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Experts will forgive me this simplification of the whole process, but I believe that for laymen, it will be interesting to have a look behind the scenes. The interesting thing is that the principle of production is several thousand years old, but at Silver.Ag we use the latest tools to accelerate and dramatically improve the quality of the final product.
1. At the basis of the design is the manually produced, so-called "masterpiece" – the first (sample) piece of the item, which is tested for ergonomics (if it will be comfortable for the customer, won't catch on material, etc.)
The "masterpiece" has to be absolutely perfect as any imperfection will copied in all its reproductions (i.e. we would rather make a perfect "masterpiece" than manually correct 5,000 copies). The "masterpiece" is coated in a silicone substance and put into a pneumatic press at a high pressure and temperature of 200 ºC so that a mold is "baked."
The "baked" mold is then cut apart and the "masterpiece" is removed. (The cut is made with a scalpel – watch your fingers, washing blood out of a mold's dents is difficult). Although it doesn't seem so, the proper cutting of the mold is one of the most complex operations during the whole jewelry manufacturing process.
2. The finished mold is injected with a special wax at 40-80 ºC (depending on the delicacy of design and the type of wax). In our case, an automatic machine with a robotic "hand" injects the wax. The machine automatically adjusts the temperature of wax and pressure at the nozzle. The operator inserts the mold into the robotic "hand" and sets the machine going. Subsequently, the machine clasps the robotic "hand" at a calculated pressure, brings the mold to the nozzle through which it sucks air from the mold (to make a vacuum) and at the exact temperature and pressure injects wax into the mold. The hand moves away from the nozzle and the operator removes the perfect wax model of the future item of jewelry from the mold.
3. Many of the same wax models are sealed into “trees” and placed into steel covers. The new items of jewelry are ready to be embedded with special goldsmiths’ plaster.
4. Again a complex machine, the "plaster machine" is one of the heaviest. Although it doesn't look it, it weighs over 600kg.
Into the bottom drum 6-8 steel cylinders with the wax trees are placed. The upper drum is filled with an amount of distilled water and with 50 kilos of goldsmiths’ special plaster (a skillful production leader, with the help of tables and a calculator, calculates and measures the proper quantity of plaster – volume conversion). From the upper drum, air is sucked out and in the vacuum, automatic mixing plaster is mixed into a smooth consistency (without any air bubbles).
The air is also sucked out from the bottom drum and fills the trees in steel cylinders with plaster in a complete vacuum.
5. The plaster is left to solidify and the steel cylinders are placed upside down to allow the wax to drain out into a de-waxing device. In the de-waxing device, a water bath (heating large quantities of water to boiling point creates water vapor) removes over 95% of wax from plaster mold.
6. Subsequently the plaster molds (still upside down) are placed into the furnace. The furnace itself is probably the heaviest machine, weighing over 1,000 kilos.
The furnace is controlled by an automatic programmer and the heat can be adjusted to within tenths of a degree with extreme precision. Depending on the type of jewelry being manufactured, the programmer will select the temperature program and in the furnace the last remnants of wax will be removed (wax burns to soot at about 200 °C), which at a temperature of around 380-400 °C completely burns up. The process of eliminating wax residue and soot takes 14 hours.
7. The perfectly clean plaster molds, while they are still hot, are inserted into the "casting machine." The upper chamber of the casting machine is filled with an exact amount of pure silver or gold (999.99%) and also the exact amount of the hardening alloy so that the final alloy reaches the legal requirements for purity (there is still a slight margin in favor of the customer – e.g. silver with official purity 92.5% is actually 93.5% pure).
In the past, pure copper was mainly used as the hardening alloy. In recent years, considerable progress has been made in the development of hardening alloys, and therefore very special alloys are used, most often based on palladium. Unlike in the past therefore, the hardening alloy is often more expensive than the silver itself. On the other hand, silver is much harder and tarnishes less. Therefore the protection against tarnishing provided by rhodium plating is no longer needed. It’s true that such expensive hardening alloys are only currently used by a few companies, mainly because of the price.
Let's return to the production process:
After pouring the silver and hardening alloy into the upper chamber of the machine, the metal melts into a liquid at around 700-800°C (depending on the type of jewelry and alloy). By using the carbon rod embedded in the machine the operator mixes the liquid alloy exactly. The entire process takes place in a pressurized argon atmosphere, which is achieved by a device in the upper chamber. This prevents a mixture of impurities getting into the final alloy from the air. This complex operation ensures that your item of jewelry will be perfect, without bubbles or impurities, and will have a consistent structure and excellent strength.
8. After the mold has cooled, it’s placed into a cleaning machine, which under high pressure of water jet "breaks" the plaster mold down into mud and we are left with the silver tree. A similar principle is used while washing your car with a jet wash but a much higher pressure is used (be careful not to cut your fingers).
9. From the final silver "tree" the jewelry is cut off with hydraulic shears and the duct inlets are ground down. The item can then be cleaned, either with a magnetic induction cleaner, drum cleaning machine and then polished to a mirror shine, or manually, with a rotating polishing machine (with real walnut shells), ultrasound or steam cleaner.
10. The final product:
Does the item of jewelry still seem expensive to you?
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