Posted on January 21, 2016 by Mary Hood | 1 Comment
There’s been a recent movement to embrace all things handmade. The distinction between handmade and not-handmade isn’t always absolutely clear, however, especially if you’re navigating the fine jewelry market. For example, a stone setting may be hand-forged or designed on a computer and then hand-finished. Some may argue that one is “more handmade” than another. There’s not necessarily a right or a wrong way, but it never hurts to be aware of the semantic issues tied up in the term “handmade.”
Additionally, there are different ways that an element in a piece of jewelry can be handmade: it can be directly cast from nature, designed using the “lost wax carving process,” and/or hand wrought using traditional metal-working techniques. It’s also helpful to have a working understanding of what non-handmade elements may involve.
This article explains how to tell if a piece of jewelry was designed using computer software, or computer aided design (CAD) and also touches on other fine jewelry-making techniques that you may come across in your jewelry shopping.
Computer Animated Design (CAD)
But first, what exactly is CAD? CAD refers to computer software that aids in designing, analyzing, and optimizing a 2D or 3D design. It’s employed in a variety of industries—not just jewelry! At its heart, CAD exists to improve the efficiency of the design process and offers numerous benefits: CAD helps create more accurate designs; once something has been designed in CAD, it can be mass produced; these designs may be more easily edited; parts of these designs may be taken and incorporated into other designs; and CAD can provide a customer with a better idea of what they are getting—more so than a hand drawing. Although many jewelry manufacturers use CAD to mass-produce jewelry and do not involve any handmade elements, some pieces of jewelry may have both handmade and CAD elements.
Eternity Ring Designed in CAD
Pieces that are primarily created through CAD have a few telltale signs. Jewelry designed in CAD looks more precise and geometrically angled. Although it’s difficult to quantify with the naked eye, there’s a distinct, mechanical precision to jewelry designed in CAD. Handmade jewelry, however, may have a more organic look, even if it’s subtle. Ultimately, one method isn’t better than another, and it’s really what style you prefer. You’re the customer, after all!
Even if you’re a lover of handmade items, it’s important to keep an open mind about other methods of production. As Neil Beatty of the American Gem Registry, Inc., explains, “It’s generally a mistake as a consumer to target for a particular technique of manufacture as ‘better.’ It all depends on the job, and the craftsman should be using the correct method for the job at hand. This decision is part of what they’re being paid for. Sometimes this means casting, sometimes it involves fabricating from raw materials, sometimes it involves commercially available parts and sometimes it’s a combination of all of these things.”
Other Jewelry Production Methods
Rings Made with the Lost Wax Carving Process
The “lost wax carving process” is an ancient process that involves crafting a design in hard wax (not the softer varies of wax like paraffin and beeswax found in candles). Jewelry wax is somewhat forgiving, however. Small adjustments may be made, and if a mistake is made, a bit of extra wax made be added to mend the error. One the design is finalized, it’s covered in plaster investment, and the wax is burned away or “lost.” The cavity left behind provides the mold for the molten metal. Here is an informative video.
Jewelry directly cast from nature makes for unique and elegant pieces. This delicate process is explained in detail by Carina Rossner. Essentially, the process is similar to the lost wax casting method in that a plaster mold is created around a piece of nature, like a flower, leaf, or branch, and the piece of nature is burned away to leave a cavity in which to cast molten metal.
Hand wrought jewelry is created using traditional silversmithing techniques such as sawing, piercing, etching, soldering, and forging. These pieces tend to have a more natural look.