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Upon the making of Roman Chain Part 5

My old bench pin which now is the drawplate for chain.
A closeup image of the chain hole used most often, showing the grooving caused by the links.
A closeup of a finished Roman Chain.
A closeup of a finished Roman Chain now mounted on a custom clasp and set with a fine Sapphire.

When the last golden ring has found a home with the rest of his brothers and a deep sigh of relief is heard from the goldsmith's bench, there remains one last hurdle. This will only take a moment but it will be a make or break moment. That is the pulling of the finished piece. Pulling a chain smoothes and evens the links which right now are slightly askew. I use an old maple bench pin which I have drilled out to make it a drawplate for chains. Never use a steel drawplate for this. Steel is far more rigid than the gold and will misshape the links in a horrible way.

Upon the making of Roman Chain Part 4

The tip of the reamer is widening the pathway for the next link.
Looking down the length of the growing chain to confirm the direction of the link.
The first of the double-backed links in place and bent upwards to receive the next.

Now that we are ready to insert the fifth and sixth links we need to illustrate the concept of single-backed and double backed. The true Roman Chain is always double-backed which means that each link must be threaded through the last two. Threading or weaving links oscillates from one axis to the other. It doesn’t matter which side of the chain you’re going through. Look through the top of the chain to assure yourself that you are going in the right direction. As I understand the dynamics of the process, single-backed chains can be produced by machine but not so the double-backed. 

Upon the making of Roman Chain Part 3

The starter links have been soldered unto their base and are ready to weave.
The starter links have been bent upwards and are ready for the next links
The links are being opened enough to receive the next link.
The next link is inserted and will be bent upwards.
The first link in the a axis is bent and the chain begins.

I use two of these suspect links and solder them to a 2 mm square silver rod at 90 degree angles. These become the foundation upon which the chain is built. After they are soldered square and even they are bent upwards to become the first two links. Now I use an old beading tool which I have sanded into a long tapering point and mounted into a handle. This is what's used to open both sides of every link to facilitate the insertion of the next link. In a nutshell, the pattern is this.

Upon the making of Roman Chain Part 2

All of the links needed for two inches of finished chain are laid out and ready for fusing
The modified tips of a standard chain nosed pliers.
A fused link ready to be stretched.
A perfectly stretched link.
The different states of chain links.

Once all of my rings are cut and cleaned (22 links/inch of finished chain) I begin to fit the edges together for fusing. Fusing unfortunately doesn't work with every metal. Therefore I no longer make chain with less than 18K gold and standard Sterling won't fuse either. I have found that Argentium Silver works wonderfully and makes a splendid chain.

Upon the making of Roman Chain

Spools of 18K gold wire after pulling and annealing.
Mandrel whose sole purpose is to form links.
The wire has been wrapped around the mandrel and has been taped to hold it firm.
The wire has been cut into individual links which will now be deburred.
The ends of the links have been deburred and ready for the next step.

You may know it as a Roman Chain, an Etruscan Chain or any one of the ancient names, largely forgotten, once borne by this noble construction. Whatever you wish to call it is, I feel, better than the currently popular moniker of the "Loop-in-Loop" chain. I feel that this is a name devoid of all respect not to mention the wonder which this beautiful expression of the Goldsmith's craft can instill. Based on a deceptively simple pattern, this little wonder was produced by almost every civilization which ever practiced the art of Goldsmithing.

Lost Wax Casting Part 3

An image of the spinning centrifuge
The cast and cooing gold sits within the still hot plaster mold.
Dunking the hot flask into the washing bath
Scrubbing down the newly born ring
The cleaned 18K Gold Claddagh casting.

With a good flame playing across the now molten and shimmering gold, I give it a stir with the carbon rod and then sprinkle the surface of the metal with borax. This acts as a flux, from the Latin for “to flow”. This chemical helps to prevent the oxidation of molten metals thus helping them to blend as an alloy and to flow into the cavity awaiting. After one final stir of the rod, I release the spring and the centrifuge spins to life. I have no idea as to acceleration rates or speeds but it becomes a blur of motion in the blink of an eye.

Lost Wax Casting Part 2

This is an image of the kiln which is glowing at 1350 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is the centrifuge which drives the molten metal into the flask.
I am now heating the crucible with the fine gold.
I am now stirring the gold to distribute the alloy metals and preparing to spin the centrifuge.

I use a centrifugal casting system. Essentially a large dynamic tub, the centrifuge is powered by a large spring, which is cocked and locked for the process of melting and casting the metal of choice.  When released, it gives enormous pressure to the molten metal now flowing outward and into the vacated flask.  Notice the angular structure in the middle of image number 7.   This cradle serves to hold the flask and next to it is a ceramic crucible which is where the precious metals are melted and prepared for casting.

Lost Wax Casting

An image of pure gold in grain form
An image of a wax model ready to be invested
An image of a wax model ready to be invested
An image of a wax model, invested in plaster and ready for the burn out
An image of a wax model, invested in plaster and ready for the burn out

In the process of shopping for or commissioning a major jewelry purchase, the phrase “lost wax casting” is often heard.  The wax casting process is often discussed over the countertop but little understood by jewelry customers.  Jewelers often take it for granted that everyone understands this ancient technique; perhaps assuming that knowledge passes by osmosis.  Little could be further from the truth.

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