Forged Vs Cast Jewelry – Part 1

Stand Above the Crowd

WHAT IS HANDMADE JEWELRY?


What’s the difference between handmade, handcrafted and hand wrought jewelry? If we had to choose a winner for the most commonly asked question, this would be the one. The answer is… it depends. It depends on who is using the term and in what context they are using it. For some, it’s a marketing angle to make trend driven fashion jewelry feel less like mass produced commodities. For others, handmade jewelry brings to mind images of beaded necklaces and handicrafts hanging on display at a local craft fair.

For us, the word handmade as it relates to precious metal jewelry is something deeper than styling or an added sales feature, it is a culture. It is having a level of respect for the trade and its centuries of tradition. It defines the experiences and the ‘hands’ that the goldsmith develops over time. Technically speaking, it is the best way to design and manufacture lasting and beautiful jewelry.


When having work handmade one feels an assurance that their jewelry is unique to the owner and directly in tune with his or her stylistic sensibilities.

THE TWO METHODS – FORGING & CASTING


Two of the most common methods of jewelry manufacturing are hand fabrication and casting. In the opinion of the Federal Trade Commission, appraisers and master goldsmiths, jewelry isn’t really considered handmade unless it’s forged from raw materials. What is forging? Forging is the process in which a solid piece of metal is repeatedly hammered, compressed and heated into a basic shape for making a piece of jewelry. This basic shape is then filed and bent, forming a component that can later be assembled into a finished creation.

Lost wax casting is the most popular type of casting, mainly due to its simplicity and its low cost. Unlike forging, where raw materials are crafted by hand into finished pieces of jewelry, casting requires the use of wax models. These models can be copies of old production molds, freshly carved by hand or by 3D printers. First, a wax model is set in plaster to create the shape of the jewelry. The wax is removed through a burnout process in a furnace to create a negative shape or mold in the hardened plaster. Finally, molten metal is poured into the cavity, producing a metal replica of the wax model.


HARDNESS & TENSILE STRENGTH


The ‘hardness’ of a metal refers to how well it resists wear (scratches) and tensile strength describes the ‘chewiness’ (flexibility, brittleness). Porosity is the name for the small pits and pockets of space that one can find in a piece of metal. Together these metallurgical characteristics highlight key differences between forged and cast metals.

Hand fabrication, the technique of forging a metal ingot and then further compressing it through rolling mills and draw plates from which goldsmiths form jewelry into a work of art, requires years of experience to master. The steps alone are basic enough but the understanding of and ability to freely manipulate metals by hand is anything but. From their raw state, forged metals can increase in hardness and tensile strength by up to two times over their cast counterparts. The benefits are real. Harder metals offer better resistance to everyday dings and scratches. Their greater tensile strength allows rings to better hold their shape since the metal is more difficult to displace — essential for securing gemstones in their settings. With cast jewelry, the lower density materials means that it is more susceptible to shifting from those same bumps and knocks. Gemstones can fall out of their settings, sometimes never to be seen again.


Forged metals can increase in hardness and tensile strength by up to two times over their cast counterparts. 

forged-vs-cast-jewelry-19k-white-gold-diamond-right-hand-ring-apple-newa-goldsmith-2560x1050

POROSITY


Porosity is a defect that regularly appears in cast metal. Even in cases where the surface of a cast piece seems at first glance, free of blemishes, refinishing and polishing soon reveal the pits and cratering just below the surface. Porosity in metal is not repairable and contributes to weaker jewelry overall. It most noticeably results in an unsightly surface speckled with pits and unevenness where fixes were attempted.

In comparison, forged metals seldom have porosity issues. The continuous working of the metal yields a denser, finer grain with virtually no pores and fissures. This helps keeps the surface of jewelry unblemished and smooth.

– End part 1 –

Continue to part 2 >