Making My Brother’s Wedding Rings Part 2: First Steps and What the Heck Does 10 Karat mean?

Sometimes before there can be construction, there is destruction in jewelry making.  Metal must be melted down or in this case, old jewelry must be torn apart.

My brother’s wedding bands are going to be gold, and we’d collected a good amount from various family members, friends and kindly donors who were tired of unwanted baubles cluttering up their jewelry boxes and drawers.  But before we can work with that gold, it has to be verified as gold (as opposed to gold coloured base metal, brass or copper), and all stones and and glue must be taken out.

A bag of collected "old gold".
A bag of collected “old gold”.

So on a chilly Saturday afternoon, I consulted with my goldsmith pal and teacher Trevor to separate the bounty into usable and not usable.

Gold that’s real must be stamped with its karat weight; 10k, 14K, etc.  That number translates into the percentage of gold in the metal.  100% pure gold is just not used for jewelry; it’s way too soft and would bend or break instantly.  It must be alloyed or mixed with other metals to make it sturdy.  Pure gold is often alloyed with nickel, silver, or copper.  As the percentage of pure gold decreases, the strength of the metal increases: so 14k gold will be stronger than 18k.  Fortunately, as the percentage of pure gold  in your alloy decreases, the price of the metal also drops: so 14k will cost less than 18k.

So what do those numbers mean exactly?   “18k” gold is 18/24 or 75% pure gold.   “14k is 14/24” or 58.3% pure.  10k gold is just  41.7% and is the lowest alloy allowed for legal sale  as “gold” in The USA, and it must be marked if it’s to be sold.  Gold made in the USA  can be out by a half of one Karat.  Canadian gold goes by “Plumb Gold Standard” and the percentage of fine gold has to be right on.

In Canada,  if you’re going to mark your jewelry as 18 karat gold, or with any karat or quality mark it must also have  a maker’s trademark (also known as a  “manufacturer’s mark” or hallmark).  BUT.. the law also allows for precious metal jewelry to be without ANY of those marks; which is why sometimes your gold doesn’t SAY it’s gold.  So how will you know for sure?  You can have it tested, or if you no longer care for it, cut into it with a file or saw.

Old gold taken apart.
Old gold BEFORE its taken apart.

So that’s where we were Saturday; carving into some pieces of gold to check that they are the real thing.  We used pliers and tools to remove both cheap glass stones, rubies, and yes, even some diamonds.  Trying to handle tiny diamonds that are probably slimmer than a hair was fun.  But I don’t think we lost a single one!

5 rubies from an old ring of mine, plus a decent sized diamond from another old ring I'll never wear. Those can be used later in something else.
5 rubies from an old ring of mine, plus a decent sized diamond from another old ring I’ll never wear. Those can be used later in something else.

Also in the donated pile were a few chunks of pre-melted gold, and some dental gold.  One was clearly a crown, the other was still attached to the tooth!  Kinda yuckky, especially when Trevor told me the way to get the gold out of the tooth was to smash it up.  Tooth fragments everywhere!  But gold is gold and we’ll need all the little bits to make these rings.

Pre-melted gold chunk plus old rings.
Pre-melted gold chunk plus old rings.
Two gold teeth! A weee bit creepy.
Two gold teeth! A weee bit creepy.

We also made a new decision about how the rings will be made.  My initial plan was to melt the gold and pull it into wire; to basically fabricate them.  But in looking again at the original solitaire, Trevor suggested it would be easier and better to carve them out of wax, and cast them.  So that’s the new plan.

I’ve got some jeweler’s wax ring blanks and will begin carving them by hand.  Jeweler’s wax is basically a soft plastic that can be cut and carved with files.  If you do a good job carving your wax, and making sure it’s smooth and even, it will require only minimal finishing afterwards.

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Jeweler's Wax ring blanks.
Jeweler’s Wax ring blanks.
Sizing the wax before carving.
Sizing the wax before carving.

So that’s where we are now; wax carving is underway.  Stay tuned.

To check out more of my jewelry work click HERE.

The engagement ring I'm making matching bands for.  It belonged to our mother.
The engagement ring I’m making matching bands for. It belonged to our mother.

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4 thoughts on “Making My Brother’s Wedding Rings Part 2: First Steps and What the Heck Does 10 Karat mean?

  1. Erin, my dear, this is more than special!! I feel honoured to be able to follow you and share in such an auspicious and beautiful event, in your lives; thank you, for this.
    Much love, always,
    Brenda

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