The Different Types of Jewelry Manufacturing Techniques: Casting, Stamping, and More
From rings and bracelets to necklaces, earrings, and everything in between, jewelry is something found in every culture throughout the world. But while we might know what jewelry is and how to wear it, few of us really know how it’s made.
Understanding how skilled craftsmen transform lumps of metal into intricate and beautiful jewelry is not only fascinating but makes pieces feel even more special.
Below, we’ll discuss some of the main processes involved in modern jewelry manufacturing and the latest techniques used by companies such as ELF925 in state-of-the-art factories.
Designing and prototyping techniques
It all starts with an idea and a design. Without this, nothing happens!
Jewelry designers are professionals who understand the possibilities and limitations of materials such as sterling silver or gold. They’re often employed as part of a larger team and work alongside others to make sure jewelry designs are feasible.
During this early stage, designers will select materials and create variations before landing upon a final style. Ultimately, these factors are determined by who the target demographic of the jewelry, current trends, and practical considerations such as the budget.
Designs will typically begin with a sketch but are soon transformed into a 3D model using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. This allows the entire manufacturing team to visualize the final product, automate processes, and spot any possible issues before moving forward.
In recent years, jewelry makers have also been experimenting with 3D printing to produce a quick 1;1 mockup of the final product. These, too, can help locate problems and let designers fine-tune their concepts before continuing.
Material testing techniques
Design in hand, the next manufacturing techniques involve making sure only the best materials are used. Even the most beautiful design will flop if made from impure metal.
Most commonly, this is gold, sterling silver, pure silver, platinum, surgical steel (for body jewelry), gemstones, diamonds, and pearls.
This involves rigorous testing to make sure materials are capable of meeting expectations. Jewelry that is too weak, irritates the skin, loses gems, or is simply ugly will damage reputations and lead to losses.
Once the right materials have been chosen and sourced, manufacturers perform various tests to check their quality and authenticity.
One such test is the X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Analysis technique. This non-destructive technique verifies the chemical composition of metals such as gold and silver to make sure suppliers are providing quality materials. Metals are exposed to high-energy X-rays that cause atoms to emit radiation. This radiation can then be analyzed to check for impurities.
Fire assay technique
Material purity can also be checked using the fire assay technique. This involves melting a sample of the metal with some flux and then poured into a button mold. This is then precisely weighed to determine the exact amount of gold, silver, or platinum present. Unlike XRF, this is a destructive technique and is relatively time-consuming but requires less expensive equipment.
Casting and Molding
Casting and molding techniques help manufacturers create perfect jewelry pieces time after time. Without these, making jewelry en masse would take far too long to be commercially viable.
The main type of casting in modern factory settings is called lost wax casting. This ancient technique involves the creation of a wax model of the final product, which is then used to create a plaster mold.
The wax is then melted away, leaving a hollow within the plaster that is the inverse of the final piece.
High-quality, molten metal, such as sterling silver, is then poured within to produce jewelry or constituent pieces. As the metal is liquid at this point, it can be cast with extremely detailed patterns and forms.
Advanced lost wax techniques involve producing a tree-like structure of many pieces at once, allowing a more rapid pace of production.
The downside to lost wax casting is that it requires great expertise to get right. Each type of metal casts differently within molds, and only with experience are perfect products produced consistently.
Punching and stamping
Of course, not all jewelry or parts can be made using just wax and molds.
This is where punching and stamping come in. These are used to add decorative flair and detail to jewelry, such as rings and bangles.
Punching and stamping are terms often used interchangeably. These techniques both involve using a die “punch” or “stamp” to impress a pattern, letters, numbers, symbols, or other designs onto a metal piece. This die is usually made of hardened steel to ensure a clean mark is left, and more commercial enterprises will have dedicated machines to help align and automate this process.
For example, a signet ring may have an initial stamped into the face or a cat shape impressed into a pendant or charm.
Punching requires a high level of precision from both the craftsman and the tools to achieve a precise finish. This is a highly skilled process that can make a big difference to the final look of a piece.
Filing and Finishing
At this point, a jewelry piece is beginning to look a little more like the final product.
Two really important techniques at this stage, however, include filing and finishing. These both refer to techniques that bring a piece to a clean, polished, and refined state where the surface is shiny and imperfection free.
Filing involves removing any rough edges and excess material on jewelry after it comes out of the mold. This is traditionally done with a hand file, but most modern jewelry makers use electronic tools to give a more precise finish. This, too, is a skilled task and requires great expertise to get right.
Finishing is a general term used for techniques that bring the surface of jewelry to a desired finish.
Polishing: the most common and well-known is polishing, which makes the surface of jewelry characteristically shiny and glossy. Jewelry makers will use buffing machines and tumblers of varying types to achieve a high shine.
Sandblasting: matte finishes are achieved through sandblasting. This adds micro-abrasions evenly across the surface of a piece which inhibits reflectivity. Sandblasting is often undertaken using a box with a glass lid, with built-in protective gloves. This way, the skin, lungs, and eyes of the jeweler are protected while they precisely sandblast the piece.
Brushing: some jewelry pieces can also be found with a “brushed” effect. This gives uniform, linear scrape marks across the surface of the metal. This is sometimes used in conjunction with polished or matte parts of a piece to create contrast or on its own for a more industrial, worn look. The effect is achieved by scoring the surface with strong wire brush heads, either by hand or by careful use of machines.
Gemstone setting is another technique that is essential. It involves setting gemstones into a “mount” and ensuring it is securely fitted. This is a precise and delicate skill and can involve securing gems worth thousands of dollars — so it’s important to do it right!
Gem settings are usually made of the same material as the jewelry piece itself and form part of the original mold. Some, however, are soldered on after production. They will be precisely made to measure to fit specific gemstones in mind.
Setting involves placing the gem or stone using precision tools and visual aids into the mount and securing the prongs one at a time. It requires a steady hand and a lot of patience!
Large-scale operations especially will use plating techniques in their jewelry production, though smaller businesses use this technique too.
Plating involves applying a thin layer of metal onto another base metal using electrolysis. Submerged in a metal-ion-rich solution, an electric current is run through it. This causes the metal ions to stick to the jewelry piece.
This technique can be used to give inexpensive jewelry a different appearance while keeping other desirable properties. Sterling silver can be given a golden appearance, for example while retaining its versatility and strength. Plating is also a good way to make jewelry more durable, extending the lifespan of jewelry by acting as a buffer layer.
Jewelry manufacturing involves a lot of different skills, equipment, and knowledge, transforming raw materials into beautiful jewelry. These techniques have been refined over thousands of years so that even the most intricate jewelry pieces can now be made affordably on a large scale. And, with advancements such as CAD, 3D printing, and state-of-the-art factories, jewelry production is safely moving with the times.