Creative Soldering: The Potato Method

Creative Soldering: The Potato Method

Repairs or edits to finished jewelry can be tricky, especially when gemstones are involved. Very few gems can stand up to the heat of soldering. So when confronted with a soldering task near a vulnerable gem, you can either remove the gem from the setting, or figure out a way to protect the gem from the heat.

There are several ways to protect a gem from heat. For example, you can submerge the portion of the piece that contains the gem in water, or coat the gem in one of the many heat protective gels or pastes that are created for this task.  

Then there is the potato method. Yes potato. Let me explain…

Recently a client asked me to add sizing beads to a blue topaz and gold ring I made for her. This beauty right here:

Blue Topaz Ring

Sizing beads are small metal knobs added to the inside of a ring shank to to help counter-balance top-heavy rings. 

To add the sizing beads, I needed to solder on the ring, which is tricky because of the topaz.

Okay quick detour for a gemstone lesson:

While colored topaz can occur naturally, most is actually clear. In fact naturally occurring blue topaz is very rare.
So why do you see gorgeous hues of blue topaz everywhere? Because clear topaz are heat treated to create a beautiful variety of colors. 
As a result, colored topaz are vulnerable to heat. Too much heat near a color treated topaz will cause the stone to lose color and fade back to clear.

So now that we know how important it is to protect topaz from heat, back to the potato:

I decided that the safest way to solder the sizing beads on the ring would be to contain the gem in a potato. The potato would act as a heat sink, protecting the gem from the heat, allowing me to safely solder the sizing rings onto the exposed ring shank.

Granted this method is a little messy, but I’m a metalsmith and I’m used to getting my hands dirty! 

I cut the potato in half and hollowed out some space for the ring. I then enclosed the ring in the potato and wrapped it with binding wire to secure. I filled in any gaps in the seam between the two potato slices with excess potato bits, the point being to ensure the top half of the ring was fully protected.

Here’s what it looked like:

Potato

I was then able to solder on the sizing beads, working as quickly as possible with a very hot flame.

After soldering I let the setup sit for a while to cool, and then removed the ring from the potato to get it all cleaned up and polished.

Potato II

Potato III

Then I had had roasted potato for a snack.

Kidding!

All in all the job went great and the color of the topaz is just as radiant as ever.

Finished Ring

Thanks for reading!

~Claire


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