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Alison Swindles Jewellery Design

Handmade silver jewellery

Blue enamelled earrings

I absolutely love these earrings, they are one of my favourite pieces that I have made to date. Although I’ve made similar ones before, these ones just seemed to come together perfectly. I was really pleased with the shape, the size, and most importantly the enamel. Enamelling is always a slightly tense time as the piece has to be made completely first and the enamel is the very last thing to happen. So hours in the workshop can be ruined by enamel that chooses to misbehave!!

But when it doesn’t misbehave, it is magical and transforms that piece of silver into a gorgeous piece of jewellery!

So……..how did I make them?

This is how they started. A piece of sterling sheet silver and some sterling silver wire.

I made the wire shapes using my pliers (and a few annoyed words!) but they turned out pretty nice!

I like to use traditional techniques so I still use a borax cone to solder pallians of enamelling solder onto the piece.

Here are the tiny pieces of solder ready to go on the main piece of silver.

The pallians ready for soldering. I decided to use my tripod so that I could apply the heat from underneath to avoid melting the thinner silver of the wire.

The solder was being super hard and took ages to melt!! I had to move it to my charcoal blocks to get it hot enough.

Eventually I got the solder to run! Then I cut the pieces out using my piercing saw.

I cleaned them up with my files and then put them in a pickling solution.

Meanwhile I prepared the vitreous enamel by washing in distilled water until the water ran clear.

The prepared enamels. For this piece I used colours LJET217 and LJET330.

Then I wet pack the enamels onto the pieces and let them dry slowly on top of the kiln.

I fired them at 790 degrees Celsius for 2 mins. Here they are when they first came out of the kiln and I was waiting for the colours to develop.

I was really happy with the colours and so just did the one firing. Next they had to go back in the pickle solution before being ready to finish off.

After polishing (for what seemed like forever through the various grits of paper and compounds) they were looking pretty good. However this was artificial light.

So I had to be patient and wait for the morning to capture their true beauty.

I absolutely love these and how they came out. These are already sold and on their way to their new owner. But I will be making more………. watch this space!!!

Dog tag with blue enamel

I was asked to design a dog tag style necklace for a friend’s boyfriend as a birthday present. She liked the idea of it having enamel on it and wanted it to be made of solid silver. Here are some of the ideas from my sketch pad.

There were a couple of designs which stood out so I made up some prototypes using copper and base metal. I used a bit of enamel on them but the colours react in a different way if you put them on a base of copper as opposed to a base of silver, so the colours were very vague on the prototypes.

Once the design was chosen I began working in sterling silver. I used 2 sheets of sterling silver that were 1mm thick. One piece for the base and the other to sandwich on top. I drilled holes in the top piece and cut out the shapes that I had drawn. The shapes were then carefully filed around the edges and tidied up ready for soldering.

I soldered the two layers together and filed the edges smooth.

I use a solution of ‘picklean safe pickling powder’ to clean the silver up after soldering. Here is the dog tag in the pickle.

Next I had to prepare the enamel powder by washing and rinsing it in distilled water. This is important to make sure the enamel doesn’t go cloudy when it is applied and fires in the kiln.

The enamel powder prepared and ready for use. The enamel is wet packed onto the dog tag using a fine paintbrush. Once it is applied I put the piece on top of the hot kiln in order for the powder to dry as any moisture left in the enamel when you fire it will cause cracking once the piece is in the kiln.

I fired this piece a total of three times, for 2 mins each time, at a temperature of 810 degrees Celsius. The final firing I did at 820 degrees Celsius. In between firings I cooled and then pickled the dog tag. Then I wet packed the enamel again as another layer over the top of the previous layer of enamel. This intensifies the colour and raises the level of the enamel too.

Once I was happy with the enamel I polished the piece in the normal way, using wet/dry paper in various grits and then tripoli and finally rouge. After adding a jump ring and silver chain the piece was finished and ready for the customer.

Blue enamelled wavy ring 

One of my very good friends asked me to make her a silver ring with blue enamel. 

I began by marking out the sheet silver. She has very small fingers (I’m making this ring in a uk size I for her) I cut the main part of the ring from flat sheet sterling silver.

I also cut three pieces of silver wire to the same length as the sheet silver. Next I soldered the wire to the flat piece using enamelling solder. It is important to use specific enamelling solder otherwise the piece would fall apart once in the kiln later on 

Once the wires were soldered on I hammered the ring into a circular shape and joined the ends to make a complete ring, taking care to match up the centre wire so that the join is nice and neat. 

The next stage was to clean up the ring as much as possible and finish off the edges so that it was all ready for the enamel. 

Here are the 

two rings on top of the kiln waiting for the enamel to dry completely before I put them in the kiln. I use powdered enamel which I wash and grind in a mortar and pestle. I then apply it to the piece using a small paintbrush and a cocktail stick. Once the area to be enamelled is completely covered it is then important to let the enamel dry out. Any water left on the piece when you put it in the kiln can cause the enamel to crack and fly off! 


I usually leave my pieces in the kiln for 2 mins on 820 degrees celcious. The enamel goes through a lot of colour changes as it cools and this can be quite a nail biting few minutes! 


I fired these two rings for a second time, pickling and cleaning up in between firings. The enamel I used was LJET217 (light blue) and LJET330 (dark blue) which are both safe to use in pickle. Then the usual polish and clean up for silver and they are ready for their new owners.

My pieces are hallmarked at the London Assay Office, where they are tested and marked with the type of metal they are made of (sterling, .925 silver in this case) and also with my makers stamp and a date stamp. 
It was a very sunny day so it made photographing these pieces quite difficult as they are very reflective. But I love how they have turned out and the shades of blue are gorgeous ūüôā 

A few pictures of my recent work

Here are some of my solid silver cufflinks with just one shade of blue enamel. I love how these turned out.

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And some more solid silver cufflinks in the blended blue enamels are here.

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I also made some rings in the same style as the cufflinks to compliment them.

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Alongside my large solid silver pendants I have made some slightly smaller ones in which also feature the blue enamels. 

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As you can probably tell I do love these shades of blue enamel! But I have been doing lots of experiments with pink enamel……and I have discovered that pinks are pretty difficult to get right! The pink enamels ate extremely sensitive to the kiln temperature and the time they are in the kiln for. Also I have found that when enamelling on sterling silver you must use flux with the pinks. Anyway, after many, many attempts I finally made this necklace with a stunning pink centre. I love this piece!

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And finally I decided to stray slightly from my ‘blobs’ of enamel and I created this silver pendant with a blue enamel flower.

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Enameled blue wavey ring

Here is a little ring I made the other day when I was experimenting with doing part-enamel on a ring.

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Enamel and silver ring

Firstly I had to cut out a length of silver from a flat sheet. I am using 1mm thick sterling silver here.

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Silver ring with enamel

Then using silver wire, I soldered random shapes onto the flat sheet at various intervals. After doing this I shaped the flat shape around my ring mandrel so that it became a ring shape. I tested it for size on my own finger as I was making it for myself. Once I had the size correct I soldered it and then cleaned up the edges on wet and dry paper so that they were even and smooth.

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Next it was time to pickle the ring in my jar of safety pickle.

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Time to prepare the enamel!

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I used a couple of enamel colours on this ring. The darkest blue is LJE T330, then the mid blue is LJE T220 and the light blue is LJE T217. I didn’t use any flux as I find with the blues it makes them go all grainy. Perhaps someone could tell me why this is?

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My kiln is set at 820 degrees Celsius and I usually fire for around 2 mins per firing.

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The ring with the wet enamel, sitting on top of my kiln to dry out before firing.

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Various stages of cooling down when the ring came out of the kiln. I fired this ring twice, applying more enamel after the first firing.

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Next came the cleaning up, so back in the pickle. (the enamel I use is fine to go in the pickle and not be affected) Then I polished it up, not forgetting to wear my trendy safety goggles!

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And here is my finished silver ring with blended blue enamel.

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And here I am modelling it whilst playing my oboe.

Enameled Sterling Silver Cufflinks

Enameled Sterling Silver Cufflinks.

Enameled Sterling Silver Cufflinks

This is how I made these gorgeous enameled cufflinks.

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So I started with a sheet of sterling silver 2.5mm thick and then I covered it in masking tape so that I could mark the circle shapes that I needed to cut out.

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For the backs I used small circles and for the cufflink fronts I used larger circles.  I cut these out with a piercing saw using a 2.0 blade.

1970752_10152017776632654_1879607716_n  Here are the pieces for one set of cufflinks cut from the silver sheet.

After I had cut each disk out I soldered the silver wire detail onto the large disks using enameling solder.  After soldering and pickling these pieces I domed them slightly.

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I joined each large disk with a small one using 2.5mm thick wire cut to 1.7mm in length.  I soldered these on using enameling solder as they needed to withstand the high temperatures involved in enameling later.

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Once the cufflinks were soldered I pickled them and then cleaned them up. I also gave them a bit of a polish, ready for enameling.

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These are the cufflinks polished up and positioned on a homemade trivet waiting to be enameled.

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I use vitreous enamel which comes as a powder. The powder requires washing using distilled water and then final grinding in a mortar and pestle. I then applied the enamel using a fine paintbrush, taking care to keep the grains of enamel powder even and not too thickly spread.  The cufflinks then went into the kiln for three firings.  Each firing was about 2 mins and in between firings I let the cufflinks cool naturally on top of the kiln which stops the enamel from cracking.

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The enamel goes through many colour changes as its cools and so it is always recommended to test the enamel on scrap silver first.

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Once I was happy with the depth of colour on the enamel I cooled the cufflinks and then pickled them.  The enamels I used were safe to use in pickle, but its a good idea to check first as you dont want to ruin your work at this stage!

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After pickling the cufflinks I gave them a final polish and they were ready to be packaged up and sent off to their new owner. I also made a matching set of earrings to go with this pair.

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Enameling a silver ring using vitreous enamel

Enameling a silver ring using vitreous enamel.

Enameling a silver ring using vitreous enamel

Here I am going to show you how I enamel a piece of my jewellery.  I am starting with a sterling (.925) silver ring that I have already made.  When enameling remember to use enameling solder when constructing your piece otherwise the solder joints will not withstand the constant firings in the kiln!

Below is the ring that I will be using.  Before enameling you must make sure that the metal is completely clean so I put it in some safety pickle for a few mins.  

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The next stage is to prepare the enamel.  I am using powdered enamel, this needs to be washed, rinsed and ground down some more before it is ready to use.  I grind the powder in a mortar and pestle.  ImageImageImage

The enamel powder needs to be washed in distilled or purified water.  This ensures that the transparent enamel colours really shine.  If the enamel is not washed properly the colours will be cloudy. I got a 5 litre container of purified water from the chemist for around £4.  Boots stock this but sometimes you need to pre-order it.

Once you have washed and prepared your enamel then put it into a container to keep it safe and free from dust.  Dont forget to label it with the colour code too so you know which colour/brand it is for next time!

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Now it is time to place the enamel onto your metal.  The powder should be wet, with a thin layer of purified water over the top in the pot. Sometimes I use a brush and sometimes I use a cocktail stick to place the enamel onto the piece.  For this ring I used a cocktail stick as this made it easier to get into the edges of the design.  Try to place the enamel in a single or very thin layer of grains.  Use the tension of the water to help spread the grains so that there are no gaps but also no huge piles as the enamel will not flow and settle as paint would.  Once I am happy that the powder is thin but covering the area completely I then place the piece on top of the hot kiln to dry.  

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Painting the grains of enamel powder onto the ring

 

 

 

 

So here is the ring with the wet enamel laid on.  This is now put  on top of the hot kiln to dry out. If you put it in the kiln and there is any moisture still in the enamel powder then the enamel will crack and ruin your work.  This will also happen if you layer the enamel too thickly or cool the piece too quickly after you remove it from the hot kiln.    Dont get too excited by the colours at this stage as they wont be anything like this once they have been in the kiln! Before I do any enameling I always test the colours, this needs to be done on the same metal that you are making your final piece in as enamel behaves differently on copper to silver for example.
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ImageThe enamel powder dry and ready to go in the kiln.

  

Each kiln is different and you will need to get to know your own kiln to work out the temperatures and timing for your pieces.  As a guide my kiln is set here at 810c and I put this ring in for 2mins 20secs on each firing. Here is the ring after the first firing.  When I take it out of the kiln I just put the piece on the heat proof tile in front of the kiln and leave it until it is cool.  This took about 20mins I think, I just usually go and do something else or make a cup of tea and come back and see if I can pick it up.  

ImageImageImageThe colours will keep changing as the piece cools so dont get too worried by the colour at this stage either.

 

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Once the piece is cooled I then put it in the pickle again.For some reason putting it in the pickle again at this stage stops the oxidisation of the silver on subsequent firings. Not sure why it doesnt work on the first firing, maybe someone could let me know why?

Anyway I wasnt too happy with the lighter shade of green on the ring so I did a second layer of enamel over the top but this time I only used the dark green colour over the entire piece.  

ImageThe second layer of enamel placed on top of the previous layer.

 

 

I dried the enamel in the same way again and then fired the ring for another 2mins 20secs with the kiln at 810c.  Here it is when it has just come out of the kiln again.

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 After it had cooled I polished it up and its ready to go to the London Assay Office for hallmarking now.

 

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