Ever since the completion of my first titanium tension ring, I have loved the simplicity and the challenge of tension set pieces. I love the precision required to set a stone between two prongs of hardened metal. I love the simplicity of the design; only two pure materials, stone and metal. No solder, rivets, or bezels. The metals own strength is all that’s needed to complete the union. I decided to attempt a pair of tension earrings because I wanted to explore more options for tension settings. The process begins pretty simply; four gauge titanium wire is cold forged over an anvil into a strip, this is the first part of the hardening process that will eventually hold the stone firmly in place. After the strip is prepared, it is cut to the desired length and then folded over using a hammer and anvil. After the metal is folded once it is flattened out and refolded, this process adds additional tension and is the first step where the shape of the earrings starts to emerge. Once the earrings are symmetric in their geometry they must be filed and ground down to a smoother finish. The forging and shaping process leaves the earrings exceptionally rough, to a point where it is nearly impossible to form them to their final level of symmetry without first acquiring a better finish. Once cleaned with files and some rough sandpaper the two earrings are lightly hammered over the anvil to adjust their form to the final shape. The stones were then set. This process is the most difficult as it requires symmetrical beds for the rubies to sit in. To do this, a heart bur is used to dig a small well for the stone to sit in. The earrings are then firmly secured in a bench vice and pried open just long enough to slip in the stones. This process is repeated until the stones sit perfectly in place. From this point the earrings must be taken to a fine finish in order to be colored in a process known as anodizing. This finishing process was done first with files and then sandpapers of ever increasing fineness until there are no surface blemishes; they are then taken to the rouge and Tripoli wheels for a final luster.
The anodizing process can be used to accurately control the coloring of reactive metals such as titanium and niobium. Existing on the surface of both metals is a thin oxide layer. The thickness of this layer determines the wavelengths of the light that is refracted, thus the thickness determines the color. Anodizing controls the voltage applied to the piece to control the layer of oxide that forms and controls the color. These earrings were taken to 93 volts of current to achieve their color.