Making custom jewelry 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 hundreds of years by jewelry artisans. Here’s the step by step process we use to make your custom cast jewelry:
Step 1: Once we have a clear idea of your vision for your new piece based on our discussions, we create a sketch that includes the stone measurements, calls out the dimensions on the cast piece, and specifies which findings and metal alloy(s) 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 we 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: Next, we create 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 then 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, so tweak away. Once you are totally satisfied with the drawing(s), and can envision the final piece, we’ll proceed to the next step. On occasion a customer will 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, we go ahead and print the wax 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 casting. 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: Next, we proceed to create your piece in the metal alloy you selected. Don’t sweat this detail; we’ll make sure you understand the pros and cons of the different metals used in jewelry making so that you make the right decision for your budget and lifestyle. As you can imagine 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 to vent, called “spruing”. The flask is then placed in a kiln. The wax burns away (hence the term “lost wax”), 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 cast 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 7: 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 the 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 8: Now come the final steps leading to jewelry nirvana; we give the entire piece, but especially the places where the stones will be set, a preliminary polish, and then we set the stones. Next we remove any remaining rough spots, and polish it until it gleams like the midday sun. Or something equally poetic. At this point any special finishes (such as brushing, hammering, satin or milgrain) are applied, and then we do a final inspection, checking to make sure that all stones are firmly set and there are no blemishes. We have a zero tolerance policy for any imperfection. When we are 100% satisfied that your new piece of jewelry is perfect, we will invite you for a look-see. If we’ve done our job right, it will be love at first sight.