One of the easiest ways to cut costs when you’re an independent jewelry designer is to make simple things yourself (think, earwires, discs, etc). Establishing a process is another great time saver. I’ve decided to share a photo tutorial on how to make your own sterling silver french earwires. Once you’ve mastered the basic steps you can create variations by altering the earwire shape, or adding a small jump ring instead of the balled end. Here goes!
Materials: 19 gauge sterling wire (dead soft), mandrel for shaping, flush cutters, air-acetylene torch, tripod with screen, pickle pot with pickle, self-locking tweezers, chain nose pliers
1. Start by taking a length of your sterling wire and wrapping it around the end of a ring mandrel, or other 1/2-3/4″ round material. Leave approximately 1/2″ over on one end to account for balling when heated.
2. Set up wire on tripod using self-locking tweezers. Allow the long end of the wire to hang vertically over the edge of your mesh screen so that you can access it with the torch in the next step.
3. Using a #1 torch tip, heat the end of the wire from beneath, so that your flame is pointing up towards the ceiling. Watch as the end begins to glow red, as this will immediately precede the balling. Sometimes you have to tease the flame a bit to get the balling to begin. The balling occurs because the end of the wire reaches its melting point.
4. You can see from the image above that the length of the wire shortens considerably when balled. Once you have balled your wire and turned off your torch, submerge the earwires in water and then place in pickle pot (with copper tongs or you will plate your sterling with steel! yikes!)
5. Once the oxides have been removed by the pickling solution, remove the wires (again with copper tongs) and pat dry.
6. Polish the wires using your desired medium (I typically polish on my polishing wheel using tripoli only), taking care to be sure that the end of the wire has been filed/sanded smooth.
7. Using chain nose pliers, grasp the balled end and wrap the wire up and forward to meet with the length of wire that will form the outward facing portion of the earring. Take the pliers and gently bend the back end of the wire. I typically flex the earwire back and forth a bit to create tension as dead soft wire will often bend if too much pressure is applied (think pushing through an earhole).
Voila! You now have a lovely and considerably less expensive pair of sterling french earwires!
If you have any questions please feel free to ask!