Setting Abalone shell in Silver

Hi Everyone

Does anyone have any tips they can share about the process of
setting abalone shell in silver?

I have had a few attempts and found it to be really tricky…

Best wishes
Mark Vardy
Silvar Design

Abalone is very very brittle so it will indeed be very tricky it
isn’t just you lol As far as setting in silver I think their are
more qualified people to help you with that! good luck

An American Cameo Artist

Hi Mark,

It might be helpful if you talked a little about the specific
problems you are having setting abalone shell in silver. I’ve been
setting it in silver for 25 years and haven’t had much in the way of
major problems. Thin pieces can be tricky so I sometimes back them
with some material (plastic, wood, metal, whatever) to give them
support and strength. Mostly I only set pieces that are thicker and
strong. I live near the ocean in Northern California, USA and have
over the years found the beaches along the coast where the best
pieces are washed up after being tumbled, sanded and smoothed by the
ocean and sand. I like to find pieces that are ready to use as I
prefer not to grind the stuff very much although I have done a good
deal of this in the past. I would recommend that if you do grind it
you do it under water and wear a respirator because the dust is
fairly dangerous. I know several people who have gotten sick by not
knowing this. Someone on Orchid mentioned that abalone is brittle.
I’ve not had much of a problem with it breaking as it is fairly
tough stuff unless very thin. I set it in fine silver bezel, small
and large pieces. I polish it with bobbing compound and green rouge
and sometimes on my diamond stone polishing wheels. I sometimes cut
shapes out of it with a jeweler’s saw at a table outside while
wearing a respirator. Does abalone grow in the ocean around the UK?
In southern California some species are endangered by being over
collected and by pollution, northern California stocks are still
fairly healthy although you don’t find the huge ones that were here
50 and more years ago.

If you tell me the problems you’re having, I’ll try to be of

Be well
Jima Abbott

Abalone is very very brittle so it will indeed be very tricky

I suggest setting it using fine silver for the bezel, not stg. It’s
possible to take a piece of 0.3mm fine sil cut a little larger than
the shell shape and carefully wrap the silver over the edges.

Take it to the point where you can still remove the shell, and then
anneal the fine silver (remember: it anneals at only 350degC) before
finally setting it.

Where we call it ‘paua’ (haliotis iris).

B r i a n A d a m
e y e g l a s s e s j e w e l l e r y

I don’t know how much of this you plan to do, but if you’re planning
to do any cutting, filing or sanding of the stuff you must take
precautions to protect your lungs. In the 70’s a craftsman from my
circle died making a table top of abalone inlay without wearing a
mask or keeping the dust under control. The stuff just lacerated his
lungs. It was a lot of abalone, so no need to freak out if you just
shaped a piece or two without a mask. That said…I would recommend
fine silver if you want bezel settings. Or, you could make prongs of
silver wire with beaded tips…then when you bend the prongs over
the bead will hold the piece in place with a minimum of contact.

Marianne Hunter

I had great fun playing around with this last year. Sketch the shape
of the shell you want onto a piece of rice paper (being a snob,
normal printer paper will work) and then PVA glue this to a piece of
silver which a fraction thinner than the shell you intend to inlay.
Let it dry and then cut the shape out of the silver sheet and tidy up
the window you have made.

Next glue a piece of paper to the surface of the shell, let it dry,
place your silver on top of this and trace the shape of the window
onto the shell with a pencil or pen. Cut out your piece of shell a
bit large, which can be done using a standard jewellers saw. Then
work the shell and the hole until they fit together. You will need to
hold the shell and the silver up the light a lot to get it just

Once the two parts are nicely matched, ease the corners on what will
be the bottom of the shell and put it away somewhere carefully. Take
a piece of clean silver sheet slightly larger than the sheet with the
hole cut out, lie them on top of one another and solder them
together. Cut this down to size and tidy it up, also do any other
soldering operations I was making pendants, so attached the jump ring
at this point. Polish the back and edges of the silver unit and
carefully check the fit of your shell without getting it firmly
wedged in place. Next whip up some epoxy, glue the shell in place and
put it somewhere safe to cure. It does not matter at this point if
the glue job is untidy and you can leave the paper mask on the shell.
When it is set, grind the surface flat on coarse sand paper and
gently work your way to a very fine grit. Then follow your standard
polishing steps to rouge, but do not use a wheel, as that will wear
away the shell faster than the silver. I use old rags braced on a bit
of wood and a lot of elbow grease, but I suppose a lapping machine
would work just as well.

Good luck, the results are very satisfying. Also have a go playing
with black lip as well as abalone the colours are fantastic.

Chris at

Oh yes many sea shells are poisonous remember in nature
pretty = poison a lot! Usse respirators and know what you are cutting!

I found out the hard way I am allergic to female cassia ruffa (I have
been sold so many I decide to cut and oh my a mistake!)

An American Cameo Artist

HI there Jima and Carlie. I looked at your website and I think your
work is amazing. I would love to own one of the beads. Oh well.
maybe if I sell some work soon…

cheers from Ruth in the UK.