Creating a piece from wax.
The process of lost wax casting is an ancient process and archaeological records suggest that the method was first used at some point in the fourth millennium BC. Early lost-wax cast pieces, from delicate miniatures and dress pins to life-size statues, have been found all around the world, in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as well as in Africa and the Americas. It is a process that has been lost and found several times throughout history and while technology has fine tuned the process so that pieces can be replicated many times over, the basic method is remarkably similar throughout the ages. There is something very intriguing about such an ancient and enduring process.
The reason makers use wax is because it's really easy to shape, form and carve. You can remove material but also add to it, which means that if you make any mistakes, they're easy to go back to and rectify. Also, one of the main advantages to lost wax casting is the fact that you can replicate the same model as many times as you’d like. The most common metals used for this process are silver, gold, brass and bronze – so there are lots of opportunities for jewellers.
Having drawn out a design on paper I begin with a rough piece of wax. If I haven’t done any wax carving for a while, I play with a bit of wax first to get my mind working in 3D. The great thing about wax is that it’s forgiving and inexpensive so I have freedom to experiment. I first file my piece of wax into a uniform shape. Then I use tools like callipers and dividers to mark our my shape.
I use wax tools, burrs and files to start carving out my design. It depends whether I am working on a angular or a fluid piece which tools I choose. Occasionally I will do a shape several times before it is just right. On the website you will see, for example, several rings that have the same base. The base has been created in wax and a mould has been made, so that I can then design various different pieces to add to it.
During the first lockdown, I began to experiment with molten wax, pouring fine streams onto various surfaces and into water. I loved the randomness of the unique organic shapes that emerged and from this a new "Fluid" collection took shape! Having chosen wax pieces that I could imagine as pieces of jewellery, I used my wax tools to refine them so that they would work in silver and were the correct depth that I required. Each piece was packed carefully( because any flaw in the wax will show up in the silver piece), to go to the casters. I can work out the weight in silver, as silver weighs 10.5 times that of wax. This means I can make sure that earrings are not too heavy etc.
When all my designs are ready to go to the casters I have a couple of choices. I can ask them to
create a single one off piece, which means that during the process the wax is lost. Or, if I feel certain that I’m happy with a shape, I can ask the casters to create a mould so that the piece can be reproduced. A further option I have is to take a piece that has come back in silver, refine it some more, add what is called a spru( ie: a piece of silver wire, about as thick as the thicker part of the piece), which is soldered to the piece and returned to the caster who can then make a mould for me.
When the silver pieces come back from the casters, there is still plenty to be done. The end of the spru has to be removed and filed until no evidence of the spru remains.. Jump rings and other fittings may be soldered into place. The silver comes back with a slightly grainy textured surface so each piece has to be sanded down to the required finish, using various grades of emery paper and some other sanding tools. Finally the jewellery is ready for the final 3 phases of the polishing process.
Many people think that the cast piece comes back ready for sale, but you can see from the images that there is still much work to be done. However it is still a very useful part of the designing process and it means that pieces can be repeated multiple times.
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