Titanium Bracelets

Since the last 54 years, I have been involved in working with gold and silver jewelry making and only recently decided to try titanium as a less expensive and more colorful way of working. Traditional jewelry making, using gold or silver involves high heat, fine saw blades and files, as well knowledge of working with various tools. It takes years of learning to be able to produce quality items, but there is always a demand for excellence in design and production skill. I was looking for something simple that my grandchild could use to finance the high school supported trip to Japan.

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Some of my bracelets that were given away as presents for friends or sold through a crafts shop in the city

Since simple bracelets and pendants would be simple to make, using shears and jewelers saws, something that a teenager could manage. Titanium can produce a number of brilliant colors from the thickness of oxide that produces color by the interference of the wave, using the metal surface to reflect the light falling on it. While other metals can produce a brighter color spectrum, their higher cost made them unsuitable for this project.

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Double faced tape to hold the metal and the first blade cut for the design

I first had to learn the technology of oxidizing the metal by using safe electric current that quickly forms the oxide layer. I had suitable DC power supplies and a Variac that would control the voltage applied to the surface. Voltages between 20 and 100 were used that fed into the power supply had a top range of 40 volts. For some reason, this did not conform to the volts/color relation that I have found on the Internet from people who used electricity instead of heat to produce different colors.

I purchased sheets of what I thought would be grade #2 titanium in 18 gauge and used the large plate shear in the university printmaking to produce 6.5 inch long pieces but with width from ½ to ¾ inches. After producing the first experimental design, I tried to bend the piece into the usual bracelet shape, having an opening that allowed it to be slipped unto the wrist. Now I found that the metal was too hard and springy, capable of being used to make diving knives for salt water. It would be too difficult for my granddaughter to manage. I ordered another sheet and made sure it was grade #2 at 18 gauge. This I sheared to the same dimensions and tried again.

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The opened areas of the surface will quickly change color from the current

I figured the best way to protect the surface from electric current was to use wide clear packing tape commonly available at hardware stores. I made up wooden support pieces that were slightly larger than the metal and about 1/8th inch thick. At one end I used a thin piece of aluminium plate that would apply the current to the back of the metal. Double sided tape was applied to a narrow strip at the center of the support, which would help hold the metal while it was cover with a wide piece of packing tape. Then a sharp blade was used to cut the outline of the first color that would be applied with the highest voltage.

The shape would be carefully removed from the surface and the edges burnished with a hard wooden tool to prevent the current getting underneath to affect the adjoining area. Next the surface would be cleaned with alcohol to make sure the color would be even in that area. The aluminium strip on the support would be attached to the positive of the power supply and the negative to a conductor wire with a clip that held a long piece of titanium, unto which I twisted some cotton wool. With the highest voltage set for the color I wanted, the cotton wool was dipped into a weak solution of various chemicals, such as borax, sodium bisulfate or other weak oxygen containing acids. As the current passed through the cotton wool and the bracelet, care was taken never to let the metals touch so that an even value of color was put on the surface. You start with the highest voltage so that the color produced would not be changed by the lower voltage needed next to this first shape.

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The finished  piece that I made and photographed for this article

The knife was used to cutout the outline of the adjoining area and the careful bond of tape and metal again used to make sure the shape would be beautiful. This was repeated as many times as the design demanded, with careful cleaning before applying the electric current.

When the design is completed, the colored metal is removed and one has to decide what to do to the other side. On some I applied liquid etching ground and signed my name that was colored a dark blue – the rest of the area would be colored gold after the hard ground was removed.

I had found that Indian jewelers had improved on the shape of the simple wrist bracelet by changing the shape of the ends from rounded to opposing sharper shape. This produced a wider spacing to allow slipping on the bracelet easier but have better support because the actual end were closer together. This shape I eventually adopted for my design.

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Various versions of the angle ends were tried and they all seemed to work well

To bend the bracelet into shape, I used an arbor press for which I made various shaped wooden supports that were leather covered. By rotating the bracelet and bending it into the proper shape, the grade #2 metal was soft and kept its shape very well. It had enough give that adjustment could be made to fit the individual wrist it was intended for.

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This is the simplest way to bend the metal into shape

All fingers contain oils that produce finger prints and destroy the effectiveness of the light falling on the bracelet. It is advisable to use common soap and water to clean the surface to obtain the rich colors the interference layers of titanium oxide produce.

The common titanium I purchased is not highly polished, so the brilliance of color suffers. To get a high polished surface on titanium, it takes a lot of polishing a buffing with common jewelry techniques, but the extra effort makes the piece too expensive in my opinion. Titanium is actually quite hard and doesn’t flow like gold or silver to take on a smooth polish.

I also produced some pendants using larger pieces of titanium and put designs on both sides, so the wearer could pick the best for her outfit. Earrings were also produced from smaller pieces of metal and fitted with sterling screw type clips.

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There were many other pieces that I made as presents for the family members

In the end, my granddaughter never learned this technique but made her money by shooting family portraits on her digital camera and inkjet printer. I was left with a big supply of titanium and decided to make bracelets that could be sold through a craftsman store in the city. They sold well enough to keep me in spare funds for other projects and it was the enjoyment of producing something beautiful, equivalent to precious metals but at much lower cost and less precision soldering.

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