Casting a Spell

May 1999

Precious Metals & Bench:News

Casting a Spell

For jewelers performing custom work, deciding whether to cast on- or off-site is part of the process

Machinery and tools for in-house casting are becoming more widely available, less expensive and easier to use, but outside casting companies remain a necessity for most jewelers. If you heed the advice of the prominent and experienced casters who Professional Jeweler spoke with, however, deciding whether to use a caster and choosing one don't have to be necessary evils.

"Talk. Talk and keep talking," says Helmut Frye, owner of Techform Casting Technology, a caster in Portland, OR. This may sound like deceptively simple advice, but Frye says it's the one thing jewelers overlook when they send a design or model to be cast. Casters have different levels and areas of experience and expertise. Two of the most important things you need to discuss are whether the piece you have designed or want designed is manufacturable and whether the caster you are speaking with has the expertise to cast it. Not all casting companies work with all metals. Techform casts only platinum, for example.

"Congruent engineering is a process where the designer and caster work together to ensure they are both working with the same end product in mind," says Frye, who also works heavily with engineers in developing medical implants and endoscopic devices. "Proper design can help eliminate casting problems and defects." Designs that are not compatible with casting techniques make defects in the final product more likely.

For the Retailer
Why is this important to the retailer and bench jeweler? "Service," Frye insists. "In a competitive business where the customer wants the finished piece as soon as possible, getting it just the way the customer wants it the first time is the key to success."

Larry Paul of Larry Paul Castings, Philadelphia, PA, stresses the importance of choosing the right caster and knowing what services he or she provides. His company has extensive experience working with platinum, gold, silver and bronze. He also works in a variety of colors and karats of gold. He even works with the customer's own gold.

Some casters also make the model and some – but not all – do the finishing work. This includes sprue removal, polishing and stone setting. How much you need the caster to do depends on the capabilities of your own bench. It's also important to discuss turnaround time. Paul's company has a two-day turnaround on most orders, but this can vary greatly with other companies. Paul notes a growing trend toward in-house casting by bench jewelers. A recent Jewelers of America survey showed about 40% of stores surveyed do some casting themselves. He acknowledges there are benefits to retailers doing their own casting. Often it's beneficial from a promotional perspective to be able to tell your customers you do all your own work. Obviously, the jeweler who does the entire job himself from design to finished piece has greater control over the process. But, says Paul, there also are substantial benefits to using an outside caster.

"Experience is first and foremost," says Paul, who has been a caster for more than 20 years. "There is no substitute for it."

The Right Stuff
Choosing the right alloys is crucial. An experienced caster should have a high degree of knowledge about the characteristics of the different alloys available for casting. He or she can recognize flaws in design and defects in the casting process itself.

Mold-making, another important part of the process, will yield a product that pleases you and your customer only if it's done properly in the first place. An experienced caster should be able to produce a quality mold or determine whether the one you have made is adequate.

An important question you need to consider is the amount of casting your business generates. Even if you're pretty sure you have enough casting to warrant the initial investment in equipment and staff, you have to do enough to help your staff develop and maintain a high level of expertise. "What it comes down to is efficiency," says Paul. "Do what you do best, and you are more likely to give your customers what they want. Casting is what casters do best."

Advanced Technology
Frye and Paul note there have been important technological advances in casting in the past few years. "While still an art, casting has become extremely scientific in terms of temperature measurement and control," says Frye.

With the use of solidification modeling, for example, problems such as shrinkage and other defects in the finished product can be controlled or eliminated, says Frye. And Paul has seen important improvements in control of the rotational speed of centrifugal casting equipment, resulting in better quality than was possible just a few years ago. Whether you choose to do your own casting or use an outside caster, be certain you and your customer reap the benefits of these advances. A future article will address the issue of equipment and training to do in-house casting.

  • Techform Casting Technology, Portland, OR; (503) 652-5224.
  • Larry Paul Casting, Philadelphia, PA; (215) 928-1644.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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