Making Pewter jewellery
Each piece of pewter jewellery made by the Cornish jewellery company has been handcrafted and finished in our workshop on the cliffs of West Cornwall .
The designs are inspired by the nature, culture and beauty of the surrounding area and then have to go through many processes before a finished piece of jewellery is ready for the customer .
1. The design
Most designs begin as a sketch on a piece of paper which can then be glued to a sheet of pewter and from there a basic shape can be achieved by sawing around the outline .
2.. The Master
Once we have our basic shape , then hours of filing and sculpting by hand will give us the details of the design ..It's hard work and not easy , we don't want any slips at this stage ! Extra relief and detail can be added by applying modelling putty to the master until we have a composite piece ready for moulding .
3. The Mould
When we have enough masters to fill a mould , then we can make one .
The mould will begin as two discs of silicone or organic rubber which are very soft and malleable at this stage The masters are laid onto the bottom disc and then another disc is laid on top . The two discs with masters inside are put into a vulcanising press which makes the mould more robust ( stiffer ) and complete with the impressions of the masters .
The next stage is to carefully cut into the mould the channels which will allow the molten pewter to flow in it and further ,smaller channels to allow the air inside to escape the mould . If the air does not escape the mould , then the casting will not be a complete piece.
4 .The Metal
The pewter we use is an alloy of Tin ( recycled ) , Copper ( recycled ) and Antimony , it is heated in a crucible to about 300 celsius when it is then a molten liquid . Any higher a temperature will promote giving off gases in the mould that will effect the surface of the jewellery piece , causing a "porous " looking surface with imperfections . If the molten metal is cooler , then it will not flow in the mould quickly enough to form the pieces required .
The mould is secured in the casting machine which spins the mould , producing a centrifugal force ensuring that the rapidly cooling molten pewter , fills every void in the mould . The speed of the "spin" is crucial to this operation and generally , the finer and smaller the piece , then the faster it needs to be to stop the metal cooling and solidifying before the piece is formed. The pressure at which the mould is held together in the machine is also important so that the molten metal is not allowed to escape the mould or produce "flashing" around the piece which will entail extra work at the fettling stage later on . Any surplus metal from the casting , known as the "sprues" can be recycled and put back into the melting crucible .
6 . Fettling
"Fettling " is the term used for cleaning off and smoothing the rough edges that may be around the raw casting that has come straight from the mould . This is done using a hand file and is one of the most labour intensive operations of production . Many hours are spent filing , drilling holes and smoothing the surfaces of the jewellery pieces to prepare them for the next steps and the quality of the cast piece is revealed .
Before tumbling , the " colour " and appearance of the pewter piece at this stage is still a quite dull , grey colour and this is due to the rapid cooling of the metal in the casting process , which "oxidises " the surface of the metal . The beautiful shiny appearance of the Tin alloy is just below the surface however and the next stages of production will reveal it once more . To give the pieces the basic "polish" all over , they are placed in a "barrel" together with stainless steel media ( harder than the pewter ) and some water mixed with detergent ( washing up liquid ) the barrel is then sealed and placed on a "tumbling machine " which will rotate and allow everything inside it to move against each other . The hard media used will "burnish" the surface of the pewter pieces , making them shine . The water and detergent lift the dirt and dust from the piece so it is not ground into to the pieces by the media . After a short period of time ( no longer than one hour ) , the barrel is drained and the pewter pieces are beginning to look like their eventual state with a beautiful , precious sheen.
8. Hand polishing ( Buffing )
The majority of our jewellery is hand polished. Although the tumbling process has brought out the natural shine of the tin alloy , a little time spent hand polishing the front of a piece can enhance its beauty still further , hopefully achieving the spotless high quality finish that the Cornish Jewellery Company is well known for . After it is polished , the jewellery piece may be quite "greasy" on the surface and have some excess polish left on it , this is then removed by immersing the pieces in hot water and detergent ( washing up liquid ) for a few minutes allowing the excesses to lift and then the piece can be wiped clean with a soft cloth and dried ( this is the best way to restore your pewter jewellery to its original shine if it has become dirty ) .
When the jewellery pieces are at this stage , they can be finished with any hand painted details or have gemstones included . Now our jewellery is ready to have finishing components added to it to make it functional and practical , chains will be attached to pendants and necklaces by hand , using jump rings and earwires and scrolls added to the earrings .
After all of that hard work and attention to detail , the finished jewellery can now be packed into our own gift boxes to complete the presentation of our beautiful pewter jewellery . Time to sit back and admire !
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