There is no one “always right” way of making silver jewelry. There ARE individual ways in which an interested person can explore the manufacture of silver jewelry.
One place to start is with silver clay. Silver clay is only like clay in that it is easy to shape and use. It comprises very small particles of silver, mixed with an organic binder and water. The commonest form of silver clay will produce fine silver – more than 99.9% pure – which is okay for applying a very thin silver coat (otherwise known as enameling) but no good for making jewelry because it is too soft. The material the jeweler needs is actually sterling silver clay, because there the silver is mixed with 7.5% by weight of copper or other metal to produce sterling silver, and sterling silver is the ideal material for making jewelry. Sterling silver clay comes in various forms:
- In a lump, suitable for sculpting;
- As a soft paste that can be used for fine detail work by extruding from a syringe;
- In a form that looks like paper and is suitable for origami designs.
Assuming that the sterling silver clay chosen is in the lump form, it should be formed into the desired shape by hand or with the same tools a sculptor might use. Details can be added with a knife or a wire and stencils may be used to produce particular shapes. When the clay is subsequently fired it will shrink, so the first shape of the piece should be larger than its intended final product will be. The degree of shrinkage varies between the different clays and the label should be checked to make sure that the jeweler knows what degree of shrinkage to expect.
Firing may be by torch, in a kiln, or simply on a gas stove. After firing, the piece should be left to cool naturally and not by plunging into water.