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How does it all work?

rubysweettart

Shiny_Rock
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Sep 1, 2018
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104
Sorry if this has been answered already. If so, just point me in the right direction and save your time.

I'm really new to this and everyone here seems so knowledgable. I am seeing people refer to jewelers, benches, CADs.... and I'm trying to figure out the behind the scenes steps that go into a piece. When I buy a piece at an art fair - usually the person designed it, created it, hand engraved it, set it all themselves. I've seen people on Instagram (Samantha Skelton in particular) showing them actually casting their creations or setting stones.

But when talking about someone like David Klass, are they like all the others who do it from start to finish? I know these jewelers come up with original drawings or drawings based on an inspiration/request, it's put into a cad program, presumably a mold is 3D printed next, but then are they also casting, setting the stones, hand chasing or engraving? Or is it a collaboration and a specialist does one main thing they're good at? Who/what is this mysterious "bench" people talk about? What is their actual role? Do any of these artists 3D print the metal components?

I'm not asking to diminish anyone's talent at all. I'm just so intrigued by the process and how an idea comes to life. I am artistic but super limited, like I could probably come up with a design but I know there's no way I could have the skills or patience to set pave stones.

Thanks for any insight and putting up with my questions!
 

LaylaR

Shiny_Rock
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That's a great question and the answer is: it depends. :cool2:

There are a number of methods of manufacturing jewelry. On PS the two main types of manufacturing are casting and what is referred to as handforging on these boards. There is also a method called dye striking which was one prominent, but is now a dying art.

So first, you have to know what method of manufacture is being used in order to understand what the process is behind the scenes.

So let's start with casting. Casting is a jewelry manufacturing process in which a molten metal is poured or forced into a hollow mold made of refractory material such as sand, plaster or clay and allowed to solidify within the mold before it is removed or broken out to get a fabricated jewelry part. The process akin to making jello from a mold.

When jewelers first started to cast jewelry they used hand carved molds and poured hot metal into them, came up with ways of cooling them to harden the metal and create a strong product and minimize defects that are either unsightly or durability risks (you can do a search for common casting flaws).

Very few jewelers hand carve molds anymore-- I only know of one. As you've observed most of the molds are now created by using a CAD program to create a digital rendering of the design in 3-D and then printing the mold. CAD programs are a dime a dozen. Anyone can have one, and they are of varying quality. While anyone can use a CAD program (I used to work for a company that sold CAD programs and even used it a couple times myself) CAD design is part art part science and experience. And the best CAD designers for jewelry have a jewelry background and understand how jewelry manufacturing works.

If your CAD artist don't have a firm understanding of jewelry manufacturing you get designs that are gorgeous but with design defects that lead to durability issues. If you have a CAD person who understands jewelry manufacturing but doesn't appreciate artistry, you get something that as strong and durable as a tank. And just as pretty. Some CAD jewelry artists work for multiple companies. Some do not and are dedicated to one jeweler. And only the jeweler will be able to tell you (if they want to divulge that information) whether their CAD artist is in house or not.

Next you have the forge. Casting set ups are expensive. It is also an imperfect process because even the tiniest bit of air at the wrong time in the mold will create a huge defect: porosity. There are jewelers that have on-sight forges. There are others that send their molds out to forges that serve multiple jewelers. At HPD for example, we send our casting off site, and one of the forges we use is also used by other jewelers, including Harry Winston. Why? Because forging is also part art and part science. Not all forges cast the same way. There are proprietary methods some develop and the secrets to their success will be kept past the grave.

After the forging is done, the piece goes to what people refer to as "the bench" these are skilled and extremely specialized crafts that polish the metal, weld (with different methods) the cast pieces together, etc, set stones, hand engrave, add milgrain-- etc. After the piece is largely finished by one member of the 'bench' it is sent to anther: a stone setter. And then after the stones are sent it goes back for more finishing. Finishing details can also include hand engraving and adding milgrain and any specialized finishes. All the craftsmen that are a part of that process are usually what jewelers refer to as "benchmen."

As CAD programs have become better and less expensive, and forging techniques have improved dramatically in the late twentieth century, casting has become the primary method of manufacture in modern jewelry manufacturing. It costs less and is more adaptable to an assembly line type of workshop where multiple specialized craftsmen work on different tasks, instead of one person doing all tasks. Also because it allows for settings to be customized inexpensively and created in high volume. Some jewelers have on site benches, and, as with forging, some jewelers use benches that multiple jewelers use.

Next up... handforging.
 
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LaylaR

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Handforging:

Hand fabrication (also referred to as handforging) means manufacturing directly from metal without the use of any wax, molds, casting or die. You start with ingots of whatever metal you’re working with, and heat it. Then, the metal is worked by pressing, bending, forming or pulling it into the component parts of a piece. Then, as in die striking, the components are soldered, sawed, joined and otherwise assembled, stones are set, and the surfaces polished into a completed piece (we'll get to die striking next).

As the metal is folded, rolled, pulled and worked, this too produces a denser material than your typical casted metal and porosity is eliminated. A denser material with no porosity is what makes it durable and strong.

In addition to density and strength, the aesthetic advantages of hand fabrication are in the crispness of the metalwork of the final product. Joints are sharp where you solder them together, angles are crisp, and wires and wirework retain their perfect cylindrical shapes. There are sharper, cleaner connections all around, although some of the best benches that cast can get remarkably similar results (but, most don't).

Unlike die striking, there are no limitations to hand-fabrication when it comes to fully custom designs. Casting also also allows for unlimited customization, but it also allows the jeweler to create multiple pieces at once. Which is where handforging has a disadvantage.

Designers/craftsmen/artists that do hand fabrication are regarding as being 'soup to nuts' capable. The best of them can take a piece from ingot to completely finished by themselves. Most often though, even if they have the skills, it isn't cost effective and the best use of their skills to do each piece by themselves so they have journeymen, polishers, stone setters that they work with (their 'bench'). If you have one person doing everything, the number of pieces you can work on at a time is: 1. If you have help, then you increase your output, and are able to service multiple clients at once. But even with a number of helpers, each component of a piece is shaped, formed, and created individually by hand by an artisan, who only has two hands and one body. Most artisans skilled in hand fabrication learned how to do so as apprentices and journeymen, learning their craft by being intensely curious and determined to learn this intricate craft at the knee of a master. These people are few and far between. Whereas just about anyone can get a CAD program and take some basic jewelry manufacturing courses.

So to recap:
Casting is: inexpensive, fully customizable, and allows for high volume.

Handforging is fully customizable, can create a product with sharper details and denser metal than most casting allows for, but it doesn't allow for high volume because you need actual 'hands' to forge the piece, whereas with CAD one design can create 100 molds.
 
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LaylaR

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Finally we get to die striking:

Die-struck construction starts with the creation of the “hub”. A steel engraver(dying art) carves the desired design into a heat-resistant block of steel. Once the design is created, the hub is used to create a “master die” out of another steel blank. The master die now has the shape of the piece pressed into it, but is never actually used to make the piece.

Instead, a copy of it called the “working die” will be made and used to create the piece (the master die is put away for safe keeping). Now, you’re ready to craft. To do that, powerful drop-hammers or presses repeatedly strike the precious metal working in between the hub and working die creating “the workpiece”.

The extreme pressure put on the workpiece eliminates many of the flaws common in casting like porosity and results in a piece that is stronger, denser, and more durable. In a complicated ring, each individual component is individually die-struck and then assembled into one piece of jewelry using various methods, like welding, soldering, sawing (for some design elements), filing, and are then set with stones and polished into the finished piece of jewelry. One person can do it all, or it can be parceled out to specialized craftsmen (the 'bench').

The primary disadvantage with die striking is in making custom designed jewelry. Remember when I explained that die striking involves an engraved steel die? Well, these steel dies once created cannot be altered. This means every time a design change is made, for example if a customer likes the flowers from one design but wishes to substitute the leaves from another, a new steel die has to be made from scratch.

It may seem ridiculous but yes, this would involve carving a new hub and making new master and working dies. For jewelers, this limitation of die striking presents serious practical issues. A customer may absolutely love the design of a particular ring, but the jeweler’s die is carved for a 6.5mm round center stone while the customer wishes to have a 8mm center stone and then you have to make a new die for this. That's expensive and time consuming to say the least.

Which is why main drawback of die striking is the lack of easy customization. In today’s world where consumers are able to have literally any design they want (structurally sound or not) created by a CAD and a simple mold and casting, die striking cannot compare to the high speed and low cost of CAD-casting.

-- All three of the posts by me in this thread have portions edited and published by Vincent Chan of Prosumer Diamonds
 
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rubysweettart

Shiny_Rock
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Sep 1, 2018
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104
Thank you so much @LaylaR. I appreciate the insider knowledge, it's all fascinating and I love the detailed responses. I feel like I'm going to need to read them over three times to understand it all but it's really cool to understand the process these amazing pieces go through.
 

LaylaR

Shiny_Rock
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Hi Ruby,

It's a lot of information. Sorry to just toss you in the deep end. I didn't think of that... I just really love jewelry and got carried away by my enthusiasm.

:oops2:

The die striking, for me was the hardest to wrap my mind around. I googled it quite a bit and spoke to the master craftsman at Van Craeynest who explained it to me slowly. And I'm still not sure that my explanation captures it.

Casting is an easy concept if you've made ice cubes.

Handforging is an easy concept if you've played with play-doh.

Die striking??? You create a metal stamp (called a die). And then pound softer metal into that stamp with a hammer until it takes the pattern/design of the stamp. It's how antique coins were "struck." You do that for every part of the piece. So for a complicated design you may make a dozen metal stamps. And then pound the softer metal of gold/platinum, etc. into each of the stamps with a hammer repeatedly. And then when you have the all the struck parts you weld all them all together and finish the piece. And since the metal stamps can't be altered: each time you want to change a design even a tiny bit, you have to create a new metal stamp.
 
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LaylaR

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Edit: In the casting section I said that molds used to be hand carved. I meant waxes, they carved the wax and then made the mold from it.
 

Karl_K

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Edit: In the casting section I said that molds used to be hand carved. I meant waxes, they carved the wax and then made the mold from it.
Actually for mass production the molds for the wax itself used to be hand carved these days they are cnc machined on machines costing up to a million bucks then hand finished. There is almost always some hand work done on them by super highly skilled workers.

Another very common type is mixed production, where cast, hand forged and die-struck parts are assembled into a ring.

To make it a master class.

There is another type of die forming closely related to die-stuck and that is Press Forging.
The difference is instead of a large weight being dropped on the die, a hydraulic ram is used to apply pressure to the die to form the part.
This is used for smaller production runs that do not warrant creating a huge die for the drop forge machines.
The are usually not separated out and sold as die-struck.
 

MarionC

Ideal_Rock
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The more you know, the harder it is to achieve what your mind’s eye can visualize, especially if you are planning to go « off the beaten track », and even with great communication. That has been my experience.
In a perfect world we could visualize and produce! I have a great respect for benches after having taken two years of jewelry making in college...just enough to know that producing a well balanced aesthetically pleasing setting is not only an art and science, but magic.
 
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rocks

Brilliant_Rock
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Edit: In the casting section I said that molds used to be hand carved. I meant waxes, they carved the wax and then made the mold from it.

That's how we were taught in high school. I must be ancient....
 

Polabowla

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Nov 15, 2019
Messages
1,630
I'm glad I came across this thread because it is very interesting & informative! Can anyone add in which jewelers use which method? Perhaps with pictures of similar items to highlight the differences.

It seems based on the above post than Van Creyenest uses die striking? Who does hand forging?
 
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