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,
"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."
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.