Professional Jeweler Archive: Mokume-Gane: Manufacturing Works of Art, Part 2

November 2004

Professional Bench/Defining Quality


Mokume-Gane: Manufacturing Works of Art, Part 2

Knowing how this technique is accomplished demonstrates another aspect of quality in your shop


Last month, we reviewed methods and techniques James Binnion of James Binnion Metals Arts LLC, Bellingham, WA, uses to design and manufacture mokume-gane jewelry (Professional Jeweler, October 2004, p. 77). In this installment, we review installation methods of the rails and liners on his mokume-gane bands and common service features associated with mokume-gane jewelry.

Rails & Liners

Rails and liners are edge-trim pieces and the inside solid flat surface of a single alloy for mokume-gane bands. They are optional features on Binnion’s mokume-gane bands. Here are some examples of how his rings are offered:

This band has no rails or liner; the mokume-gane pattern is visible from all views.
This band has yellow gold rails on each side. The rails provide a single-color design element, essentially framing the mokume-gane pattern that’s visible on the top and inside the ring.
This band has yellow gold rails and a liner. The pattern is visible from the top. The liner makes it easier to read any engraving that will be added to the inside of the band. Certain people may have a sensitivity to one or more of the metals in a mokume-gane laminate. The liner (made of gold or platinum) inhibits direct and constant contact with those alloys.
This palladium, white gold and sterling-silver mokume-gane band is being prepared for a 14k palladium white gold liner. Here it’s mounted in a lathe. A cutting tool will create a flat surface inside the band.
The inside edges of the shank are chamfered. The palladium white gold liner is made to specifications and, after precise fitting, it’s inserted and mechanically pressed into the band then flared on each edge.
Beads of 14k white gold easy solder and flux are placed carefully around each side of the band. A hot-air gun is used to dry the flux that holds the beads in position for soldering. The band is placed on a custom stand and soldered.
For this palladium, white gold and sterling silver mokume-gane band, grooves are cut on the sides, and 14k palladium white gold rails are fit precisely. The rails are wired to each side, and the band is prepared for soldering.
Beads of 14k white gold easy solder are placed evenly around the seam between the rail and the band. A hot-air gun is used to dry the flux and secure the beads of solder. The ring is placed on a custom stand, and soldering is completed.

Mokume-Gane Jewelry Service Considerations

Mokume-gane rings may require sizing and alteration to meet a customer’s special request. Here’s a quick guide to handling mokume-gane for the retailer:

1. Sizing – Binnion Metal Arts offers sizing to retailers carrying its products. A ring is sized through compression and expansion. Because ring-sizing gauges and ring mandrels differ, Binnion provides brass sizing blanks calibrated to his studio mandrels for precise results. By sizing rings through expansion and contraction, the pattern remains consistent around the ring.

2. Custom Orders – Binnion accepts custom orders and provides computer-aided design images for easy viewing of the custom designs.

3. Finishes – Binnion produces several finishes on his mokume-gane jewelry. Jewelers can easily reapply the finishes after wear or return them to his studio for refinishing.

4. Gems & Settings – You can add gems and settings using standard soldering and setting techniques. Also you can flush-set gems in mokume-gane or solder settings onto it.

5. Display – With daily handling, mokume-gane jewelry will need to be cleaned periodically. Binnion provides easy cleaning instructions or offers to clean the products for free.

Mokume-gane is a unique product category customers aren’t likely to find in competitors’ stores. The metal combinations, colors and patterns are endless, so it’s virtually impossible to have two items alike. Though wedding sets are designed to be complementary in color and pattern, each is a singular work of art.

– By Mark B. Mann

Technical Contributions by James Binnion, James Binnion Metal Arts LLC, Bellingham, WA

James Binnion, a jewelry designer and metalsmith, established James Binnion Metal Arts in 1991 to refine the art of mokume-gane. His line includes earrings, pendants and cuff links as well as wedding, engagement and commitment rings. Visit www.mokume-gane.com. For questions on mokume-gane, contact him at jbin@mokume-gane.com. For questions on his products, contact Terry Binnion at (877) 408-7287 or tbin@mokume-gane.com.


Features of Professional Mokume-Gane

A. The surface is smooth (unless intentionally acid-etched) and even and exhibits a distinct contrasting pattern.

B. There are no voids, pits or open seams between the bonded layers of the pattern.

C. The mokume-gane pattern is at least 2mm thick and will not wear through.

D. This band has rails that are smooth and even and have a continuous solder seam.

E. The surface is not discolored, and the pattern is distinct.

F. There are no breaks in the pattern or visible solder seams where the ring was joined.

Potential Problems

This mokume-gane layer is a veneer about 1mm or less. This excessively thin pattern will wear away quickly, exposing the backing. Delamination between the pattern layers is likely.
This mokume-gane pattern contains a large proportion of copper. For a ring, copper is not stable, erodes easily and will cause the rings to break apart.
This mokume-gane ring has come in contact with excessively chlorinated water, causing the surface to turn gray.
This mokume-gane band was cut and soldered, not compressed, to reduce its size. Result: a visible solder seam and break in the pattern.

– By Mark B. Mann

Technical Contributions by James Binnion, James Binnion Metal Arts LLC, Bellingham, WA

Illustrations by Lainie Mann

Visual Communications, Inc. © 2004

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications