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Posted on January 11, 2016 10:22 pm
Huge machines that use lasers to make microscopic incisions and can melt metal without hurting the person wielding it may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but at Hamra Jewelers, it’s more like an average Wednesday.
But that doesn’t mean the technology behind it doesn’t astound Jim, the resident jeweler at Hamra. Behind the Hamra showroom on Scottsdale Road, resides a laser that can make repairs almost indiscernible to the naked eye seems to have captured Jim’s heart.
“It affects everything and now it’s affecting the jewelry bench work,” he says of the laser. “It can do any kind of repair work, manufacturing, construction, or assembly.”
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“It basically takes the place of the torch, and that used to be the jeweler’s right hand,” he explains.
The repairs are so fine that Jim completes them under a microscope.
“One of the biggest benefits of the laser is that it allows a trained technician to efficiently weld precious metals close to gemstones in a way that simply isn’t possible with a torch. The laser’s controls allow a user to adjust the beam’s size, depth, voltage, and more. This allows a jeweler to work much more precisely in a much smaller area than with a torch.
Hamra has only had the machine for the past few months, but Jim already uses it for 75 percent or more of the store’s repairs.
The laser makes the entire process much faster. When repairing a piece with a torch, the process is slow and tedious — the stones must be heat-synced and covered with a heat-resistant, protective coating before flame is applied. The piece is secured in a vice while Jim works on it. If he needs to touch it, it must be quenched in water to safely cool its working temperature of 3,000 degrees. Once the repairs are complete, the piece must be cleaned in an acid bath to remove oxidization and have any imperfections filed down.
But a laser only needs to heat the metal to a couple hundred degrees at the beam’s point, and it takes much less precaution and cleanup.
“When you work under a microscope, you go ‘Oh my gosh I’m making a mess out of this thing!” Jim says. “You’re lasering a line that that you think is going to be big, with a lot of lines, and you pull it out and it’s just nothing. It’s just a swipe-swipe, polish.”
Some jewelers also find the laser valuable for finishing pieces after they have been repaired with a torch. By adjusting the laser’s beam to a shallow depth and broadening its point, a skilled jeweler can use it to flatten and smooth the surface of a piece.
“From there it’s just take your piece, go laser it, file, sand and polish,” Jim says. “And if you’re really good just polish.”
Another benefit comes from the way the laser reacts with precious metals. Because the laser doesn’t use solder, which contains weaker alloys, using a laser to repair a piece of jewelry actually makes a piece stronger.
In resizing, there’s the risk of breaking a solder joint,” Jim says. “If it’s laser welded, there’s no solder joint, it’s just lasered metal to metal.”
But the same thing that makes a laser so valuable to a jeweler also necessitate some extra care and attention during the repair process.
“It’s like firing a pistol or a gun,” Jim says. “You have to know where your beam’s going. If you miss your target it doesn’t stop there; you have to know what’s beyond there.”
If you’re sitting there lasering something, and you’ve got the ring upside down and there’s a diamond down below, if you miss your target, you’ll hit the diamond,” he continues. “If you accidentally hit a gemstone, you can cause damage. It takes some knowledge definitely.”
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With the sped-up repair process, the laser also brings an element of gratification.
“It’s a rewarding business because when you get done with a piece of jewelry and it’s all shined up and you give it to the customer, their eyes light up,” he says.
But the customers aren’t the only ones whose eyes light up. Thanks to the laser, Jim looks like a kid with a new toy as he performs a demonstration.
“It’s neat to have done so much jewelry work over the years, and 100 percent of it was basically done with a torch. Now it just sparks my whole interest again in jewelry making,” Jim says. “You’d think you’d kind of get burnt out after 30 years or so. Well now I’m not! I’m having fun! I’m actually having fun working on the jewelry!”
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If you have a beloved bauble that is in need of repair, bring it by Hamra Jewelers. Jim will restore it to its original beauty with the help of our state-of-the art laser and return to you even stronger than it was before. Give us a call at 480-946-5110.