The next step is to use the wire frame model to create a jig or support matrix to use in the actual construction phase of the jewellery. To start, I model a solid object of the same outline shape as the wire frame, which is then positioned on top of this new solid block and lowered until the wires are embedded to half their diameter. Then using the Boolean subtraction function in CAD, the wire frame is used as a cutter to leave grooves in the block that replicate the wire frame. This block is then milled by a CNC machine. (I have used both hard wax and a resin for this purpose). Now the fabrication in metal begins.
I chose platinum wires for these two projects because the metal can be pre-polished and the finish is unaffected by subsequent steps. Fabricated platinum also has good dimensional stability. Using the wax or resin block that is milled, we begin by laying suitable lengths of wire in the support grooves and tacking them together one by one with a laser welder. The frame is built up wire by wire, its segments being held in perfect alignment following the original stone’s pattern of the facet junctions. It would be extremely difficult to achieve this level of accuracy without the use of a computer-milled support jig.
Once all the frame components are tacked together, they are stable enough that we can remove the piece from the supporting jig and reinforce all the junctions, resulting in a strong openwork frame. Depending on the piece, claws or a bezel are added to set the gemstones. Cleaning up the welds is done using standard bench techniques with abrasive files and paper, followed by pre-polishing, ultimately setting the stone, and giving it a high-polish finish.
For the diamond pendant featuring Phillip’s signature square, we added a second iteration of the outer frame to strengthen the piece and also provide a space that would allow a chain to be threaded through for suspension.
The pendant incorporating Stephen’s specialty cut (christened ‘Quadrille’ for the historic dance by four couples in a square formation) was built using two identical wire frames that were attached back to back, creating a cage within which we captured the central pearl. Simple two-claw settings were hand-fabricated from platinum wire, each of which had two wire support struts. We pre-polished the settings and set the gemstones before welding the supports into position in the four quadrants of the wire-frame cage. This piece incorporates German-made bayonet fittings in the central pearl and the ends of the strand, enabling the centrepiece to be worn on the pearls or fitted to a suitable chain for a more casual look.
As I mentioned previously, I included Christopher Designs’ round as an example, although I have not yet created a piece of jewellery with it. Given the ‘ratio’ of its central table, this cut could be set in a ring (whether hand-fabricated or not), as the actual diamond would fill up the entire table section of the magnified wire frame. Additionally, you could use the same technique to create another support jig to make an openwork wire shank. Earrings would only require an ear post welded to the back.
Whether defining the shape of a gem with a suitable bezel or claw setting or creating a more elaborate, magnified replica of a gem’s distinct faceting, the ultimate goal is to let the stone make the strongest statement possible. Diamonds and coloured gemstones are an important part of a design and they deserve to be presented in a way that brings out their unique qualities to the best advantage.
Llyn L. Strelau is the owner of Jewels by Design, a designer-goldsmith studio in Calgary established in 1984. His firm specializes in custom jewellery design for a local and international clientele. Strelau has received numerous design awards, including the American Gem Trade Association’s (AGTA’s) Spectrum Awards and De Beers’ Beyond Tradition—A Celebration of Canadian Craft. His work has also been published in Masters: Gemstones, Major Works by Leading Jewelers. Strelau can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.