Here is an intimate view of my process with how to make an electroformed ring. There are many paths to take when it comes to the art of electroforming. Clay, epoxy, sculpey, found objects (organic and man-made), wire, and crystals are just some of the materials that can be used to create an electroformed ring. This tutorial will focus on the use of resin clay, a two-part clay that is mixed together and cures rock hard after about 24 hours. I prefer this clay to sculpey because it is extra durable and can be filed/sanded for a smoother surface.
You will need:
- Epoxy resin clay
- Copper wire (18 or 16 gauge)
- Wire cutters
- Nylon jaw pliers
- Steel ring mandrel (full round)
- Wooden mallet
- Steel carving tools
- Conductive paint
- Small detail synthetic paintbrush
- Liquid latex
Step 1: Building a Ring Shank
For consistently round and sized ring shanks, a steel mandrel is a necessary tool. This set contains a mandrel and mallet, which will allow you to hammer the wire into a perfectly round and flat shape. Note that this is a rubber mallet and will not change the shape of your wire, it will only work-harden it.
To save time, you can create many ring shanks at once by wrapping the wire tightly around the mandrel as many times as you’d like (it helps to smooth out the wire before wrapping with some nylon jaw pliers), hammering the wire a so that it sits flush against the mandrel, which leaves you with a large coil. You can then take a pair of wire cutters and start snipping away and voila…piles and piles of ring shanks! Try to snip the wire so that the ends are as close to touching as possible, but do not worry if there’s a small gap as it will be filled in will epoxy or clay.
Step 2: How to Form a Decorative Ring Top
Start by mixing up your resin clay in equal parts, kneading it until the color is evenly mixed and uniform. If you do not mix the clay properly, it will not cure to rock hard and may remain sticky. Take a small amount of clay and use it as a backing for your main gemstone. If it is translucent, consider painting a layer of reflective silver nail polish on the back first so that the color of the resin clay is not visible through the stone. Unless the stone is completely clear, the reflective nail polish will reflect the light in the stone and make it appear more sparkly and bright.
Now that you have a thin layer of clay on the back (about 1-2 mm of thickness is fine), it will be easy to attach smaller stones and decorative elements to the sides of the stone as they will have something to stick to. Another nice-to-have set of tools are some steel carving picks such as these ones that will allow you to create some nice lines and textures, smooth hard-to-reach areas, and will generally help you to handle resin clay which can be annoyingly sticky and hard to work with compared to sculpey.
Here, I used lapis lazuli as the base stone. I played around with adding small rough quartz as accent stones and rolled tiny spheres out of the resin clay for added detail.
Step 3: Attaching Ring Shank to Gemstone Topper
I like to use regular ol’ epoxy for attaching the ring shank since it is strong and less bulky than resin clay. You can either epoxy a stone directly to copper wire, or build a clay form as outlined above and glue that to the wire. The trickiest part is finding a stable drying surface that holds everything flat in place so that the gemstone sits on the ring shank at a 90 degree angle.
You can accomplish this with either cross-lock tweezers (downside is you are limited to one ring per each set of tweezers) or clothespins and a wooden jig. Below, I have two pieces of wood that have been coated in wax paper that form a slot for the wire ring shanks to sit in. A clothespin rests on top holding the ring shank flush (I like to line up the open end here so it will be covered by the ring topper). Dab a bit of epoxy on the wire and set the gemstone on top making sure that it sits flat across the clothespin and makes contact with the wire.
Step 4: Applying Conductive Paint
For conductive paint, I like to use Safer Solutions copper paint. It is the only conductive paint that I will recommend, though some people have had luck mixing their own conductive graphite paint. Always use a synthetic paintbrush when using copper conductive paint as natural brushes react with the paint making it goopy and awful to work with. I recommend separating out small amounts of paint into a separate container to prevent contamination and drying out.
Anywhere that you paint conductive paint will grow copper, unless it is the inside of a form (recessed areas will plate, but undercuts will not). Keep in mind that you will have to connect a wire to any areas you want to plate so conductive areas must be touching or have multiple wires connected.
Step 5: Sealing Gemstones
Most gemstones will need to be sealed before they take a swim in the blue juice. Even quartz, which should in theory be hard enough, can have some oopsies if there are calcite growths or rough areas that soak up the color of the bath. Until you have some experience under your belt (and a carbon filter), the safest practice is to seal all of your gemstones.
Paint the conductive paint to form a bezel around your stone. Even if it is glued in place, surrounding it by copper helps to lock it and create a permanent setting. Paint it just a hair beyond where you want the copper to end. Then go back with latex and cover the top of the stone, overlapping the copper just a bit so there are no gaps between the latex and the paint. To apply the latex, I made a small tool out of a 16 gauge copper wire with the end hammered flat. A steel wax carving tool with a flat end would also work.
Note: not all latex is created equally, even colors within the same brand will have different consistencies. I have had the best luck with black liquid latex such as this one. It must be ammonia-free. Avoid the teal and other colors as some people have had issues with it dying their gemstones.