Just like a piece of jewelry reflects the wearer’s unique and personal style, it’s chosen manufacturing method is intended to produce a desired signature style. Such styles range from the clean and polished appeal of computer-aided design (CAD) jewelry to the more artisanal lost wax casting method used since ancient times.
Both CAD and lost wax casting have an artistry of their own. Lost wax casting requires jewelry mold making, from which an initial design is replicated, while CAD may be produced by CNC metal molds or 3D printers. Whatever the wearer’s personal style may be, there is a manufacturing method that will satisfy the look they are looking for. Read on to discover the different processes used in manufacturing jewelry.
Lost Wax Casting Jewelry
Once an ancient method for creating bronze sculptures, lost wax casting jewelry (also called investment casting) originated around 2000 BCE and has experienced resurgence in the 20th century. The process for lost wax jewelry casting involves pouring molten metal into a hand-crafted mold and then breaking the mold to reveal the finished product.
Although the lost wax process is slightly more intricate today than when artists such as Henri Matisse used it, it remains a preferred style for many jewelry enthusiasts.
In mold making, an artist begins the process by molding an original piece using a soft material —typically wax, clay, or plaster. Once this is done, the original art piece is then ready to be molded. The art piece, or model, is placed into a flexible material that will shape the mold, which is usually enveloped by a tough exterior. When the molds are separated, an impression of the original art piece remains.
From there, a material—such as clay—is poured into the impression, creating an exact copy of the original art piece. A thin, interior layer of the second model is carefully removed, which provides a path for the metals to fill the mold. The thickness of the final art piece will be determined by the size of the gap between these two molds.
After closing the molds, hot wax is then poured in between the molds, resulting in a clay figure that is completely covered in wax. A small system of vents and paths that are carved by the artist allows for the hot wax to leave the mold after settling. This allows for the gold or metallic material to flow through the mold.
Precision CNC Molds
For high volume or dimension-specific orders, jewelry manufacturers often use the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) process, which is when a designer creates a jewelry design on computer software along with specifications and exact dimensions for the piece.
Once the initial design work is made, a prototype model is created. Rather than sculpting the piece individually, this prototype may be created using a 3D printer that can go directly to casting.
For CAD designs, molds go into computer numeric control (CNC) machines for production, similar to other mass produced metal goods. Appropriately referred to as CNC molds, these tools are durable and may produce a wide range of custom jewelry.
The CNC molds also adhere to strict design specifications. Additionally, the CAD process allows versatility and freedom to edit designs without compromising materials before production.
To achieve the standard “lost” wax method of manufacturing jewelry, an investment casting, which is material made with granulated ceramic particles, is first applied to the surface and is heated. When the wax melts away, the desired metal, whether bronze, gold, or silver, is then poured in from the top of the mold and heated to its appropriate temperature. Essentially, this metal compensates for the “lost wax” mold that has melted earlier in the process.
There are variations to lost wax casting, usually depending on the metals used to make the piece. There are low temperature lost wax castings (1,500-2,100 degrees Fahrenheit), which are ideal for gold, silver, and bronze, as well as high temperature lost wax castings (2,200-3,800 degrees Fahrenheit), which are ideal for metals such as rhodium. In the jewelry industry, lost wax is used for a variety of pieces, including chain links and rings.
A Work of Art
Regardless of which process is used to manufacture jewelry, the end result is always an incredible work of art. Given that each process requires a thorough comprehension of jewelry making, professional manufacturing entails working with a network of skilled artisans and craftsmen.
Despite ancient origins, jewelry manufacturing processes such as lost wax and mold making are frequently used by jewelers today. In fact, among many jewelry manufacturing artisans throughout the world, lost wax jewelry manufacturers in Los Angeles are well-known for their precision and excellent craftsmanship.
A piece of jewelry is valuable not only for its precious metals, but also for its expert handiwork and style. In collaboration with a skilled jeweler, the possibilities for artful pieces are endless.