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a photo of a hand holding a 2 rings. one ring is made out of pink wax and the other is made from brass. They show the process of lost wax casting to create multiples

Behind the (Studio) Scenes - an interview with our caster + the ancient art of lost wax casting

Written by: Rebekah Jaramillo

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Time to read 6 min

The jewelry you buy from me is 100% handmade. By my hands and my casters. Your choice to shop with me not only supports my family but their families as well.

- REBEKAH J.

THE SHIFT - TO LOST WAX CASTING

This last week I realized that it’s been 8 years since I shifted the focus for my business and began building what you see today. And while it’s been almost 20 years since I started making jewelry, it was in 2015 that I decided I wanted to get my work into stores around the country and become a household name. And in 2016 I launched the AWA Collection - with one hell of a party mind you!


I fell in love with the ancient technique of lost wax casting when I was in college. What is lost wax casting you ask?? Well, Lost wax casting, also known as investment casting, is an ancient method, dating back to around 3700 BCE in the Indus Valley Civilization, and is used for creating metal objects with detailed designs.


The result is a beautifully crafted metal object that precisely replicates the original wax model, capturing even the finest details. This technique has been used for thousands of years to create everything from jewelry and sculptures to intricate components for machinery.

Here's a simple breakdown of the casting process:

  1. Original Creation: I carve much of my ideas from either wax or sculpt them using polymer clay which can be baked hard. Typically it's done out of wax, but even natural objects like twigs or shells can be created into a master. The wax model is an exact replica of what the final metal piece will look like.

  2. Mold Making: Once I am satisfied with my design the wax is sent to my caster, Sergio who makes a silicone or rubber mold of it. Once the mold is made they can make as many multiples as requested. They can also resize rings at this point and then make further molds.

  3. Investment: (photo 1+3 below) after the multiples are made a wax “tree” is created (see stock photo below), a center column of wax with all the parts attached. Once the wax tree is full with the desired pieces it is put inside a canister and investment is poured over it. Bubbles and air are extracted in a vacuum. 

  4. Wax Removal: The investment mold with the wax inside is heated in a kiln. The wax melts and drains out through the center column, leaving a hollow cavity inside the investment mold. This step is why the process is called "lost wax casting".

  5. Metal Pouring: (photo 2 below) Molten metal is then poured into this now hollow mold, filling the space left by the wax.

  6. Cooling and Breaking the Mold: Once the metal has cooled and solidified, the investment is submerged in water to dissolve, and a metal tree is left where a wax one once was.

  7. Finishing Touches: The metal object(s) are then, cut from the center column, and their attachments (sprues) ground down, and then the objects are ready for final sizing, cleaning, and polishing. Sergio and his team do the removal of the sprue but I get back the unfinished parts and finish them up myself. 

Images from Thelmadatter, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

IMPROVING DESIGNS

Below are a few images of some of our older molds and the parts that they produce. Over the years we've modified a few things as we've learned how to improve.

The WAVE HOOP (left) you can see initially did not include the small ring at the top or on the side. After ruining many of those tiny rings trying to solder them on, I got smart and had a new mold made with those attachments. Makes my life a TON easier. 

The photo of my hand is what a master looks like once it's been sized and ready for molding. You can see it has a stem which is called a sprue attached. 

CHOOSING TO OUTSOURCE

My home studio space isn’t conducive to casting and the cost for the equipment to set it up for myself has been out of reach for me. Thankfully, I’ve found an incredible partner for me to hand this step off to.

A few weeks back my caster, Sergio who owns Atlas Jewelry Services, and I had the opportunity to have a very candid and open conversation. I’ve been using his services for some time now and he called to thank me and to get to know me personally. Our conversation lasted over an hour and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to learn more about him.


What really matters most to me and what I want to share with you is Sergio and his small but mighty team who also do everything by hand. While my process is not 100% handmade by me, each and every one of the pieces you wear IS 100% made by hand. Your choice to shop with me not only supports my family but their families as well.


I was so glad to get to know Sergio more deeply and thought you might like to know him too! 

AN INTERVIEW WITH SERGIO, MY CASTER

RJ: Where are you from?  
S: I come from Mendoza, Argentina. Wine country!


RJ: Tell me about your family?  

S: My father was a music teacher. He taught folklore and classical guitar. All except my mother learn music and the guitar. We are an artistic breed. Our mother taught us attention to detail and resiliency. 


RJ: How long have you been in the metalsmithing industry? 

S:  The moment I sat at the bench to carve waxes in 1988 I was in love. Since then I am learning all I can about this fascinating industry.


RJ: Where did you work before you owned your casting company?  

S:  After carving waxes for 7 years I was hired to put together a factory. At this place we manufactured for many major companies. Zales, JCPenney, QVC and some home shopping TV networks. Then in 2004 I opened my own casting company. This is what I do until the present.


RJ: What got you into this industry? 

S:  My brother was a wax model maker and he brought me to the US. He is my main master. I came here to help him not knowing I would find my passion in jewelry making.


RJ: What do you love about it?  

S: I believe jewelry is the crossroad of science and art. This fills me with an enormous feeling of freedom.

The linear nature of science can be modified by human emotions...and I think it is just beautiful.


RJ: Tell me about the casting metals you use to cast Rebekah J. pieces? 

S: Safe and aesthetically attractive metals are what we require for making jewelry. When my kids were born my attention to the environmental impact got magnified. Therefore I started to lean more and more to recycled metals. 


RJ: How did you come up with the beautiful brass alloy that we use for all the Rebekah J. pieces?  

S:  After having United Precious Metals analyze the brass available 20 years ago, I was alarmed. Together with them we started to work on removing all traces of cadmium, bismuth, lead etc. The ingredients for our brass must simply be copper, zinc and a bit of silicone for better flow. These ingredients are a specific combination to achieve a deep and pleasant yellow gold tone. The brass we use for Rebekah J. not only works great for casting but also for fabrication. It holds great to wear and tarnishing.


RJ: Why did it matter to you? 

S: In life, it is my belief that improving is the essence. If it was only a drop in the ocean, that drop was my collaboration. This is what I love to do. Adding integrity to it was important to me as a metalsmith artist.


RJ: What other services does Atlas offer?  

S: We cast and made molds and models for the first few years. Later, around 2015 we added finishing.

Now our services are:

- CAD

- 3D printing

- Mold making

- Casting

- Polishing

- Assembly and soldering (torch and laser)

- Laser engraving

- Stone Setting

- Plating

- Smiles!

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