How to Make an Electroformed Ring with Resin Clay

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:

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.

I created this jig to hold my ring shanks level using pieces of wood and clothespins.

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.

What is electroforming? (for customers)

Product image
Copper and chalcedony druzy electroformed pendant with quartz point and polished chalcedony bead accents

A question I get asked constantly is “what is electroforming?” and usually the answer makes peoples eyes glaze over, so read on…at your own peril.

Short answer:

“SEXY. METALS. MAGIC.” At least, that’s what my fabulous jewelry/metals/enameling instructor Andrew Kuebeck would say. It’s a little bit of science (aka a whole bath of finicky chemicals), a little bit of math (how do I calculate surface area again?), and a whole lot of creativity when it comes to use of materials. Basically, a thin skin of copper is grown on a surface, which can be made up metal, found objects, organic materials, and so much more. Bugs? No problem! Plastic figurines? Easy peasy! The possibilities with electroforming are endless as it can take on the look of fabrication, casting, or even the more natural hand-formed look of precious metal clay.

Long answer:

Electroforming is a process that creates a metallic end product by electrodeposition onto a metallic or non-metallic surface. It is an electrolytic reaction that moves copper particles from the positively charged anode (copper pipe or sheet) to the negatively charged anode (the piece to be formed). It uses a machine called a rectifier that provides DC current which is needed to facilitate the movement of metal ions in the acidic solution.

If this sounds like electroplating to you, that’s because it pretty much is! The process is nearly identical and the terms are often used interchangeably in the jewelry world. Electroforming can be a bit of a misnomer because it is meant to define a process in which the original surface is removed after the skin has grown, whereas electroplating is when a skin is grown on a metallic surface and the surface is left on the inside. Most “electroformed” jewelry is actually somewhat of a combination between the two processes. In any case, if you would like to find more jewelry in this style, your best bet is to use the term electroformed.

This process is very SLOW. To maintain all of the details in a surface, the trick is to use a low current over a long period of time, sometimes up to 24-48 hours! This is necessary for long term stability of the piece, especially when it comes to wearables. Those dainty looking rings with the thinnest layer of copper can be quite charming, but from personal experience, tend not to withstand the test of time (and my clumsy grip). The best place to look for evidence of plating thickness is right around the stone. If the stone doesn’t look secure, it’s a safe bet that the rest of the piece has an equally thin coating of metal. This process requires frequent checking to make sure everything is going according to plan (*spoiler* it frequently doesn’t). However, its unpredictable textures and outcomes can sometimes be the most captivating part of the process and can lead to some brilliant results.

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