As a manufacturing jewellery company we are often asked by new clients: ‘What is the difference between handmade and cast jewellery?’ I have been a part of the Abrecht Bird team for the past 10 years, so I may be a little biased in favour of handmaking as opposed to CAD (Computer Assisted Design).
It is important to understand the main differences in both methods of construction and to educate our clients to assist them to make an informed decision on whether they base their needs on durability or budget.
A brief insight into the casting process is as follows. An item of jewellery is designed on the computer; it is often printed in wax using a 3D printer and from there a plaster mould is taken. Molten metal is then poured into the mould to create the final product. A variety of metals are used, such as gold, platinum, silver and palladium. As this is a quick and fairly simple process, it is easy for a company to produce hundreds or thousands of copies at a time depending on the popularity of the piece and how many shops will stock the item.
Due to the process of pouring the molten metal into the plaster mould, an item of jewellery can be produced in a short time and will require very little clean up, thereby reducing the cost significantly as there is barely any ‘labour’ in making the piece. A cast item may be ready for purchase from a showroom on the same day or be ready for collection within a week or two. However, the client will very rarely get any say in altering or adding personal touches and preferences to the design. The item of jewellery is purchased ‘as is’. Often
gemstones are pressed into the wax and cast in place. This technique is chosen by the manufacturer as it cuts the setting cost.
In our business model we usually have at least one showroom consultation with our client and arrange for a variety of gemstones for them to view. Once the gemstone/gemstones are selected, we use showroom samples and sketches to work through the client’s desired design and personal style (there are no limits to what we can create by hand; each piece is a ‘one-off’, designed and made just for you).
Unlike cast construction, handmade items of jewellery are created from a bar of metal (gold, platinum, silver or palladium). The piece is then fabricated using a variety of processes, such as rolling through the rolling mills, drawing it down using a draw bench, annealing,
hammering, bending, filing and sawing. All these processes work harden the metal and create a much more durable and superior jewellery item as the ions in the metal are compressed and the grain in the metal is interwoven.
‘(Handmaking) creates a much more durable and superior jewellery item …’
As cast jewellery is poured into a mould it encounters no work hardening and the ions remain loose and there is no grain structure. This can lead to cracking, structural weaknesses and a poor surface finish. All these extra steps that are taken in the handmaking process come at a cost, as they are produced by a jeweller who has dedicated their time to develop the skills, talent and craftsmanship to create a one-off piece that will last at least one lifetime.
My time in the workshop doesn’t only entail creating brand new items of jewellery, but also repair and restoration work. It is sad to say, but more often than not the items of jewellery we are repairing are of the cast category. Due to the cheaper production processes, these items require quite a lot more attention and regular maintenance over time. I find the handmade counterparts require far less maintenance or repairs.
When shopping for a new piece of jewellery, it is important to acknowledge these key points and decide the best option for you and your budget and to consider the purpose of the jewellery item. In our showroom we stock a variety of handmade and cast items as we understand both manufacturing options have a place within our industry and showroom. Although we love to hand make all our jewellery, we acknowledge that some deadlines are tight and some budgets have a limit. At Abrecht Bird, we wish to cater for everyone’s needs and this is why we are very selective with the cast items we offer and are able to give our tick of approval to them.
Eleanor Hawke – Jeweller
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