Jewelry making takes many forms and encompasses many techniques used over the ages by virtually all cultures. These including metal fabricating/forming, beading, and lost wax casting. Lost-wax casting (also called “investment casting” and “precision casting”, or cire perdue in French) has been used since the bronze age, and has been continuously refined over years by jewelry artisans. Here’s the step by step process we use to make your cast jewelry:
Step 1: Once we have a clear idea of your vision for your new piece based on our discussions and understanding, we create a sketch that includes the stone dimensions, calls out the dimensions on the piece, and specifies which findings and metals will be used.
Step 2: We engage the services of our CAD whiz Kate to render your idea into a scaled, computer generated drawing. Prior to rendering the piece in a 3 D drawing Kate and I carefully review all of the dimensions of your piece, the stones that will be used, and the metal(s), generally a gold or platinum alloy, that we’ll be casting.
Step 3: Kate creates a detailed computer rendering that includes a top view, side view, reverse side view, and even a “artist’s rendition” of the finished piece. If it’s a ring, it’s even displayed on a virtual hand, which looks like the hand of no living being, but will give you a great idea of what your ring would look like on a Tussaud’s wax figure.
Step 4: We share the diagrams with you, and you can make any changes or suggestions that you like. When it’s a drawing it’s pretty easy to do. You may be totally satisfied with the drawing, and can envision it in your mind’s eye. If you’re absolutely comfortable, we’ll proceed directly to casting. Alternatively you may ask to see the wax model to get a better idea of what the piece will actually look like once it’s cast. Either way works for us.
Step 5: Based on the approved drawings, Kate goes ahead and prints the piece on a 3-D printer. The wax will be an exact model of the design we’ve created. In the good old days, an artisan used to toil away on pieces of green wax, manually carving the waxes. For certain pieces that are less symmetrical (such as flowers, vines and leaves) we may still elect to carve the wax by hand, like the example to the right. Technology is great, but sometimes you just need that human touch.
Step 6: Once you have approved either the drawings or the actual wax, we proceed to creating your piece in the metal selected. Casting precious metal alloys is an exacting science, and we won’t get all geeky here. Basically, the wax is encased in plaster (sometimes called the “investment”), inside a steel flask. The casting house includes tunnels for the metal to flow and vent, called “spruing”. The flask is then placed in a kiln. The wax burns away (hence the “lost wax” moniker), and in its place is a void that is the negative of your piece. Remember when you were a kid and you gave your mom a plaster casting with your handprint in it for Mother’s Day? It’s just like that. Hopefully you’ll treasure the finished piece as much as your mom did your little paw print.
Step 6: The flask is placed in the casting machine. The casting artisan then fills the void with molten metal, pouring it into a funnel which directs the metal via sprues to the hollow impression of your piece. After cooling the plaster is broken away, and there, lying in the rubble, is your one of a kind custom jewelry piece.
Step 7: We set the stones, finish and polish out any rough edges, and make sure everything is exactly how we like it. And then we invite you in to see what you think.