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Back to basics: Tips on re-tips

Reconstructing prongs

My third example is the men’s diamond band above. This ring is being passed down from a father to his son, who will make it his wedding band when he marries this summer. As can be seen in the picture, the ring needs a complete makeover, including a half shank and new prongs. In addition, the diamonds are buried down in the gold and the prongs have been previously re-tipped. Note they run together and the solder is pitted. This usually indicates easy-flow solder was used and excess material flowed all around. In this case, I recommended reconstructing all the prongs. In repairs like this one, it is not a good idea to re-tip over the old tips, especially when the previous work was done this poorly.

My first task was to remove the diamonds and clean out all the old solder, which was not difficult. I spent approximately half an hour cleaning up the ports with my flat graver. This part of the job does not have to be perfect, as the diamonds will cover most of the space.

After cleaning and lightly polishing, I laid the stones back into their cubbies and marked the positions of each new prong. I chose 0.80-mm wire (18-gauge) for the new prongs and drilled a pilot hole for each one twice, the first time with a 0.70-mm drill bit and the second with a 0.79-mm bit. Using a bit that is the same size or slightly smaller ensures the new prong wire will fit tightly in the hole.

A tight fit ensures the use of less solder, decreasing the chance of creating pitted solder seams. The new prong wires shown in the photo to the left are friction-fit, but they are so tight, they will not move. These small details matter greatly.

It might be tempting to simply create a small dimple and solder the new prong in from the front side, but this is bad thinking. Drilling the pilot holes all the way through allows me to solder from the inside of the ring. This way, excess solder stays there where it can be easily cleaned away. On the front side, only a thin line of solder will appear around the new prong’s base, which can be polished. Since all the old easy-flow solder has been removed, I can now use 14-karat hard plumb solder on the prongs.

In the case of this old wedding ring, I was able to correct several problems. All five diamonds were elevated, so their pavilions were no longer buried in the gold. The prongs are uniform in size, and all the excess solder is gone. In estimating this job, I charged $30 per prong, along with a setting fee for each stone. Remember not to fall into the trap of thinking your customers won’t pay for quality work. In my shop, I have a repair box full of jobs similar to this and a three-week waiting time.

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