A jewelry unit for middle school

At any level, a piece of jewelry should be carefully designed and skillfully executed. Jewelry can be as freely experimental as any other media, but it needs a foundation and theory of good craftsmanship to be valid. I stress the freedom to create and a knowledge of technique in my eighth-grade, four-week jewelry unit. Terms such as piercing, applique, champleve, bezel, prong, etching, casting, cloisonne and plique-a-jour are familiar to my art classes.

I begin the unit by showing examples of jewelry produced by a wide variety of processes and techniques. Students have the opportunity to see many techniques and styles of jewelry design and fabricaton. The jewelry examples also provide an opportunity to show the type of craftsmanship I would like my students to strive for.

I demonstrate many procedures and students may choose any of the techniques and procedures for their project. They may choose to work with German silver, cooper, “Nu-Gold” and sterling silver. I encourage them to combine metals as well. Students must learn the names of basic jewelry tools and their safe use. They must demonstrate their proficiency with tools before they begin their exciting creations.

After achieving a satisfactory design on paper, the student glues the design onto the selected metal with rubber cement and begins to cut into the piece of metal with a jewelry’s saw. The teeth on the blade must be pointing downward and the blade must be tightened in the saw frame. Students rub a piece of wax onto the blade so it will glide better over the metal as it cuts. Students who wish to applique may solder their pieces together; they must know the various solders and their melting points. Students must learn the proper procedures for applying flux and solder and safe procedures for using the propane torches. We use Sparex as a cleaning solution to take the fire scale off the metal.

If students want to use an etching process, they must work in an area that has a fan to take away the fumes. Etching requires careful supervision. We generally do the etching pieces one at a time. Students apply a thin coat of asphaltum to a piece of copper or “Nu-Gold.” They draw their designs with a scriber or a sharp instrument that incises a line through the asphaltum. We usually use scratch board knives to incise through the asphaltum and create the design. The piece is then placed in a mild acid bath for approximately ten minutes. We use a safe etching solution that consists of iron chlorides, known as perchlorises, and is obtainable from most craft suppliers. When the desired depth is achieved, the plate is rinsed with cool water and the black asphaltum is removed with turpentine. The bracelet or plate is then polished with jeweler’s rouge for a high gloss.

Some students are interested in incorporating inexpensive semiprecious stones in their projects. They may choose to set the stone using the prong or bezel technique. Students view demonstrations of stone-setting techniques and learn by observing the various methods of jewelry construction.

The back of the piece should look as finished as the front. Students take pride in showing me their designs and craftsmanship on the backsides of their pieces. Many hours of buffing and polishing bring smiles to their faces and a professional look to the jewelry.

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