My experience as a jeweler has been a traditional one. I attended Pratt Institute and received a BFA in Jewelry, worked as a bench jeweler for other artists, and then opened my own jewelry business many years ago. I am a bench jeweler and I specialize in working in gold, engraving, and stone setting.
As a small business, where I am the sole person designing and fabricating all the jewelry, I am always open to tools and techniques that help me be more efficient, which is how I was first introduced to pulse arc welding. I found myself at a conference where I was able to watch a live demo of a Sunstone pulse arc welder. I was immediately in awe of how this machine could fuse metal. It seemed like sorcery!
I decided to incorporate pulse arc welding into my jewelry making process because it allowed me to do things that traditional soldering cannot: Fusing a delicate gold finding onto a chain with no risk of melting and no clean up. Anyone familiar with soldering knows you can spend a lot of time just setting up a piece if there are multiple components. My welder allows me to tack parts of my pieces together prior to soldering. For example, a bail can be tack welded first, which then makes soldering a breeze. I can also make sure components are centered where I need them to be prior to soldering.
Being the creative person that I am, I then started to experiment with how this equipment could expand my design possibilities. For example, I could have an opal that had already been set and be able to fuse chain to the setting. Or, I could use the machine to ball wires that were threaded through fragile gemstones. I could even fuse different chains together, mixing silver and gold. Jewelers are often problem solvers and the welder certainly helps me find solutions.
One of the most popular uses for a pulse arc welder is permanent jewelry. Many stores now provide this service and many independent jewelers, like me, offer this service at markets or in pop-ups at a local store. Permanent jewelry is a chain bracelet, anklet or necklace that is fused onto the customer using the pulse arc welder. Since there is no clasp, it is permanent until the customer removes it. However, it is so much more than that! It is an experience – it is two best friends coming in and getting matching bracelets. Or, someone celebrating an anniversary or birth. It’s a mom and her daughter sharing an experience together.
I recently organized my first-ever permanent jewelry event, and it was an amazing experience. I collaborated with a local luxury eyewear store, and I set up a table for clients to get permanent jewelry. What struck me is that this welder was now getting me out in the world connecting with customers! It was an opportunity for folks to see me working and they shared the same awe I had when I first saw the welder in action.
I was able to network, to add new customers to my email list and share the rest of my gold jewelry with them. Their bracelets became a talking point amongst their friends, and it brought in referrals for others wanting a bracelet. With my first pop-up under my belt, I hosted another event in my studio for three generations of women getting bracelets together. I felt so honored to share that experience with them.
Profitability must be mentioned as well – these events are lucrative. If you take the average cost of a 14k yellow gold cable chain bracelet at about $50 – $65, that bracelet would retail for $175 – $190 resulting in a $100 margin. So, while a pulse arc welder itself is an investment, it’s money-making potential is significant. Just as important is to remember that permanent jewelry is not going away. If anything, the popularity will continue to rise.
Since there are quite a few companies offering this service, I have considered the possibilities of how I can set myself apart with permanent jewelry. My own custom charms and castings? A marriage of metals between silver and gold? As an artisan jeweler I can envision going beyond just a simple fuse, utilizing bench skills to create unique permanent jewelry.
While my welder has not replaced my traditional jewelry making techniques, it has enhanced my ability to do certain things. When I think of the time it takes to solder a jump ring onto a chain – setting it up, how soldering affects the temper of the metal, the oxidation challenges – and I compare it to the two seconds it takes on the pulse arc welder, I know there are endless time saving ways to utilize this machine in jewelry making. And I will continue to explore!