Sometimes you have a stone that will not go through the kiln, and with a shape so that a bezel cup or bezel wire just doesn’t look right. Is there a way forward? Sure there is! Take a tip from wire wrapped jewelry and combine wire and metal clay! If done correctly, this opens up a new frontier.
To show you where we are headed with this, I’m starting off with the finished product — a pendant with an aventurine stone. While this particular stone could have been set with a bezel cup, I chose to go the wire prong route instead. The coin is for scale.
It is important that the wire you choose be compatible with your clay. If the metals are not the same, they could react while the clay sinters. Also, remember that the wire will go through the kiln. It is important to use jewelry grade wire. While the example here is silver, there is no reason you could not use copper. But, if you do, be sure you have jewelry grade copper wire — wire from the hardware store, while usable for wire wrapping, contains enough impurities that it might react with your clay in the kiln.
I chose square wire. Half-round wire would have worked just as well. However, I would advise against using round wire. Round wire doesn’t necessarily fit closely enough against your stone to hold it in place, as it suffers the daily jostling of being worn.
The first step is to cut the wire and choose a texture sheet. Cut more wire than you think you need. You can shorten it later if you need to, but you can’t add to it. The picture below shows the texture sheet, the three wires, and the stone. Note that the wires all have a spiral at the end that will go around the stone. I could have done this later, but I did it now. Also, there is a small L-shaped bend in the end that will go into the clay. A bend like this gives the clay something to hold onto after it fires. Had I left the wires straight, they could have pulled out.
Texture a background piece larger than the stone. Insert the wires, making sure that the L-shaped curves are buried in the clay. It is important to remember that the clay will shrink when it is fired. Thus, the wires need to be placed so they leave space to spare around the stone. Although the stone itself will not be fired, put it in place on the wet clay to be certain that you will have enough space after shrinkage.
Remove the stone and fire the piece normally. I fired in a layer of vermiculite to give the wires support while firing. I’m not sure if that was necessary, but it certainly could not hurt.
After firing and tumbling, my piece looked like this. You might notice a break in the texture near what is, in this picture, the bottom prong. It results from having to reinforce one of the prongs with a bit of syringe. That small imperfection in texture is not a problem. When the stone is in place, it will be hidden.
I chose to do a very light patina, one that more hints of coloration than really darkens the piece.
The next step is to place the stone. If you have ever done traditional metalsmithing, you have heard the expression, “Metal on metal leaves a mark.” Well, it applies here too. Use pliers with a plastic coating (of the sort used in traditional metalsmithing) to gently bend the wires so they encase your stone. Gentle bends will neither damage the wires nor pull them from the silver, so don’t worry — just don’t be in a hurry. Also, the wire prongs might need a bit of flattening to lie smoothly on the stone. The same pliers can be used to gently push the wire into place.
Now all you need to do to finish the piece is to add a chain. So there you have it — wire wrapping and metal clay, with a bit of creatively, can be combined! While I did a pendant, there is no reason you could not use the same methods for earrings, cuffs, or rings. As always, be creative!