AZGem Gems
November, 2002
The World's Most Useful
Gem & Jewelry Monthly Newsletter

Written by Carolyn Doyle for customers of
The Dorado Company
and other visitors to the azgem.com website who subscribe.

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Usable Gems... and a little opinion.

 

Jewelry Model Making

Wax carving, or jewelry model making, is probably the most used method of designing and executing a jewelry piece.

There are multiple ways to design and make a piece of jewelry. 

Some designers fabricate a piece from pre-made metal components called findings.

Others may fabricate their pieces from gold or other metal wire and sheet stock.

Some make sand cast jewelry by creating a negative image in sand and then pouring molten metal into the depression. Indian silver bracelets are a popular example of this method.

What is to be made often dictates the method used.

Most rings, and many other jewelry pieces are made by creating a model of the design from wax and then casting it in metal. The process is called "lost wax casting."

One thing to keep in mind throughout our discussion today, the wax model that is so carefully created is made to be lost... that is to say -  melted, destroyed.

In this month's newsletter I'll discuss this method of designing a ring. Next month we'll go over the process of turning that bit of wax into a gold ring.

As with other arts, jewelry model making has its own terms, specialized tools, and materials.

Model Maker's Terms

  • Build up - The process of adding wax to create a model
  • Carving - The process of removing wax to create a model
  • Casting - Injecting molten gold or other metal into a cavity
  • Fabrication - The process of forming a model from wax components
  • Investment - A non-flammable gypsum-like material that makes a slurry when mixed with water
  • Sprue - A wax tube that creates the path the molten metal will follow
  • Wax - The model medium
  • Wire - Wax in a long, thin shape

Model Maker's Tools

Model maker's tools range from a simple nail-in-a-wooden dowel to tiny milling machines. 

Common shaping tools include knives, saws, files, and dental tools.

Tiny milling machines, lathes, and table saws that are powered by a flex shaft machine are on the market.

Various tools to melt wax are also important to the modeler. Alcohol burners, kilns, extruders (picture a hot glue gun), and even candles are used for a variety of tasks.

The most important design tools the modeler employs are the sketch pad and pencil.

The piece is conceived in the imagination and tested on paper before picking up the wax.

Model Maker's Materials

Blue wax, pink wax, and more wax is the primary material modelers employ.

Wax comes in a large variety of shapes and sizes. There are blocks of wax, sheets, tubes, wires, and pellets.

Waxes are engineered and manufactured with specific attributes. Some are softer, some harder, and some in between.

Some are sticky, and used to adhere wax components together. Some carving waxes are designed to not stick to carving tools.

Some are made to be shaped by spatula and fingers. Others can be sawed, filed, and carved without chipping.

Some waxes have higher or lower melting points. Manufacturers color code their waxes by these attributes.

Here's a couple of links to tool and supply catalogs for you to see some examples. Alpha Supply Tools    Wax    Carving Info.

Wax in the shape of wire comes in several diameters. This wax is flexible and can be bent and shaped. It's handy for making prongs and galleries among other uses.

Whether purchased or extruded from a modeler's wax gun, wax wire seems to lend itself best to the fabrication method of modeling.

Wax in tubes come round or flat on one side. It's used to carve rings.

The actual creation of the wax model is both an art and an acquired skill.

The carving method can be compared to a sculptor carving a statue in marble. The old saying here is that you remove everything that doesn't look like the statue or piece of jewelry being made.

The build up method can be compared to a sculptor using clay. You add and shape the clay (or wax) to get the desired shape.

The fabrication method can be compared to a craftsman building a piece of furniture from sheets and sticks of wood. The pieces are sawed, shaped, drilled and fastened together to make the desired piece.

Sometimes nature provides the model... and not in wax. The lost wax casting process is also used in dentistry.

It seems to be a tradition that dental school students make a casting of a honey bee in dental gold.

No matter which method is used to create the model, the next steps are to prepare it for casting.

A wax tube or wire called a sprue is adhered to the model. The other end of the sprue is attached to a funnel shaded base.

The model is suspended in a can-like container and the investment slurry is carefully poured in.

The invested model is placed in a kiln and super heated to burn out the wax. This destroys the wax, but (if all goes well) leaves an exact negative image inside the investment.

If all doesn't go well, the modeler must pick up  a new piece of wax and start over from the sketch!

Now I hope you can imagine the talent, training, skill and effort that goes into creating the wax model that must be destroyed in the next step of the process.

Next month we'll talk about how the model is transformed into a beautiful piece of jewelry.

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Jewelry Dealers

The jewelry dealer's program is rolling right along.

New people are joining every several days. More than a few have expressed amazement at the amount of information and practical guidance in the New Jewelry Dealer's Resource information each new dealer receives.

Now is a great time to join the program and jump start your new jewelry business. The holidays are coming soon!

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Gem Special Offers

Check out the new traffic building feature we're experimenting with. You can buy featured gems at or below our cost.

All you dealers... these featured gems are a great buy. You can increase your profits even more with these gems.

Carolyn Doyle

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The Dorado Company
P.O. Box 8232
Scottsdale, AZ 85252-8232