends of the open tubes at an angle that would align to create a modern look and a hinge-clasp (7). When one seals a hollow metal form there is a risk that the heat from the torch will cause the air inside to expand rapidly and explode the piece. To prevent this, I drilled a few tiny holes to allow the air to escape (8). The new end-caps will then get filed into shape (9).
Once I had three matching ovals that lined up precisely (10), I could bind and solder them together (11).  The resulting bangle is quite attractive, but now requires a hinge-clasp (12).

Carefully, I sawed out the section of the bracelet that would become the hinge. The hinge-clasp will allow the wearer to easily put on and take off the bracelet and will fit snugly and securely (13). Much like a hinge on a door, I created an exterior cylinder that will have an interior pin nested inside that will secure the “knuckles” (14). This allows for the fluid swinging motion (15).
The locking “snap” of the hinge was made with white gold for durability (16).  As you can imagine, the precision for this whole mechanism must be exact or the closure will not be secure. There is no snap if the length is off! When everything fit perfectly I hammered the outside of the tubing. By doing this, I work-hardened the silver, which gave it strength and resistance to denting.
After sanding and polishing the piece it looked amazing and the wearer can appreciate a precise work of art that they can cherish for years (17 & 18). Check out the finished piece on my website. 

[1] * Annealing is a process of heating the metal so that it can be manipulated and then hardened again.

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