The King of Metals, the Metal of Kings

Techniques ranging from ancient to sci-fi create unlimited design opportunities for goldsmiths. Here’s a look at how they work.

Sputtered Gold And Sapphire Pendant by Refractal Design. (left)
Borrowing a process from the semiconductor industry, the artist applied a few microns of 18k gold to a synthetic sapphire disc to create this fractal pattern. Photo by Charles Mulcaheyl/Short Stop Photo. (Sput, Cast, Fab, Set.)

Casting (Cast) is nature’s own way of delivering raw materials to goldsmiths. Molten gold is brought up through volcanoes and poured into earth’s natural molds – river beds, rocks, cracks in the earth, etc. These natural “molds” create gold veins in rock. Goldsmiths use the same concept when they carve a mold and pour in gold. Molds also can be made of sand, stone, bone, straw, ice, steel, plaster, etc. In the popular “lost wax” method, a wax model is made and then imbedded in a special heat-resistant plaster (investment). The wax is melted out and molten gold is poured into the cavity, producing a replica of the lost wax model.

Stone setting (Set) is an entire discipline of its own and includes dozens of variations such as bezels, prongs, channels and pave. Setting involves a series of steps such as measuring, fitting, burring, burnishing, pushing, punching, engraving and raising beads. The goal in stone setting is to hold the stone securely while covering as little of it as possible.

Fabrication (Fab) is the construction of an item from several parts. The components may be created in any manner and can be assembled in a wide variety of procedures. The majority of the work shown includes some fabrication, even if it is only to attach an earring post or a pendant bale.

Sputtering (Sput) is a high-tech industrial process used to deposit metal onto any object, and it works great with gold! Want to try it? Simple. Begin with a few million dollars’ worth of state-of-the-art equipment to create an argon atmosphere in a scaled chamber. Toss in a few finely chopped gold ions and while you’re busy doing that, ask your apprentice to apply a microscopic stencil of your design to the desired object. When you see the characteristic purple plasma cloud, put the object into the chamber. Now flip the switch to create an electric field that excites the gold ions. Take aim and shoot the gold ions at the unmasked areas on the object. When the surface turns a golden yellow, remove the object from the chamber and let it cool for a few minutes before using. That’s all there is to it. Piece of cake. Not!

(C) 1996 Alan Revere
Alan Revere is a German-trained master goldsmith, award winning jewelry designer and nationally respected educator. He is the founder of the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco and the author of Professional Goldsmithing. His new series of videos, Revere on Goldsmithing, has just been released. He is a member of the American Jewelry Design Council and a frequent contributor to JCK, GEM and other industry magazines. | 800-759-9997 | (fax) 800-616-9997