Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons
by Judy Larson
Here are some simple ideas for using beads, shells, and rocks as cabochons in your designs.
Idea 1
Sometimes a small accent cabochon is needed but not available. A bead can be perfect for the job. Any bead used should be opaque enough to not easily see the drilled hole. The height of the bezel must reach above the hole in the bead on both sides of the bezel. Very few bezel cups on the market will work so the setting will need to be hand fabricated, as was done for the pendant shown. Sometimes a bead will fit in a cut to length tube or a tube setting. When the bead is ready to be set, place a small amount of e-6000 in the bottom of the bezel. Carefully place the bead in the setting, making sure the bead holes are below the top of the bezel. Allowing the glue to set for several days will keep the bead from moving around when pushing the sides of the bezel in.
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - Idea 1, Wire Jewelry Design, , bead cabochons
Idea 2
Many inexpensive beads are so pretty that you wish they were cabochons that could be bezel set. Years ago, I purchased a beautiful green mosaic turquoise and silver necklace and bracelet but foolishly did not purchase a pair of earrings. After years of searching for earrings, I started looking for cabochons. The color was just never right. But then I found some inexpensive mosaic magnesite bead strands that were almost a perfect color match. The puffed beads were a little too thick. The backs were easily ground down using coarse (white) and medium (black) silicone polishing wheels with the ECO 450 MICRO MOTOR SYSTEM, one of my favorite and most versatile tools. The backs do not need to be perfectly flat. After the stones are ready to set, put a little e6000 in the bezel cup. Push the newly made cabochon into the glue and level it in the bezel. Allowing the glue to set for several days will keep the bead cabochon from being pushed out of level during the setting process. Hint: The surface of inexpensive, soft beads usually are not as shiny as they were when first made because of tiny surface scratches obtained during transportation and storage. Using a bit of wax and a muslin buffing wheel can help minimize the scratches as well as polish them up a bit.
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - Idea 2, Wire Jewelry Design, , bead cabochons
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - Idea 2, Wire Jewelry Design, , bead cabochons
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - Idea 2, Wire Jewelry Design, , bead cabochons
What if a bead would be perfect for a project but would work better as half a bead. Grinding it down is the best option because cutting beads requires specialized equipment.

This is a "live and learn" project. Some beads can be split, but most beads do not split well. Check the Mohs scale of hardness for the bead being considered. The lower the number, the higher the success rate will be. Do not consider a bead with a Mohs scale number above 5. The magnesite beads used here have a 3-1/2 to 4 Mohs rating. Consider the cost of the lost beads because not all, if any, of the chosen beads will split well.

Using a sewing awl, turquoise handle, did not go well as the bead debris shows. The awl was too thick. Try a much thinner awl. A thinner awl than the one used here may work better.

Place the tip of the awl in the hole on one side of the bead. Hold the awl upright and use a hammer to lightly tap the point the awl into hole of an 8mm green mosaic magnesite bead. As luck would have it, three different sets of mostly matching cabochons and only had two disasters were the result. The backs were not sanded flat.

Hmm, maybe this would work with larger beads. The same process was tried with 16mm mosaic magnesite beads. After disasters with three beads, it was time to call it quits.

The small green cabochons were used in the above earrings and set in the same manner as the teardrop cabochons.
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - , Wire Jewelry Design, , bead cabochons
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - , Wire Jewelry Design, , bead cabochons
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - , Wire Jewelry Design, , bead cabochons
Idea 4
You brought back some beautiful shells from your vacation and want to use them in a jewelry piece. Many times, the prettiest shells are too fragile to use as cabochons, as was the case with this one found on a beach in the hot sand. It was very fragile and the pretty top layer was flaking off around the edges. Turn a fragile shell upside down and, working in layers, fill the cavity with resin to stabilize it. Any type of resin will work but UV cures in very little time. The resin domes so when the cavity is finally filled, the resin will need to be sanded flat. After the resin was sanded flat, the outside of the shell was sprayed with multiple layers of gloss polyurethane to stabilize the surface. The outer edges of the shell were then carefully refined. An important thing to keep in mind when working with shells is that the sanding dust is toxic so wearing a respirator is a MUST!
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - Idea 4, Wire Jewelry Design, , shell cabochons
Small flat rocks collected at the beach can be used to make beautiful pieces of jewelry. They do not need to be tumbled and polished. When choosing a rock to bezel set, it should be flat enough to be captured in a bezel. The bezel wire must be able to capture the perimeter of stones so they will not be able to pop out of the setting later.

Many stones are soft enough that they be ground down using coarse (white) and medium (black) silicone polishing wheels with the ECO 450 MICRO MOTOR SYSTEM. Dust from grinding stones should NEVER be inhaled, so wear protective equipment.

Grinding down a stone that is too thick in a few places may be desirable to do when a special stone is found. The heart shaped rock seen here was very thick on the pointed end of the shape so that end was ground down a bit. The upper left of the heart was very thin and the rock shifted too much in the bezel so a ball of silver soldered in place inside the bezel helped keep the heart level. After the stones are ready to set, put a little e6000 in the bezel cup. Press the rock into the glue and level it. After the glue has set for several days, the bezel wire can be pressed in without pushing the stone out of level.

These types of stones are porous and discolor easily with hand oils and cosmetics, etc., so sealing them before setting may be desirable. Google "Sealing Beach Stones" and a variety of methods will pop up. If selling the piece, make sure that the buyer knows what was used to seal the rock as not all sealants, such as wax, are permanent.
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - , Wire Jewelry Design, , rock cabochons
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - , Wire Jewelry Design, , rock cabochons
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - , Wire Jewelry Design, , rock cabochons
Judy Larson's Bead, Shell, and Rock Cabochons - , Wire Jewelry Design, , rock cabochons

Materials

24 Gauge Dead Soft Argentium Silver Sheet - 6 Inches
H19-24SM6
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  • Gold Club Price: $24.93
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28 Gauge 3/16" Fine Silver Bezel Wire
H9-28BZL
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Tools

E6000 Adhesive Glue 3.7 oz. - Pack of 1
G16-18
  • G16-18
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  • Price: $7.66
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Basic Soldering Kit
G15-4
  • G15-4
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Silver Solder Paste Medium SS70 - 1/4 T.O.
SOL-822.15
  • SOL-822.15
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  • Price: $18.95
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Silver Solder Paste Hard SS75 - 1/4 T.O.
SOL-822.20
  • SOL-822.20
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  • Gold Club Price: $14.96
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Silver Solder Paste Soft SS65- 1/4 T.O.
SOL-822.10
  • SOL-822.10
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  • Price: $16.95
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Single 3rd Hand with Tweezer and Base
HOL-165.00
  • HOL-165.00
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CHARCOAL BLOCK - HARD
SOL-482.00
  • SOL-482.00
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Aqui Flux, 1/2 Pint Spray Bottle
SOL-932.03
  • SOL-932.03
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Pickle Pot, 16 Ounces
CLN-584.00
  • CLN-584.00
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  • Price: $29.95
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NATURE'S TOUCH CITRIC PICKLE, 2LB PLASTIC JAR
CLN-163.00
  • CLN-163.00
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Titanium Bezel Soldering Clamp - Grip
HOL-130.00
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  • Category: Design
  • Technique(s): General Education