If you’ve ever browsed jewelry at a local market or boutique, you’ve likely come across electroformed jewelry. In these designs, raw edges of metal seem to envelop bright gemstones like turquoise or amethyst. The process of electroforming adds an elemental style that’s very on-trend right now.
As it just so happens, electroforming is a unique art form in the jewelry world. How does it work and exactly what is electroforming in jewelry making? Glad you asked!
In this process, jewelry designers create liquid-like copper pieces that enrapture gemstones and organic materials. As with many techniques, electroforming jewelry takes skill and precision to perfect. But the result is simply striking. Here’s how it works!
The free-form technique involves building layers of copper metal around a hard surface. In many pieces, designers manipulate the metal around a gemstone to create an organic, raw aesthetic. While it’s technically a scientific process, you don’t need a lab coat and chemistry degree to learn this skill.
What you will need, however, are a set of supplies, a little patience, and a lot of practice. In time, anyone can learn the art of electroforming jewelry, and it’ll add a worldly vibe to your collection. Stick with the practice and you’ll be a pro.
Before we begin, let’s answer a frequently asked question:
Not quite. While the names sound similar, they do function slightly differently. Electroforming creates a thick coating of copper, but electroplating only creates a small plate using any metal.
For example, electroplating jewelry puts the gemstone or organic material in the spotlight, adding an organic, yet subtle, setting to the piece.
Electroforming, on the other hand, is a main design element of the piece. Most often, the copper is a chunky feature of the jewelry. Additionally, electroplating jewelry involves various metals, while electroforming mostly uses copper.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, are you ready to get started? Let’s walk you through the process, step-by-step, of electroforming jewelry. First, let’s get your supplies in hand.
The first item you’ll need is the key ingredient that gives these jewelry pieces their appeal: copper. Grab a few sheets of copper anode.
This liquid is a bonding agent that seals the copper sheets to the base item you plan to electroform.
A rectifier is a machine you’ll use to power the electroforming jewelry process. You’ll want a rectifier that enables you to customize the volts and amps to best create your design.
This is an optional material you use to seal your gemstones and crystals before you begin the electroforming process. The point of this material is to protect the organic materials from the acid.
You’ll electroform the copper over the metal conductive paint. Only use the paint where you want to build the electroformed copper.
The beaker is the bath where the electroforming happens and will hold the solution, jewelry piece, and copper wire.
These connect the rectifier to the copper.
The purpose of this supply is to help you lower the items into the beaker.
If your design requires it, use the 2-part epoxy clay to create a base for your jewelry piece.
So, now that you’ve got all your supplies in order, are you ready to start the process? Follow the steps below to start electroforming your jewelry design!
First, seal your stones with lacquer to protect them from the electroforming solution. Let the lacquer dry entirely, which generally takes about a day.
If you’d like your jewelry piece to have a base, like a ring or necklace pendant, you’ll need to create it with the 2-part epoxy clay. Mix the parts together (resin and hardener). Create the base and then attach the stone or crystal to it. Let this sit for 24 hours until it’s completely hard.
Create a layer of conductive paint where you plan to do the electroforming. Before you use the paint, ensure it’s thoroughly mixed to avoid streaks or uneven application. Now, paint it onto the part of the piece that you want to add the copper. Let dry for another day.
*Ensure that the copper conductive paint areas you apply all connect to one another, or else part of the piece will be exposed without the copper plate.
Now take the piece you’ve created and put it in the empty glass beaker. Wrap the copper wire around the piece so that it doesn’t fall in, without completely covering the copper conductive paint. Use the tongs or chopsticks to slide the copper wire into the beaker.
Thoroughly clean your copper sheets to ensure they shine bright. Then, drill holes into the top of two strips of the copper anode and attach them with your copper wire. Then, add them to the beaker.
Now that you have everything positioned into place, slowly pour in the copper electroforming solution until the item is completely covered.
Make sure that your rectifier is turned off. Now, connect the negative (black) wire to the cathode, and the red wire (positive) to the anode.
Set the rectifier to 0.1 to start, which allows for .1 for every square inch of surface. After thirty minutes of electroforming, check back to see if you need to adjust your amps. As with most things, it’s better to start low than high.
When your piece reaches the desired thickness of copper, you can turn off the rectifier, unclamp the lead wires, and then remove the item from the solution. Rinse your jewelry item in water and then polish the piece with patina.
There you have it! How neat was that? While it might seem like a lot of trial and error at first, the more you experiment with electroforming, the better you’ll get! You can then sell your jewelry designs, gift them to friends, or wear them yourself. These pieces will definitely be a conversation starter!
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