How to Make Jewelry by George S. Overton, 1914

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Practical Instructions From A Practical Manufacturing Jeweler.

This 1914 book is composed of articles drawn from the Magazine “The Manufacturing Jeweler”. At 240 pages of eclectic, informative articles it is a treasury of jewelers secrets and skillful working techniques. Tons and tons of information. This book is a real addition to your library: most of it is still essential today. There is so much cool information that this review is much longer than normal. This book answers many problems that all jewelers have today: it is very current in those terms.To give you an idea of the vast range of subjects covered here is a listing of the chapters. Most were written by Mr. Overton.

  1. Designing of Jewelry,
  2. Hints on Melting,
  3. The Alloying of Gold,
  4. Formulas for Alloys and Solders,
  5. Getting out Plating Stock,
  6. Wire Drawing and Working,
  7. Making of Solders,
  8. Solder and the Quality Stamp,
  9. The Soldering of Parts,
  10. Tips on Soldering and Stone Setting,
  11. Repairing Stone Set Work,
  12. Gilding with Electric Current,
  13. Red Gilding,
  14. Resists for Two-Color Work,
  15. Acid Coloring,
  16. Precautions in the Coloring Room,
  17. Silver and Its Alloys for Jewelry Work,
  18. Solutions for Silver Plating,
  19. Black and Gray Finishes on Silver,
  20. Gun Metal Finish,
  21. Silver as a Base for Black Enamel,
  22. Enameling of Jewelry,
  23. Enameling of Jewelry (Continued), The Melting of Platinum,
  24. Working in Platinum,
  25. Recovery of Gold and Silver from Scrap,
  26. Refining Polishing Sweeps,
  27. Filtration of Washings,
  28. Testing for Pure Gold,
  29. Keeping Track of Gold,
  30. Figuring Shop Costs,
  31. Reducing Labor Costs,
  32. Time and Labor Savers,
  33. Some Shop Problems,
  34. The Buying of Stones,
  35. Making Pearl Jewelry,
  36. Drilling Pearls for Stringing (illustrated),
  37. Ring Making’n Sizing and Soldering of Rings,
  38. Chain Making,
  39. Making Flower Work,
  40. Making a Line of Pins,
  41. Horseshoe Jewelry,
  42. The Maltese Cross in Emblems,
  43. Some Attractive Novelties,
  44. Making Eyeglass Frames,
  45. Hints on Soldering,
  46. Polishing and Burnishing,
  47. Practical Hints for Working Jewelers


A number of specific items from the book are noted here. The introduction talks about how the magazine the articles came from was threatened with lawsuits for giving away jewelers secrets, protests from companies about sharing information.

There is an introduction on designing, speaking of the need to understand jewelry making before designing. Design instructions and exercises are given, techniques for learning design and practicing, for jewelry rendering and design. All still good today.

A discussion of melting is definitely earthy. I think metallurgy has advanced a bit since then, but still very interesting and the fruits of generations of knowledge. The alloying and colored gold information is good. There are dozens of colored gold alloys described in detail. Gold and silver alloys for enameling on are extensively detailed. Enameling itself is dealt with in depth in a number of places in the book. Gold solder alloys and making are covered well, including for colored golds. The only thing we would avoid today is using cadmium. Another one is mercury, simply don’t go there, and hydrofluoric acid, though all the information is insightful and historically important to those with a technical bent.

There is a chapter on making laminate metals with gold soldered onto base metals. I have not seen this described before like this. Wire making and drawing is fully dealt with. Several unique tricks for cutting and making jump rings are addressed.

Soldering is described in depth, making fluxes, solder flow retardents (one of them the juice of an onion!). Soft soldering is described as is repair work with the stones still set and plating in detail.

There is lots of worthy advice. For instance, in regard to the risk of damaging set stones during a repair: “A good axiom to remember is that it is always better to talk about a thing two or three times before than once afterwards.” Electroplating is fully described, including how to make the chemicals that you use to make electroplating solutions (this, today would need a chemical lab). Silver, gold, platinum, iron and other metals are covered. There are a number of plating solutions described, 14k, green gold, red gold and more. Multi colored resist plated in described. A very good full description of gold coloring (depletion gilding) is given, with best alloys defined. There is a strong and important chapter on safety and ventilation, a plea for improvements for worker health and safety.

The information is all practical and ensuing from generations of working people’s empirical experience. Really good stuff. And almost all of it true. Testing methods for silver are described and the chemical recipes given. Liver of sulfuring and other graying methods for silver are addressed. An interesting note is that at that time people would bring in their jewelry to have it blackened for mourning, which might last years, so blackening jewelry was an important skill for the goldsmith.

The vagaries of the market are continually addressed, for instance: “The point is that you can’t nibble at everything; you may have an established trade with a few old concerns, but the young blood coming along is forced, as a matter of self preservation, to keep thoroughly posted on the newest and most up-to-date novelties, so the specialist is bound to get in because he will have better goods at lower prices.” Much like today.

Platinum melting and working is described, one of the earliest examples I have seen. Platinum clad nickel was a way to stretch the material, platinum clad base metal. As well much work was done in very thin platinum backed in high carat gold. Platinum at this time was an ounce, and it had risen to this in several years from an ounce.

The chapter on reclaiming metal and refining is solid, even covering reclamation from polishing sweeps and waste-water. Metals testing is covered. Metal control and anti-theft information remains good today. Product development, costing and marketing are described. Labor cost reduction is analyzed, all the principles are still good and wise. The rise of specialization, and mass production techniques is detailed. The introduction of vacuum cleaners is heralded.

There is a long section on responses to reader’s letters and questions which covers all sorts of odd techniques. There is a lot of information about running a business, dealing with stones etc.

The section on pearl setting and drilling is interesting and points out how much we use our flexible shafts today: the emphasis is on pump drills, (which I learned on) and making the bits yourself. Pearl drilling pliers are described.

There is a section on making flower designs in metal. Good section on pearls. A really interesting section on eyeglasses and design issues for that, today a well paying niche market. I have not seen other books address this information. There is a section on bench tricks, and interesting ways of goldsmithing. The section on polishing is great, thorough and unique.

There is a thorough index. All jewelers should read and review it.

Charles Lewton-Brain 2012

File Size: 12.6MB, 240 Pages

Files Included:
  • MakeJewelry_wmk.pdf