Up until a few months ago, every piece of jewelry that came off of my jeweler’s bench was fabricated by yours truly. Fabrication is the traditional type of metalsmithing that manipulates metal through bending, cutting, and shaping it. It’s the technique I learned first, and it is what made me fall head-over-heels in love with the craft. It’s all hands-on, all the time. But there are so many different skills involved in jewelry making, and I so badly want to know how to do everything. I’ve got a long way to go, but I can now cross another technique off my list: casting.
Casting had been on my mind for some time. I had long admired jewelry that has that sculptural quality, and I had lots of ideas for cast pieces in my head. But I had my hesitations about it, too. My main concern was whether or not would it take away from the hand made quality of my work. I wondered: if I have the pieces cast in silver, then are they hand made? I also presumed that I would not enjoy the process as much, because I would feel too removed from the pieces.
But there has been a bit of a revolution in my studio, and it is part sculpture, part metalsmithing, part ready-made, and yes, handmade, too.
For a bit of background knowledge, the casting process involves having a mold made from a model piece. That model piece can be made out of metal or wax. I make both kinds of models, depending on the nature of the piece. Molten metal (sterling silver, in my case) is then poured into the mold and cooled, and bam! a silver casting–or a dozen– is made. And that, my friends, is the beauty of this process. I can request any amount of pieces I desire.
The pieces I receive back from the casting company (family owned, located an hour from my house) are no where near ready to sell. They are gnarly, dudes. At this point, the work is only just beginning.
Much time is spent grinding, filing, and refining the castings before they can be worked into a design. After that, the traditional fabricating begins, and I drill, bend, hammer and solder until the piece is complete.
Discovering the joys of casting has allowed me to take my jewelry in directions I might not have gone otherwise. Previously, I fabricated the tiny dome/ball pieces pictured above, a tedious process that involved many steps just to make one cluster. Now I have them cast, and in doing so, I have been able to expand my designs to include that cluster multitudes, which is something I may have never done if I was making each piece from scratch.
I still make many pieces in their entirety, because I still love fabrication. BUT I have come to see the creative benefits of having a pile of pieces in front of me, ready be made into beautiful things. Those little piles of potential have opened up new ideas, more interesting designs, and plenty of possibility.
The next step? To invest in casting equipment of my own, and learn how to cast the pieces right in my studio. That means more tools and equipment added to my ever growing collection. (And it gets me excited just thinking about it.)