Most jewelry in the world today is mass-produced using a process called casting. Most people don’t know the difference between the ages-old method of hand making fine jewelry and the more ubiquitous mass production of today. This article takes a look at the two processes.
Most jewelry purchased today in mall jewelers and jeweler chain stores is mass produced. Thousands of the same design are created using a process called casting and then standardized size gemstones are dropped into them. Most of this jewelry is made in the Far East; places like Hong Kong, China and Thailand being the centers of jewelry production. Casting involves a design being carved by a CAD machine into a wax model containing multiple versions of the same designs. A special plaster is then cast around the wax model and finally, once the plaster has set, the wax is melted out, leaving a cavity insode the plaster. Molten gold is then poured into this cavity and once cooled, the plaster mold is broken and the individual jewelry pieces are clipped off the “tree”, polished and the standardized gemstones set.
The image above gives an illustration of this process. The middle image shows a “casting tree” removed from the plaster mold, with numerous rings cast. These are duly clipped off. The image on the right shows the CAD produced wax models.
This is a very efficient method of producing jewelry for catalogs and volume business models. However, there is not much emotion or empathy connected with the process. It is a method that has been necessitated by the rapid growth of the jewelry industry worldwide as greater affluence has created greater demand. Casting is a relatively quick method of making pieces that are identical. It is economical especially when the same mold is used in production of many pieces. This method of production usually means that individuality and uniqueness are lost. Quality is forfeited for quantity, ease and speed. Use of wax also dulls the design’s precision, and the process introduces air bubbles and contaminants into the metal. Numerous cleanings and filing to remove roughness coupled with this, results in a piece of jewelry that is fragile and has minimal detail.
Hand Made Fine Jewelry
By contrast, most fine jewelry is made individually. It is a process that requires a very high level of craftsmanship. Jewelry that is handmade is usually directly crafted from metal without the use of any mold, wax or additions. A single piece of jewelry would be worked on for weeks at a time by craftsmen with skill and a level of passion that was passed down for many generations throughout history. Generally the process starts with choosing a fine gem for its rarity and quality. Then a design is created around the gemstone.
A piece of jewelry that is handmade is naturally stronger since the metal has been hardened by the process of bending, rolling, shaping and hammering. All aspects of the piece have to be finished to a high standard. The setting that holds a gemstone is usually individually crafted and the claws are harder and less likely to be porous, common in a cast. The video below illustrates the ancient , highly skilled art of handmaking fine jewelry, specifically our own line, designed and made by Sheelagh Zagoritis.
It is unfortunate then, that the vast majority of jewelry in the world today is produced by casting since it tends not to live to the heirloom stage. Jewelry that is handmade is a product of time, accumulated knowledge, and patience making each piece valuable and irreplaceable.