I started making jewelry in the early 70’s, in Arizona, immersed in
the Indian jewelry scene. My early work could easily be confused
with real Southwest Native-American silverwork. As my silverwork
became more sophisticated, I began inlaying woods and semi-precious
stones in my work, and this work became much more modern in
appearance than the work I had done before. This inlay work, while
still very Southwestern in appearance, was uniquely my own style, and
enabled me to break away from the work I was doing before.
Epoxy glue was what all inlay artists used to attach the inlay
materials into the metalwork. Inlay work, when done carefully,
shouldn’t show any evidence of glue, and I made certain my inlays
were pristine. All the inlay was mounted into rigid metalwork, with
no chance to flex and pop out the inlay. I am now re-polishing an
inlayed sterling bracelet I made for my sister that is about 35
years old, and it still looks brand new, everything still tight and
secure. The making of jewelry these days encompasses just about every
material and technique you could imagine, and epoxy glue is
definitely part of the many tools we use here in my studio.
Sometimes, we will use a “cushion” of epoxy to put under a large cab
we are bezel setting. While we are not depending on the glue to
secure the stone, it serves as a way to keep the stone at a perfect
height for the bezel, and helps keep the stone steady during the
setting process. The epoxy is not seen, and the metal bezel is what
holds the stone in place.
Now if you are talking about “Fine Jewelry”, with traditionally cut
and set there isn’t really any need for epoxy, or any
other kind of glue. The metalwork is designed to hold all gemstones
securely. So although many classically trained jewelers would turn up
their noses at inlayed silverwork with glued-in materials, I
personally hold the Southwestern tradition of glued-in inlay in very
high regard. Check out the prices those authentic old Native-American
inlay pieces get at auction!
So no, I don’t consider using epoxy “cheating”. It’s like any other
tool, it has its uses, if used correctly.