The simple wedding band is the most basic ring construction that you can make, but even this basic ring band can have many different looks. It can be made from round, square, rectangular or twisted wire. It can be wide or narrow, thick or thin. It can be straight on the inside and curved on the outside or the other way around. It can have large or small gemstones, only at the front or all the way around the band. There are too many variations to name them all.
In this article I will describe the process of making a simple gold wedding band.
When I got married we bought very thing wedding bands. I liked them but over the years they became deformed from use. I decided to make new ones. I used the gold from our old rings and also added my grandmother’s wedding ring, with my mother’s permission. Gold jewellery tends to be passed down from one generation to the next and incorporating the metal from a family ring is very symbolic and adds to the emotional charge that we attach to jewellery.
Since the rings only had one solder point it was simple to file away the old solder. Melting gold with solder is not a good idea because solder contains other metals that don’t belong in the composition of the alloy (including cadmium, which is now forbidden in many countries but is part of the solder used in older gold jewels). Solder also reduces the karat weight of the gold you’re melting and can result in other issues like pores or a more brittle metal. When you can’t remove the solder it’s best to purify the gold.
When we don’t have any metal we can reuse, it’s necessary to made the alloy from fine gold and other metals. In Portugal, gold is usually a 19K alloy, meaning 80% fine gold and 20% other metals. The metals used to alloy gold are usually silver and copper but white gold contains nickel or palladium. Due to common allergies to nickel, palladium is a better choice. White gold is the hardest gold alloy to work because it’s harder and has a tendency to crack when it’s rolled if it’s not annealed properly.
The image above shows what happens to white gold when it goes through a rolling mill and hasn’t been fully annealed.
To learn more about metals, check out the article “basic notions about metals”.
To make an ingot I melted the gold in a crucible that had previously been coated with borax. I heated the metal until it became liquid and poured it into an ingot mould, always keep the flame over the metal to prevent it from solidifying too soon. Ingot moulds are usually made from iron.
The photo above shows the difference in colour between a rose gold and white gold ingot for another pair of wedding rings I’ve made. As you can see, 19k white gold isn’t completely white. To make it so it usually needs rhodium plating after the ring is complete.
To make an ingot it’s advisable to have at least 6 grams of gold. When you’re working on the piece there will be some loss of metal from filing and polishing. 1 to 2 grams is normal in terms of metal loss. Some of this loss can be recovered (filings), some can’t, like the fine dust that comes from polishing, especially in a small studio if your polishing area doesn’t have dust collection.
I turned the ingot into square wire by running it through the rolling mill. The wire goes through increasingly smaller holes until it reaches the desired size. In this case, since the amount of gold was limited, I stopped when I had a 9 cm long square wire, which is what I needed to make two rings.
To calculate the length of wire needed you use Pi. Measure the internal diameter of the ring and multiply it by 3,14. If the ring is thick, you should add the metal thickness to the calculation.
It’s a good idea to make a ring slightly smaller than the final size you want because when hammering to make it round, filing, sanding and polishing, you’ll remove some metal and the ring will stretch a bit. I make it half a size to one size smaller.
My square wire went through the rolling mill again, this time on the flat rollers, to squash it into rectangular wire. I stopped when the thickness reached 1 mm. I ended up with a rectangular strip of 1x3mm, which is a good size for a wedding band.
I formed the band around a ring mandrel and used a jeweller’s saw to make two rings.
I soldered the rings closed. The first picture shows a silver ring after soldering. The next two pictures show a gold ring before and after soldering. I like to wrap some iron binding wire around the rings while soldering to prevent them from opening when heated due to tension created while forming. You can also anneal the metal before soldering but that requires more time in the pickle so I tend to skip it if possible.
To solder, the metal needs to be clean and you have to coat the join with some flux. Flux stops the metal from oxidizing and allows the solder to flow. Gold is a little easier to solder than silver because you can direct the heat mainly at the area you want to join. There’s no need to heat the whole piece equally, like you need to with silver. This is because silver is better at conducting heat than gold.
I filed the excess solder and rounded the sharp edges a bit. I checked the size on the ring mandrel and hammered with a rawhide hammer until the rings were perfectly round. If the mandrel is conical, you should turn the ring and hammer the other size in order to keep both sides straight instead of conforming to the conical shape of the mandrel.
Finally, I sanded and polished the rings until I got a mirror polish. I use 400 grit sandpaper to remove scratches, followed by 600 grit. From there I move to tripoli on a Foredom flex shaft. For a simple ring I use conic or cylindrical felt bits to polish. After tripoli (a brown pre-polish compound) I use a green polishing compound and end with rouge. There should be a separate felt bit for each compound and it’s a good idea to mark them or keep them in a bag along with the polishing compound so you know which one to use next time.
Gold is easier to polish than silver because it doesn’t usually get those awful grey fire stains that silver is known for.
And so we got brand new wedding rings out of our old ones.