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?”
Petiller
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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Market Watch: Spinel

Today’s blog will be short. I have a huge queue of projects lined up that need my attention, and never enough time to do everything I want to do (hint hint: GIA GG).

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Over the years I have gained a reputation for being someone who loves spinel. It’s true, I do. Which is evidenced by my spinel engagement ring, and maintaining a pretty decent personal collection of spinels. And not only that, but somehow people who discover gray spinel typically find me as well.

Side note: It’s funny, but when you start google image searching “gray spinel” several of the pictures I have taken over the years are top results.

Aurore gray

Now, it was just last month that AGTA and JA declared spinel an alternative birthstone for August, but already the price for spinel has absolutely sky rocketed. Two months ago I could buy spinel on the retail market for cheaper than the new wholesale prices for spinel. This is especially evident with pinks and reds (as they are always the ones to jump in price first!) but it has even trickled down to the gray spinels.

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Once upon a time, you could buy gray spinel for $5/ct, if that. Dealers and miners were just thrilled to sell them for something – they were once considered a step above gravel. But now, I am seeing prices that are more than triple of the prices seen just a few months ago. Retail pricing on darker spinels over 2cts is currently clocking in at around $900/ct. And that’s when you can find them!

Grey 5

So, the point of this post is that if you are in the market for a spinel, of any color, you should buy sooner rather than later. These prices are going to go way up, and I doubt that we will ever see them go back down now that spinel has been introduced to the public eye.
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