Light Speed

July 1999

Precious Metals & Bench:Metalsmithing

Light Speed

Laser welders are the miracle bench tool of the '90s, say jewelers. They make difficult repairs possible and new creative work easier

A customer comes into your store with an 18k gold dragonfly brooch with filigree, green enamel wings and opals on the body. She wants you to reattach the pin clutch. She happens to be the daughter of legendary Broadway composer Richard Rodgers and the piece is a family heirloom. The thought of getting a hot torch anywhere near it is enough to give you the cold sweats.

This happened to John Morgan of J. Morgan Ltd., Grand Haven, MI, and he had a simple solution – laser welding. It took him about four minutes to do the repair, which included laser welding the pin clutch in place and building it up with gold to make it stronger. He admits that before he began laser welding a little over a year ago, he would not have attempted the repair. But laser welding's gentle touch could do the job without threatening the enamel or delicate opal.

It also saves another precious commodity: time. "I invested in a laser welder and it cut at least 20% off my working time without losing any productivity," says Morgan. He uses the LaserStar from Crafford Precision Products Co., Riverside, RI.

Performing tricky repairs without fear of destroying the piece or disassembling it before a torch repair is why these machines have become so popular with bench jewelers and manufacturers, says James E. Gervais, CPP's vice president, Laser welding not only saves time in repairs but increases productivity in light manufacturing, says Henry Barney, one of the owners of B&D Sales Corp., Cranston, RI. One of the most persistent problems the bench jeweler faces is porosity in casting. Laser equipment can repair most porosity problems quickly and easily, making it less likely you'll have to destroy a cast piece and start over.

Tough Metals, Tender Gems
Phil Koerst, general manager of bench at R.F. Moeller Inc., a retail jeweler in St. Paul, MN, has used a B&D Sales PowerLaser laser welder for about a year at his company's bench. With one master goldsmith and two apprentice goldsmiths, the laser is in use about six hours a day. Koerst estimates it has increased his bench's efficiency by 75%. He finds laser welders particularly efficient for platinum welding and likes that the laser leaves no seam lines. He also uses it for a variety of jobs where he could use a torch, but likes the way the laser welder works with treated or fragile gems such as emeralds and opals. The gems don't have to be removed, and there is much less finishing work.

Daniel Gold of Gold International, Pawtucket, RI, says his new Lasergold® CyberLaser is ideal for the production of new jewelry too. "While laser welders are excellent for repairs, they are far more important to the bench jeweler than that," he says. "They can take you out of the realm of repair work into the realm of design and creativity. For instance, they make it possible to weld different metals quickly and easily." He says they're also helpful when working at high temperatures with platinum and titanium.

Laser welding is fairly new to the bench, introduced in 1992, but its growing popularity can be traced to lower prices and improving technology. One of the most important improvements is the "free moving" concept. A jeweler can manipulate the piece he or she is working on in front of a fixed laser. When combined with the control the operator has over the laser beam size and intensity, the result is enormous precision and flexibility. The beam is virtually harmless to the operator.

Koerst, the bench manager of R.F. Moeller, has an innovative way to use the laser as a marketing tool. He charges twice the price for a laser repair, but explains to the customer the benefits, primarily that it will be stronger and will have a better finish than a traditional torch and solder repair. He has found almost every customer given this option chooses the laser. So it doubles the income for the bench in a fraction of the time.

Decision Time
The basics of laser welding for repair or manufacturing take only a few hours to learn and require far less skill to do well than comparable torch work, however, the equipment is expensive. Because of the substantial investment required, you need to ask yourself several questions:

  • How much repair or manufacturing do you do now?
  • How much more could you reasonably expect to do or want to do? If the answer is very little, the savings in time and materials that lasers can offer might not be worth the investment.

If you're considering buying laser equipment, take the time to acquaint yourself with the products available. Ask for customer references and use them. Talk to jewelers who have been laser welding for a year or more to help you make your decision whether it's a worthwhile addition to your bench.

  • B&D Sales Corp. sells two models in its PowerLaser laser welding system for retail bench jewelers. They range from $30,000 to $35,000. B&D Sales Corp., Cranston, RI; (401) 781-4810.
  • Crafford Precision Products offers several models in its LaserStar welding system that bench jewelers can use. The two most popular sell for $24,995 to $32,995. Crafford Precision Products Co., Riverside, RI; (401) 438-1500.
  • Gold International's Lasergold® CyberLaser costs about $32,000, depending on options. The machine is on working display at Gold's TechnoCenter. Gold International Machinery Corp., Pawtucket, RI (401) 724-3200.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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