I have been working with silver for over 5 years now and during this time I have taken lots of short courses to improve and expand my skills. One of my favourite skills to learn is stone setting, as I am a bit of a magpie and just love adding a bit of sparkle to my designs. I have pretty much mastered setting cabochons, flush setting and tube setting, and these setting types feature regularly in my designs. However, I was recently commissioned to remodel a 30-year old engagement ring that had sadly broken beyond repair in a tapered collet design to fit non standard-size stones. So to help me do this very special commission justice, I booked onto the London Jewellery School’s new Collet Setting Class with tutor Penny Akester to learn how to make collet settings from scratch from silver sheet metal! And I thought it might be useful for you to find out how I got on!
The class was on a Sunday morning and so my lovely husband watched my energetic two boys for the day as I made my way into London for my first proper day off in ages! After we all arrived and chatted about our jewellery making experience and what we were going to be covering, the first thing we did was measure our stone to understand its width and height and to sharpen our pencils so they were sharp and super precise!
1. Doing the Maths!
Then it was time to really pay attention, as we had to use a very specific set of steps to carefully mark out our semi-circle shape or template that is the perfect size for your stone. I am not going to lie – it was a little
bit tricky as maths has never been my strong point, but Penny guided us through it every step of the way. Soon we all had our templates marked out and were ready to stick to our metal as a guide for sawing out our shapes (the easy bit!).
Taking my measurements and my slightly non round collets before hammering on the collet block.
2. Shaping the collets
This part was a little fiddly basically because you are working with relatively small pieces of silver! I made sure my silver was very well annealed and we used pliers and hammers (and the bench!) to bring the ends of our semi-circle shape together with a good join. But after a little bit of effort (and a bit of perfecting by Penny who has stronger fingers than me!) my ends were flush. It was then a matter of soldering the ends together. I would strongly recommend anyone doing this course to be confident with soldering as their are multiple joins involved in creating these rings!
I then took a bit of time to clean up the joins (inside and out) so there was no excess solder, and lightly sanded the cones before hammering in the collet block.
3. Hammering on the block
Similar to when making a round silver ring, although my cone was nicely soldered it was in no way round and perfectly cone shaped, so this is where we put the collet blocks to good use! These are almost liked cone-shaped ‘moulds’ with an accompanying ‘punch’ to make the cone round and tapered at the perfect angle. You can buy collet blocks from the likes of Cookson Gold, H S Walsh or Cousins UK – the round ones are reasonably priced but you pay a lot more for shape ones such as square, pear and oval so you will want to be sure you are using these shapes regularly before investing in fancy shape ones. I found it easiest to take this part slowly (and annealing where needed) and gradually work up the different size collet blocks regularly checking how my stone was fitting. Make sure you hammer on the collet block over a gap in your benchpeg or a vice otherwise you risk damaging your punch which pokes through the other side!
A 17 degree round collet block.
Once the collet was the right shape we filed the edges flat to adjust the height of the collet, and used emery paper to get nice edges on the top and the bottom.
4. Soldering the collet to the ring shank
As we were learning the technique we used pre-fabricated silver knife-edge ring shanks for our rings which was a big time saver and let us focus on making the collets and setting the stones. I think it would have been tight to cover everything had we had to create our own ring shanks as well.
So it was straightforward to solder the collet and the ring shank together by carefully positioning the collet and shank with the collet face down and using reverse action tweezers to hold everything in place. As we had used hard solder to solder the seam of the collet I used easy solder to solder the ring shank and head together.
5. Burring the seat
Once our rings were soldered and pickled I spent quite a bit of time sanding and polishing the rings ready for setting the stones. We were shown 2 techniques for setting the stones
– the first where the stone sits inside the collet and you thin the collet wall from the outside (creating a facet round the edge), and
- The first involves the stone sitting in side your collet with the girdle of the stone sitting just below the top of the collet. We were shown how to thin the collet wall on the outside (creating a facet round the edge
- The second was for the collet to be slightly larger than that stone and using a round ball burr or setting burr to burr a seat for the stone.
I opted for burring a seat using an 8mm setting burr so that my collet was 0.5mm larger than my stone (although I could have stretched it further in the collet block to do setting option 1 but I was too impatient!).
We did this by hand using the burr in a pin vice and as we were setting large stones, by the time I got to my second one my poor thumb had a blister by the end but thankfully I managed to finish burring the seat before my fingers got too sore!
Burring the seat for my stones.
6. Setting the stone
Then came the exciting part! Setting the stones! I had chosen two lovely synthetic stones (ruby and spinel) from Wards Gemstones for the class (stones are provided as part of the class but I decided to bring some stones I had at home with me). By this point actually setting the stone was very straightforwards and the same technique as setting a round cabochon or tube set faceted stone (north, south, east and west).
The all-important stone setting tools along with a plain round collet, and an adapted collet into a rex claw shape.
A final sand, burnish and polish and they were all finished 🙂
My finished rings – aren’t they lovely and elegant!
I really enjoyed my day learning this new skill, and I do feel that it has pushed my stone setting to the next level as I can now create settings for any sized stone and not just standard size round faceted or calibrated stones.
I love going back to the classroom as it always leaves me filled with inspiration and clears my head and lets me do something just for me. I can definitely see myself using this type of setting in my designs too! I was so thrilled with the two rings I made and have worn them lots already (one of the joys of making jewellery)!
I would say that the collet setting course is most definitely an intermediate/ advanced level course, so I would make sure that you have a good grounding in silver jewellery, soldering and basic stone setting techniques before doing this course. As I was comfortable with the stone setting technique itself as it is the same as tube setting I was able to really focus on understanding and learning the technique for marking out and making the collets. We were also shown how to adapt the collet to create rex-style claw settings which i will most definitely try out at some point but in the end i decided to focus on bezel set collet settings as these fit better with my designs.
I am most definitely going to try grain setting next, and am going to start begging for a channel setting class as would love to learn how to do that technique!
What stone setting techniques are you desperate to try? Let me know in the comments below!