African Bone Sterling Silver Necklace

Learn how to make this contemporary three-dimensional African bone sterling siler necklace.

Project by Lisa Slovis Mandel from San Diego, Calif.



In high school, Lisa was into sports until an art class inspired her to tap into her more creative side. Soon this bubbly overachiever was into making foil necklaces for all her friends. Fast forward a few years, and she is still designing and making jewelry.

Materials and Tools:

22- or 24- and 16-or 18-gauge sterling silver sheet
fine silver bezel
African carved bone
silver solder
hydraulic press
Lexan or other polycarbonate plastic
acetylene torch
hand shears
band saw (optional)
jeweler's saw
spiral saw blades
jeweler's saw blades
brass brush
center punch
sandpaper (80-grit wood paper if possible)
3 sterling silver jump rings
approximately 1/2" sterling silver tubing wide enough to fit the chain
pickling agent in a crock pot
flexible shaft
snap on discs
rotary engraver
drill bit
permanent marker
safety glasses *
hard and medium solder
binding wire

* Wear safety glasses during drilling, cutting and sanding steps.


1. Draw design and lay out pieces. Create a die for the top triangle piece: Cut shape out of folder or other sturdy paper. Draw on polycarbonate with a permanent marker.

2. Drill starter hole. Saw with a jeweler's saw and a spiral saw blade. File smooth.

3. Do a test pressing using copper foil instead of silver. This step is to ensure that the shape of the die is what you want; if not, this is the time to change it.

4. With the hydraulic press, press the front and back sides of the triangle with 22- or 24-gauge sterling silver sheet.

5. Cut the flanges off of the triangles. With a little tape on each piece to help hold onto them, sand them flat with sandpaper on a flat surface.

6. Solder the two pieces together with hard silver solder. Tie the two together with binding wire while soldering.

7. Put the pieces in the pickle cleaning agent. (Pickle is a cleaning agent that is used every time you heat a silver piece; it will clean off the flux, which keeps the seam clean while you are soldering, and it will take off discoloration from heating.) While that piece is pickling, go on to the other piece.

8. Trace bone and draw the exact shape that you want on a scrap folder or other paper. Cut it out and trace it onto the metal. For this piece, use a piece of 16- or 18-gauge sterling silver sheet. You want a thicker gauge of silver on this piece, because the edge of the metal will be visible.

9. With a jeweler’s saw frame, cut out the piece. Also cut out a window on the back of the piece, so visually it is more interesting.

10. With fine silver bezel wire, trace the bone and figure out how much you need to set it securely. Cut the bezel. Measure it once again on the bone, and then solder it if it is correct, with hard silver solder. Place that in the pickle.

11. Go back to the first piece. With the center punch, mark where holes are needed. Drill two small holes in the back of the piece to act as breath holes for further solderings. Also drill two more holes that will be fitted with a jump ring at the bottom of the triangle to connect to the other piece.

12. Cut tubing to go on the back of the triangle for the chain to go through it.

13. File and sand the edges to the right shape.

14. Flux and solder the new shape into place with hard silver solder.

15. Flux and solder the jump ring into place also with the hard solder and pickle. Note: Usually, you pickle in between every soldering, but sometimes you can do a couple at a time before you pickle.

16. Solder the sterling shot into place. Use medium silver solder and solder them on. Leave this piece in the pickle to soak for a little while.

17. Go back to the bezel. It has been pickled and is now clean. Double check that it fits on the bone. Make sure that one side is flat to connect with the backing. If not, sand flat on sandpaper.

18. Once it is flat, prepare it for soldering; flux and set it up on a solder brick with pre-cut pieces of solder along the side of the bezel. Solder the bezel on with medium solder and pickle.

19. With a hammer with a sharp point, hammer the edge of the silver to thicken up the edge. Fit a jump ring to the top.

20. Solder the jump ring and the sterling silver shot onto the sides of the piece with medium silver solder. If the piece is clean enough, using a jump ring to connect the two pieces and solder it. The piece may need to be pickled in between these two stages.

21. Pickle the piece thoroughly.

22. Check the height of the bezel with the stone; if it is too high, sand it down.

23. Now the necklace is in one piece. It is time to clean it up. First use a sanding disc with the Flex Shaft (a flexible shaft is a more advanced rotary tool used by jewelers and metal smiths; a rotary tool is fine and there are also some rotary tools set up with the shaft connected) and sand off any solder you see. Be very careful at this stage not to create grooves in the metal; keep your sanding disc moving. Get as much off as you can. If you can see it now, you will be able to see it forever.

24. When all the solder is off, use rough sandpaper (80-grit wood sandpaper) to texture the entire piece with a squiggle motion. You may need to use a file or other tool to help get into any tight areas.

25. When the piece is completely textured, raise the fine silver. Heat the metal with a soft bushy flame; let it cool for a minute or two and then pickle the metal. Rinse it and brush it with a brass brush and liquid soap. Repeat several times.

Note: The process of raising the fine silver is a heating process that brings the fine silver of the metal to the surface and gets rid of fire scale, which is a discoloration that comes from soldering. This process of heating and cooling is done several times. The first time, the metal will turn black where the fire scale is. After this soldering, you will also see if there is any solder that is still visible. If there is, sand and file this now. If not, continue with raising the fine silver. Each stage of raising the fine silver will get you closer to having a pearly white coloring to the metal. It may take five or six steps, but when it turns white, you have reached the color that you want. Pickle, brass brush and dry well.

26. Put the bone into place. With a burnisher, push down the sides and secure all around the bone.

27. Sign the piece on the back with an engraver.

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