Jewelry brought in for repair reflects the increasingly competitive marketplace for inexpensive fine jewelry. With care, however, you can repair it and keep your customer happy.
A word of caution: The procedures shown here represent standard practices commonly used by jewelers across the country. Nonetheless, working with acids, solvents, torches, sharp tools, spinning tools, etc. can be hazardous. Learn about potentially harmful procedures and take the appropriate steps to protect yourself. Work with good ventilation and wear goggles and a face mask whenever possible. Remember, your health is your responsibility!
“I don’t know what’s the matter with my granddaughter. She’s had this bracelet for just over a year and look at it. The lock is broken and it has a big dent.” With this introduction, a woman hands you one of the lightest bangle bracelets ever made of precious metal. “My husband and I picked out this bracelet especially for her when we were in Europe last year. We spent a long time shopping and finally picked this one because of its simplicity. But now look at it. I want to have it fixed for her, regardless of the cost.”
There is no doubt about it, some jewelry brought in for repair lately reflects the increasingly competitive marketplace for inexpensive fine jewelry. The result is great for sales, yet unfortunate for customers who think they are getting a terrific deal.
A major target in the war against consumers is the lighter-than-air bangle bracelet. With their broad appeal as gifts for graduates and granddaughters, affordable bangles are a favorite. Constructed of the thinnest imaginable material, bangles are notorious for denting. To make matters worse, the long-tongued clasp, which cleverly doubles as a safety, often bends out of shape or snaps in half, even with normal use. Somehow, when you decided to become a jeweler, nobody explained that you also would have to become a part-time consumer advocate, quality assurance inspector and therapist. It isn’t easy explaining that your customer’s sentimental trinket isn’t worth the cost of repairing it (see photo #1). Even worse, you can’t even guarantee that after you repair it, the item will stand up to more than occasional wear.
You decide not to share your amazement that this l4k gold bangle lasted a whole year on a teenage girl. Instead you state the facts, “Yes, I can remove the dents and repair the clasp. It is not a simple repair and the cost could be nearly as much as you paid for the bracelet. Bracelets like this are made out of such thin gold that, in the future, I’d suggest your granddaughter save it for special events.” Somewhat disappointed that there is still no free lunch, your client agrees to the reasonable price quote and promises to impress your instructions on the semi attentive teen (see dents in photo #2).
As standard procedure before heating, clean the bracelet in an ultrasonic bath and steam it to remove any dirt and grease that would carbonize during soldering. Coating the piece with boric acid will go a long way to preserve the polish so it comes out of the pickle requiring only a touch-up with rouge. Apply flux and use easy solder to attach a scrap of wire to the deepest part of the dent. The wire will act as a temporary handle to pullout the dent (see photo #3). Repeat the procedure with the other dent. After cooling, immerse the bracelet in a pickle solution of weak acid to remove the flux and oxides. Whenever working on a hollow piece of jewelry, it is important to remove all acid residue from pickling before going further. This can be accomplished by repeated rinsing or by immersion in an ultrasonic cleaner. A very small amount of acid that remains inside can cause a variety of problems later.
Because the walls of the bracelet are extremely thin and are now annealed (softened) after soldering the posts, very little effort is required to reshape them. Hold the bracelet firmly in one hand and grasp the wire with a pair of pliers. Cautiously monitoring the force, pullout each dent (see photo #4). If the metal is resistant, affix one post at a time and then feed it through a draw plate backward. With the flat steel plate serving as an anvil, slowly and firmly pullout the dent.
Check the work to make sure the surface is restored to its original flat contour (see photo #5). Do not over pull the wires. The metal is too thin to correct a bump by filing or planishing. Saw or nip off the wires as close to the bracelet as possible without violating the flat plane of the metal (see photo #6). An alternative is to reheat and unsolder the wires.
Because of the metal’s delicacy, take great care in cleaning the surface. Ideally, you would like to remove the solder that held the pins because it is probably a slightly different color than the bangle. However, removing the solder without thinning the metal further is a challenge that could lead to disaster, if you break through the wall. Leaving a little extra solder on the surface would make sense, as long as there are not pits, because it will provide added strength. If you choose this route, the color difference can be hidden by gold plating the entire piece with 14k solution after polishing. (If the clasp is white gold, as in this case, it can be masked from plating with a layer of nail polish.) Whether plating or not, the task at hand is to restore a perfectly flat polished surface to the area of the dent. While it is generally wise to use the largest tool possible for most jobs, such as sanding a flat surface, you want to localize the abrasion in this case to minimize the risk of thinning the metal too much. Use increasingly finer abrasive wheels in a light, constantly moving sweeping motion (see photo #7).
Turning your attention to the clasp, you note it was constructed with one end soldered and the other shaped so it glides through a slot in the other end of the bracelet. The clasp opens until the bent end meets the inside of the wall, which prevents it from falling off. When the bracelet is closed, the tongue slides until the carved notch clicks and the halves snap together. Rather than merely soldering the broken parts together with a butt joint, file both ends at long diagonals for added strength. Insert the loose end into the slot and set up both pieces securely for soldering (see photo #8). Again, use boric acid to coat the parts.
Apply flux and use white gold solder to attach the two pieces (see photo#9).
The operation of soldering also anneals the white gold tongue. It is important to restore the hardness so the metal maintains its shape and is springy as it guides the clasp halves together. The metal’s hardness can be increased by planishing lightly with a polished flat hammer. Even the gentlest force, when used repeatedly, will reharden the metal. To do this, secure a ring mandrel in a vise or in a hole on the edge of your bench (drill one if needed). Hold the bracelet so the joint is flat against the mandrel when the flat hammer strikes it. The best way to determine this position is to place the tongue against the mandrel and press the hammer flat against it. This lets you know exactly how to hold it (see photo #10)
Remove the hammer, but keep the bracelet steady in this position and very lightly and repeatedly tap it with the flat face of the hammer. Carefully slide the bracelet back and forth so the tongue rides on the mandrel, maintaining its flat orientation, as you planish the entire length (see photo #II). Hitting too hard will distort the tongue’s shape.
Check the curve and alignment of the tongue and make any necessary corrections so it glides smoothly over its full range. Use a dull bench knife to wedge open the split end of the clasp, adjusting the fit until it snaps into the other half upon closure (see photo #12). Because of the extreme delicacy of all parts, a minimum of polishing is advisable.
Although paper-thin and deserving of extra care when worn, the bracelet looks like new. Once again, you have exceeded 5 the expectations of your customer. “It’s a miracle,” the grandmother exclaims as you unwrap the tissue paper and hand her the restored bracelet (see photo#13).
(c)Alan Revere with Werner Cronauer & Edward J. FreidmanFirst publication rights assigned to Jewelers’ Circular-Keystone
Photos by Barry Blau
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