Walk into any jewelry store and you’ll be instantly dazzled by the sparkle of the gemstones and the shine of the precious metals. The diversity is impressive with so many finishes. You’ll encounter satin, hammered, and brushed. Many will have patinas too. If you feel completely enamored, then please continue reading to learn the techniques for finishing jewelry like the top jewelers. In this article, we will share their secrets.
Exploring the Finishes of Precious Metals
Precious metals such as the warm, soft glow of yellow gold or the sparkling crisp white of platinum are lovely to behold. Patterning and texturing are finish treatments that only add to their beauty. Without a doubt, finished precious metal gives each piece its own character and personality.
Let’s explore the various finishes:
Achieving a Satin Finish
A satin finish is an exceptionally fine, subtle texture that creates a non-reflective finish. When done correctly, there are no discernable scratch lines even though the finish is created using a technique called ‘scratch brushing.’ When scratch brushing gold and silver alloys a brass brush is used with soapy water (detergent, dish soap, or hand soap). The use of soapy water helps to ensure that the brush never accidentally transfers the brass onto the precious metal’s surface.
Using the brass brush, you will make unbelievably soft patterned lines such as straight or circular. However, with a satin finish, the finish lines are so small that they are not noticeable with the naked eye.
All jewelers have their own techniques. Some will say that a true satin finish is obtained using a Scotch stone and very slight circular motions. A Scotch stone is a natural stone with an abrasive surface that is typically used to sharpen knives. It can be purchased in the shape of a pencil with a square tip. However, the tip is easily shaped using sandpaper so you can create ridiculously small lines/spots. A Scotch stone is a great option for creating light background texture. However, please be aware that it is not ideal for working on a forward surface because the final finish is not deep. The area textured using the Scotch stone should be on an area of the jewelry that does not suffer much wear-related damage and is somewhat protected to ensure longevity.
Many people have a hard time finding genuine Scotch stones so they use SuperStone ceramic stones which are available in eight grits (you can choose from 180 to 1200). Also, they are available in a multitude of sizes that range from 1 mm upward. You can shape them to work in very tight locations.
It’s all About Consistency with a Satin Finish
The real trick to creating the perfect satin finish remains evenness and consistency. Remember, a satin finish is not deeply embedded so if you make a mistake then you can fix it.
Benefits of a Satin Finish
One of the things that most people appreciate about a satin finish is that it improves the jewelry’s wear ability. It can hold up to daily use and doesn’t show fingerprints. Also, its lack of extreme shine means if the piece gets oily or a slight scratch it will still look fantastic.
Toothpaste and a Satin Finish
Does your satin finish jewelry have fine scratches or imperfections? You can use toothpaste to smooth the abrasions and restore the appearance of the satin finish. Simply apply it using a smooth cloth. Overall, a satin finish lasts longer and looks better than a polished finish which can easily start to look scratched and worn.
Brushed and Wire Brushed
A brushed finish is like a satin finish and some of the same tools and techniques are even used to achieve the jewelry finish. The main difference between the two finishes is the degree of texture and the visible lines that are made by the brush. Wire brushed finish offers even greater contrast. Basically, with a brushed finish, you can see the individual scratches and they run parallel to each other. A wire-brushed finish is considered a final texture that is created by using a wire brush. The steel brush creates tiny grooves that have a coarser appearance.
Many people use a flex-shaft set that contains 3M radial bristle brushes to create the appearance. With the brushes, you can make extremely aggressive lines or exceptionally fine ones. The lines are formed by using a rotary hand tool or a set of brushes that are placed in a buffing machine to create broad surface texture. One jewelry technique involves setting the brushes on your buffer and then spinning the mandrel to create a very directional appearance.
Using Brushes for a Brushed Finish
Jewelers often use steel or brass brushes. They can even use sandpaper that has coarse grit. A pen-style brush that is either brass or steel can be adjusted for the desired texture and is great for softer metals. Sandpaper with a large grit will also leave marks. You can create a paste of particles such as sand or silicon carbide with oil or plain water and then rub it on the surface to create eye-catching marks.
Clearly, when you switch from a bristle brush to a wire brush then you will create a different appearance. Use the wire brush with a flex-shaft or polishing motor. You can opt to use lubrication or go without. If you use a lubricant, then you can expect a smoother finish. Any brush that is nickel silver (a nickel brush) must have lubrication or you will leave nickel and brass marks on the surface of the jewelry.
Sandblasting is typically done with tiny glass beads instead of actual sand. Silicon carbide and aluminum oxide are also used. You perform such finishes in a chamber that holds the abrasive medium and keeps you safe, so you do not inadvertently inhale the substance. When the piece is sandblasted, tiny spots develop that give it a gentle appearance that still retains shine. The piece appears brighter. You can use tape or nail polish to mask off any parts of the jewelry piece that you do not want to be sandblasted.
Another option to create a sandblasted finish involves using texturing brushes to create a light appearance and protect the piece from possible damage. You can fasten the brushes onto a rotary handpiece that will strike the surface of the jewelry and create a similar appearance to that of abrasive blasting. This process also forms a hardening which means that the jewelry item wears better, and the finish lasts longer.
Another option includes the use of a magnetic pin tumbler to create texture. The device can reach the entire surface and renders a finish that is like that achieved by glass-bead blasting.
A hammered finish is very traditional and achieved by striking the metal using the round end of a ball-peen hammer. It is great for an even surface to create dramatic effects. Use an unpolished hammer for a rough-hewn appearance or a flat hammer for a very faceted look. Using a reciprocating hammer handpiece that has an inverted bezel-set diamond is also an option to fashion an extremely aggressive texture.
To achieve a patina finish you use chemicals to speed up the metal’s oxidization. You can also use heat to bring out the colors of patination. Patina finishes are best for pieces that are alloyed with high copper content, bronze, brass, or sterling silver. Remember, before applying any patina chemicals to make sure the surface is exceptionally clean for best results. You should always take your time during application to achieve the desired finish.
This article simply gives a brief overview of techniques for finishing jewelry. You will learn through trial and error. In addition, you might like one finish better than another so everyone must find their own unique sense of style and taste.