What are the different processes used in the creation of jewelry?

There are many, many different techniques used in the creation of jewelry, but they can be broken down into two distinctly different groups; casting and fabricating. Many of the pieces we create are made using combinations of both. Casting involves the creation of a mold, melting of the metal and pouring or injecting of the molten metal into the mold.

There are many different methods of creating molds, the one we use most often is called investment casting or lost-wax casting. A wax pattern is either sculpted by hand (making the piece truly a one-of-a-kind), milled using computer design software and computer controlled machinery (CAD-CAM), or created by injecting molten wax into a rubber mold, which is a process used to create the same design multiple times. The wax pattern is then attached to a rubber base containing a protrusion that will form a funnel in the completed mold. A steel sleeve called a flask is then attached to the base, forming a sort of cup, with the wax in the center. The flask is then filled with a special type of silica based plaster called investment. For platinum, a different type of flask and investment is used as the temperatures needed for platinum casting will cause plaster-based investment to fail, but the procedure is basically the same.


The flask is then loaded into a kiln and slowly heated to 1350 degrees Fahrenheit, which melts and vaporizes the wax pattern, leaving a cavity in the investment exactly the same shape as the wax, hence the term, “Lost Wax”. The kiln and flask are then allowed to cool to the casting temperature needed for casting. Each metal requires a different temperature, about 1100 degrees for white gold, around 900 degrees for yellow gold, 650 degrees for platinum. The flask is then loaded into a spring or motor driven centrifugal casting machine, the metal is melted and the machine is released, injecting the molten metal into the cavity in the flask using centrifugal force. An alternative procedure is to set the flask on a vacuum table, apply a vacuum to bottom of the flask (the investment is slightly porous so the vacuum pulls the air through the bottom and out of the cavity, leaving room for the molten metal to enter), then the molten metal is poured into the flask and is drawn into the cavity by the vacuum.


The flask is allowed to cool a bit and then dunked in a bucket of water, causing the investment to disintegrate. The result is muddy looking water and a casting. The sprue (the funnel portion of the casting) is then sawn off, and the casting is filed, tumbled in a magnetic tumbler, sanded and polished, final assembly is performed if required and the stones are set.


The other primary method of creating jewelry is by fabrication. Fabrication is basically any combination of processes that are used to cold-form metal and assemble the components. There are many different techniques used to cold-form precious metals including rolling (creating sheet metal and square wire), drawing (forming round wire of various diameters), hydro forming (using a hydraulic press and dies to form sheet metal into various hollow shapes determined by the shape of the die), chasing and repousse (hammering sheet metal with punches to create textures and designs), and many others. Fabrication can be likened to forming raw steel into components of specific shapes, and then assembling a bridge or other structure using those components. The parts are cold-formed and then joined together, usually using either a torch to weld or solder them, or a laser to weld them together, or a combination of both.


There are tutorials elsewhere on our website that show how these different techniques are used in a step-by-step format.



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