What is Lost Wax Casting?
Since ancient times, artisans from around the world have made metal jewelry pieces, sculptures, and other objects with the lost wax casting technique. Though the designs, styles, and, of course, finished products have varied enormously, all the pieces created in this manner have one fundamental thing in common: each one literally “breaks the mold” and is a one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-duplicated creation.
What is lost wax casting? Let’s follow the artisans as they walk us through the venerable technique.
Creating the Wax Model
The first step in the lost wax process is creating a model of the proposed piece in order to create a mold in which to cast the metal. In custom jewelry design, a sketch usually serves as the basis for a wax sculpture created by hand. (For larger works like bronze sculptures, a clay model is first used to create a rubber mold into which wax is poured. Even people can serve as models to create a mold!). A round blue sapphire centerpiece and a young customer’s contemporary sense of style were first captured in a sketch by Joseph Montanari of Montanari Fine Art Jewelers and then carved as a wax model for a sapphire and diamond white gold ring.
Making and Breaking the Mold
The “lost wax” technique is so called because the wax model is destroyed in order to create the piece. The technique is sometimes called the “lost mold” technique because the mold, too, is destroyed in the process. In order for the beautiful, intricate details to emerge in pieces like these sterling silver handmade “Hearts and Arrows” earrings by Denim and Diamonds Jewelry, a mold has to be created that will allow the wax to escape and the molten metal to be cast. Artisan Patti Collins-Brown describes this process. First, a wax wire structure is attached, or “sprued,” to the base of the wax model. Next, the model is covered in an “investment,” a sand-like plaster substance, which must harden around the wax model. When the piece is then fired in an oven, the wax sprues and model melt, leaving a mold in the investment and the openings through which the molten metal can be introduced. After the metal is cast and allowed to cool, the investment itself is dissolved and scraped away from the metal casting, revealing the metal jewelry piece.
Bringing Out the Details
The custom made jewelry is now ready to be polished and finished by hand. Any gemstones in the piece are now set in place, too. Lois Martens of Jewelry by Lois created the band of this 18k gold deer ring using the lost wax casting method. Pure white diamonds were set by hand among the antlers of the deer. In this example, the ancient technique revisits the style of the ancient Scythians, a nomadic culture of Central Asia and Eastern Europe renowned for their goldsmithing and naturalistic depictions of animals.
All That Glitters
Gold and silver are not the only materials suitable for lost wax casting. As mentioned above, bronze can also be cast in this manner. We’ve previously featured on the CustomMade blog the story behind Stone Ridge Glass’s custom glass sculpture, “Storytime,” which was also created using the lost wax technique. Custom jewelry can also showcase cast lead crystal pieces. Hilal and Kati Hibri of Hibri Glass created the Ganesha pendant on this elegant necklace using the “cast crystal” pate-de-crystal technique. The sparkly “Remover of Obstacles” is complemented with rose quartz, moonstone rondels, and pineapple quartz beads as well as a matching bracelet and set of earrings.
If you have a detailed design in mind for a custom jewelry project, find a CustomMade artisan near you and discuss your ideas or post a project request on our “Get it Made” job board. Perhaps your commissioned piece will be just right for the lost wax casting approach.