Taking Old Jewellery and Making Something New Just For You
These have been some of my favorite and most rewarding projects, but doing it isn’t always as logistically straight forward as you might think, so I thought I would do my best to describe options and the process.
Whether it has been melting down unworn heirlooms to create a piece that my client would wear daily, creating a new design to fit new intentions for a ring from a past marriage, or setting an heirloom or family stone into a custom setting these pieces have layers of stories and so much sentimental value.
The first step is knowing what we are working with to re-design and a direction you would like to go in for the re-design.
Hoping to reuse a gemstone or many from a past piece? I do this the most and the process is the most straight forward, so let’s start here! It is always safest when the gemstones are stronger like diamonds, rubies, and sapphires, but I have had wonderful results with softer gemstones too. The process for gemstone re-design is similar to my process for new custom designs. We come up with a concept together. Once you are happy with my rough concept sketch I hand carve the design in wax which you will see. The wax goes in plaster with a sprew attached (like a funnel) and the wax melts out in the kiln leaving the investment in the plaster. Gold is poured into the mold, leaving an exact gold replica of the original carving. The sprew is cut off, the pieces get filed, sanded and all kinds of other treatments to clean, texture and polish. Then your stone/s are set.
(rough sketch shown with wax carving)
It is important to remember you are taking a bit of risk with your gemstones...even if it is a small one. Cutting gemstones out of their old settings can be risky, especially with soft gemstones and so can re-setting them. With really soft gem stones like opal or turquoise, I would likely politely decline to take on your project especially if it is set in a silver bezel, as much of costume style jewellery has its stones glued in place. It is important to know if you are supplying the gemstone that unfortunate things can happen during the process and it is at your own risk. Remember we are moving metal around wee precious things. I haven’t personally had any problems with heirloom stones cracking (I’m actually knocking on wood as I type here!), but it could happen so please weigh out the possible risk.
If you are hoping to melt down gold to make a new piece I try to use yellow gold of 14k or higher. White gold usually is nickel alloyed and rhodium plated and may become porous, brittle and prone to cracking while re-working or casting, so I avoid it unless it is refined and freshly alloyed. Similar rules apply for 10k and chain with lots of solder joints. In certain circumstances, I have agreed to re-design 10k or white gold. It’s just a higher risk for things to go wrong. If the potential sentimental gain outweighs the possible risk for you, fair enough! Sometimes having jewellery sitting in a drawer collecting dust doesn’t make sense when you could be wearing it... as long as you know that it’s at your own risk. You might end up with a fragile ring and I would still need to charge for my time which is not ideal. That being said, I haven’t ever (yet) had a problem with recycled gold I wasn’t able to fix. It’s just a possibility I like to make clear before you hand over your treasures to the melting pot!
So if that last bit didn’t scare you away from reusing your gold, great, but there’s another catch... In most circumstances, we need way more gold than will actually end up in your piece. Here’s how it works; we come up with a design you are excited about. I hand carve a wax mock-up based on the design concept which you will get to see and make sure you love it before it is cast. Once you are happy with your design it goes for casting. The wax gets put in plaster with a sprew (kind of makes a funnel for the gold to go down). The wax melts out of the plaster in a kiln and leaves an exact investment of my carving for your gold to get poured in. I still think this is so cool! But here’s the catch... the sprew (funnel bit) needs to fill up too in order to push the gold through the mold. That usually works out to about 10 extra grams (that’s quite a lot!). You would get that extra back, but it's just a melted gold nub. I get asked a lot if I can supply gold to mix in the for the sprew. The answer is yes, but you probably don’t want that... Most of my ring designs, for example, weigh about 3 to 6 grams for woman’s designs and 8 to 10 grams for a bigger men’s design, so you would end up paying more for your recycled gold ring than if you were to buy a new one and you would be left with a (maybe) sentimental nub of gold. You can use the nub towards the cost of your ring if you want, but I have to buy it at scrap gold pricing because it will need to be refined before I can use it.
(items out of casting with sprew still attached)
Basically, unless you have lots of 14k or higher yellow gold it might be best to consider using newly alloyed gold for your design. Most newly alloyed gold I use is still from recycled gold. It is just refined, so there aren’t weird alloys mixed in which could mess with the process and the final results!
Another option for recycling your gold... it’s a bit of a wild one, but it can be fun... You know those cuttlefish bones that go in bird cages? Well, they are fire retardant and have a beautiful natural texture! I can meltdown little bits of old gold jewelry to pour in the cattle fish to make pendants. I still need a bit of a sprew, but nowhere near 10 grams. It is a more limited design scope but is a lovely way of re-purposing smaller bits or 10k gold.
(cuttlefish casting finished pendant)