Pat Pruitt’s Stainless Steel Jewelry

Pat Pruitt of Paguate, New Mexico, has been working with stainless steel for over a decade. Three years ago, he decided to seriously commit himself to making fine jewelry from it, saying, “Let me see what I can do with this, how far I can take it. I’m all about manipulating metal; there’s just something beautiful about sheer metal.”

Pat Pruitt masters the art of machining stainless steel jewelry

The shapes of the links in this bracelet were inspired by Pruitt’s background in the body piercing and tattoo industry. “I wanted to create something that looks pretty tame when it’s lying there, but the minute you pick it up the spikes start flaring all over the place.”

The design originated in CorelDRAW, one of the two CAD programs Pruitt uses. (He also uses SolidWorks.) “A lot of people don’t really think of CorelDRAW as a CAD program, but it’s a powerful piece of software that allows you to create complex two-dimensional shapes,” he says. CAD ensured that the bracelet functioned as he envisioned, lying flat when off the wrist and flaring out properly when worn.

Working in GibbsCAM, Pruitt transferred the CAD information and established tool paths, deciding which tooling was needed to cut the bracelet links and  the holes for the screws that would connect them. “You have to know how fast and how deep to cut the material,” he says.

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The components for this bracelet were cut on a three-axis machining center, a computer-controlled machine that measures 10 feet wide by 6 feet deep, has a work envelope that is 20 inches wide by 16 inches deep, and can hold 20 different tools. Pruitt began this project with a very large piece of sheet metal — a task which, if performed in gold, would create a lot of expensive waste. He started with a 200-lb. sheet of 316L stainless steel measuring 4 feet wide by 10 feet long by 0.12 inch thick — a large size that offers cost savings when compared to purchasing smaller pieces. Using an industrial plasma cutter, he cut the metal into sections measuring 4 feet by 1 foot, then sliced it into more useable 2 inch by 7 inch plates with a horizontal band saw.

Pruitt sets up production of a piece like this with an eye toward how much he can accomplish at one time. He cut eight links from each of the five plates, one for each row in the bracelet, for a total of 40 links. Each of the links has the same general shape, but they all differ slightly due to their location in the bracelet, requiring certain beveled edges or aesthetic contours. All of the links have holes, either drilled or tapped, to accept the screws that hold the piece together. A simple clasp hooks one end of the bracelet to the other, creating a seamless look.

When the cutting was complete, the time-consuming part began — hours and hours of finish work. Due to the sheer number of pieces that needed to be cut, finished, and assembled, this bracelet took 25 hours to complete. Half of that time was spent finishing, a process Pruitt has perfected over time. He files the pieces, sands them with a Wolf Tools belt sander that he’s “hot-rodded” for his work, hand polishes to knock off any sharp edges, and sands again to get a final finish. “It was ridiculously mundane but it had to be done,” says Pruitt. “It’s just the sheer love of the piece at that point.”

Pat Pruitt masters the art of machining stainless steel jewelry

Pruitt uses 316L stainless steel, a corrosion-resistant steel with good machining and forming capabilities. The “L” designates a low carbon content that makes it, Pruitt says, “one of the most biocompatible stainless steels,” an important factor in a product that rests against the body.

Although Pruitt uses traditional jewelers’ tools such as saw blades and files to work the steel, the hardness of the metal causes them to wear so quickly that he buys saw blades by the gross and replaces his files two or three times a year.

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The components for this bracelet were cut on a three-axis machining center. Pruitt cut a total of 40 links. Each of the links has the same general shape, but they all differ slightly due to their location in the bracelet, requiring certain beveled edges or aesthetic contours. All of the links have holes, either drilled or tapped, to accept the screws that hold the piece together.

The shapes of the links were inspired by Pruitt’s background in the body piercing and tattoo industry. “I wanted to create something that looks pretty tame when it’s lying there, but the minute you pick it up the spikes start flaring all over the place.”

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