The Rio Grande Jeweler's Guide to Working with Gold Part Three: Finishing

Get tips on stone setting and finishing your gold jewelry.

Authored by John Sartin

Last edited: 6/19/2019
A jeweler using a flex shaft to finish a yellow gold ring

In this third, and final part, you'll get tips on setting stones and finishing your gold jewelry.

Stone Setting

In general, yellow gold alloys that are 14K and above are the best for setting stones, though there are some exceptions.

22K gold is rather soft for prong settings but works beautifully for bezel settings, especially around softer stones and enamel cabochons.

In white gold, palladium alloys are the best choice. Nickel alloys are very hard and springy, so great care should be taken to ensure that the prongs are in contact with the stone and stay in contact with it; they have a tendency to spring up slightly, causing the stone to be loose in the setting. Nickel white gold prongs are also not very forgiving—if you have to lift a prong to remove a stone, use care; they tend to easily break.

The great thing about any gold setting is its strength when compared to sterling. Done right, a gold setting can last for decades and protect a valuable stone from loss.

Polishing, Finishing and Patinas

In general, gold can be finished and polished just like sterling silver.

It responds better to mechanical polishing because of its increased hardness, and it will take less effort to bring up a high polish. The increased hardness of gold is also a plus when you use mass-finishing methods.

Because gold alloys resist oxidation better than sterling silver, they do not lend themselves well to patination. For an oxidized effect, you can copper-plate the piece. To do this, place the piece in a pickle pot and add a bit of steel wool or wound up steel wire. This will cause the copper in the pickle solution to plate the piece. You can then patina the piece with liver of sulfur. Finally, remove the copper plating and the patina from the high spots to reveal the gold underneath. You can also use an acid-based patina like Black Max; however, you will have to apply the patina with a steel brush. The reaction between the gold, steel and the acid in the solution will cause the gold to turn black.

Scrap Collection and Refining

Gold is one of the most expensive materials you can work with. If you're considering adding it to your bench, it is important to formulate a process for capturing and recycling precious metal scrap. The first step in this process is keeping your metals separated.

Carefully separated metals will generate better returns when you send them to a refiner. Separating your metals will also result in clean scrap, which can be melted down, turned into an ingot, and rolled into new sheet or wire; this will save you money in the long run. Just make sure you do not use metal with solder on it.

If you are working with multiple alloys, have a clearly labeled container for each. Clean your catch pan, bench top and bench pin, as well as any other holding devices, each time you move from one metal to another. You'll be amazed at what can get caught in a bench pin.

Hallmarking

"Hallmarking" refers to the practice of stamping jewelry with a quality mark that informs the customer of the purity of precious metal in a jewelry item. Contrary to popular belief, you are not required to quality mark your jewelry in the United States. However, if you do stamp your pieces with a quality mark, you must also stamp your federally registered trademark or name next to it. This ensures that you are responsible for the precious metal content of the jewelry piece.

More information on the requirements of the National Gold and Silver Stamp Act can be found in the Federal Trade Commission's Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries.

Have a question about working with gold at the bench? Stuck on a technique you can't work through? Give the Rio Grande Jewelry Tech Team a call at 800.545.6566. They'd love to help you figure it out.

Review gold and how it compares to silver in the Rio Grande Jeweler's Guide to Gold Part One: Characteristics. Read part two, Working with Gold, for general information and how to successfully work with gold alloys for your jewelry making.