We often mention the traditional techniques our craftsmen use to create the beautiful silver creations that leave our workshop - but each of these techniques, passed down and evolved over the centuries, is worth exploring. In this series, we’ll examine some of the techniques at the heart of the British craftsmanship taking place in our workshop every day.
One of the oldest techniques for crafting silver is also one of the first techniques a young silversmith will learn when they step into a silversmithing workshop for the first time: casting.
This process of metal casting hasn’t changed much since its inception - although it’s been streamlined to make it faster, and to improve the quality of the finished result, it looks almost the same as it did five or six thousand years ago.
The first step in the casting process involves making a metal master pattern which is then used to create a mould from which subsequent pieces can be made. Even a hand-chased piece of jewellery can be used as a metal master. This is encased in liquid rubber, making a reusable mould for making wax masters to be used in the casting process. Ensuring that this mould is reusable takes a lot of skill - a craftsman with a steady hand and a scalpel will have the expertise necessary to make cuts in such a way as to remove the original master without damaging the mould.
Traditionally, the wax master model has been made by setting hot wax in rubber moulds, but thanks to the development of 3D printing, resin has allowed more complex shapes to be produced within the mould. Once this wax master has been created, it’s encased in a flask filled with plaster. Our workshop uses vacuum technology to minimise the number of air bubbles within the mould, greatly enhancing the consistency of the casting process.
This finished mould is placed in a kiln, where it’s fired twice - the first firing melts the wax or resin, leaving an empty space inside the plaster. The second firing drives out the moisture and gasses from the fine pores in the plaster. Each flask is numbered, ready for the silver to be introduced to the process.
Discover how the process of casting works in the second half of this instalment of The Silversmith’s Toolkit. In the meantime, take a look at our collection of the finest British craftsmanship.