One summer, between foundation college and university I worked for an independent jeweller making silver rings by hand for sale in National Trust centres and small gift shops. Now I thought each ring would take ages to make, and you’d start and completely finish one ring before beginning another, how wrong I was. The silver ring making process was a lot more organised than that to make sure output was profitable and the stocks were kept high enough for unexpected demand.
The first part of the process is turning the basic silver wire bought in large rolls of different weights into ring shapes. This is done using a special steel rod shaped like a very long taper. The raw silver wire is secured tightly at both ends and then using a twisting handle at the other end of the vice it is turned and wrapped tightly into a spiral until each turn of the spiral is as close to a ring shape as possible. The tapering is to make sure you end up with several rings of different sizes to cater for a variety of finger sizes.
Once the spiral of silver is cut down the middle leaving several un-joined silver loops you next need to learn how to hold a jeweller’s solder safely, and how to use the silver flux. Wearing an apron to protect your clothes, you lay out the raw silver rings onto a heat proof asbestos board in rows of ten and add the flux to the join of each ring. Moving carefully along each ring, you heat the silver ring up using a circular motion until its molten hot but not melting, once you see a silver flash the flux has melted and bonded with the silver. After the two ends are fused together using tongs you drop the ring into boric acid to pickle and clean away the flux. Rinse them in water afterwards.
The next step with your batch of silver rings is to reshape them using a soft hammer and mandrel, sand away any rough edges then polish them up in barrels full of ball bearings over night. Needless to say the whole process is absolutely fascinating but needs a lot of patience, dexterity, attention to detail and time. Each silver ring was only worth 2 or 3 pence in reality and sold for between £1.75 and £3.50 in the shops, but as a trainee silversmith you were only paid 10 pence a ring for all the effort. Churning out 200 rings a day only paid £20 but the faster you worked the more you could earn.