Hand Forging vs. CAD and Cast

 I feel like the topic of different ways to manufacture jewelry has been coming up more and more lately in email conversations with clients, so I figured I’d write a little bit about it.
*Please note, I’m not going to discuss die struck jewelry in this post!
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I think it’s Mark Morrell that was a touch snarky about answering the question of “are your items handforged?” I believe his answer is along the lines of “I use the best manufacturing method for the job at hand.” Which, to me, says loads – it says that he thinks the question is hogwash, he uses both “methods”, and isn’t going to waste a lot of time molding metal to make a ring that could be manufactured easier and quicker through other means.
In reality, all jewelry is made by jewelers manipulating a variety of tools through a variety of techniques to get the desired result.
It seems to me that there has been a big fuss about what tools and techniques are used to achieve those results.
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Now, there are obvious differences in production, but there is very little that can be produced “better” via “hand forging” vs CAD and cast. CAD and cast is easier, it’s cheaper, and the time savings is tremendous as far as labor goes. CAD and cast are also typically going to be more precise and symmetric. A computer and a machine just aren’t going to make the mistakes that a human would. The differences boil down to how the parts of the jewelry were created. Otherwise, there is a ton of overlap in the methods. Hand forged items, if you’ve watched videos, have been brought into their shapes with tools and a person guiding those tools. No matter what, the pieces are all soldered on the same way, they are all polished the same way, the seats for the stones are all cut the same way. Engraving is done the same way. You get the idea.
Feel free to mute your sound should you choose to watch the video!
I have a Mark Morrell piece in my personal collection, and what I can tell from it is that his finishing is impeccable. You can tell that he goes over every millimeter until it’s to his standards. The ring is CAD and cast, though I have no doubts that he uses hand forging methods when necessary. I have played with a 100% hand forged piece and I can see solder where the band was put together, the prongs on the center stones are all different lengths and widths, and one doesn’t quite touch the stone correctly, causing it to catch on things and have constant chunks of fuzz under it.
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Mark Morrell set with a colorless spinel
For me, it becomes a question of, “Do I want this cheaper, quicker and easy to replicate? Or do I want this to cost 5x as much, imperfect, longer manufacturing times, and not easily replicated?”
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My Pétiller ring is one that’s good to think about because it’s quite simple in execution, and was cast. The cast pieces were assembled by hand, and then the seats were hand carved out of the solid metal for each diamond. The only difference in making that ring via hand forging vs CAD and cast is that the methods would be different to get the solid shank, and the bezels that make up the support structure between them. Otherwise, the methods to put it together are exactly the same.
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My stance is that I prefer CAD and cast over hand forging. Much of the manufacturing methods are the same, it’s just a question of how the metal came to be the finished shape before things like setting stones and other finishing techniques take place. CAD and cast is much easier, especially when it comes to online orders – the client gets to see what it’s going to look like before it’s produced, rather than just hoping it will come out how it’s been envisioned, and seeing it when it’s finished.
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So much of the jewelry world is incredibly secretive. I don’t think that most jewelry people like to take time out to explain the differences to laypeople, especially when it’s hard to gauge the audience – are they really wanting to know the specifics behind the manufacturing methods or is it just a question being asked to make small talk? And sadly, most sales people in the retail world have no idea about manufacturing methods at all.
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