By Ann Swanson
Posted in Articles
I met Lauren through my consulting job at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The SBDC provides no-cost consulting and low cost training to any small business (see http://americassbdc.org) This post follows the story of our work on a custom ring in the fall of 2017. – Ann Swanson
A (very) Small Fortune
My mom passed away in the spring of 2017. She left me (along with memories of a great mom) a bunch of rings passed down from grandmothers at varying degrees of greatness.
My mom had cherished but never worn most of them, and I wasn’t a big fan of early century miner’s cut diamonds or Art Deco onyx. I was pretty sure, however, that they were collectively worth a bundle. I threw in my old wedding ring as well, and I packed a total of five rings and five diamonds to a local jeweler.
After a few moments of looking over my fortune, the apologetic jeweler told me he could give me $375 for all of it. All of it? Yes, a few hundred for scrap metal, but the diamonds were old and people like new, not used diamonds. He recommended I have something made with them.
So I went to visit Lauren.
Lauren and I worked on the design. I brought a few (lame) sketches of my own and photos that represented some of the elements I wanted to include. The ring I imagined represented a night sky, with a comet and an eclipse to commemorate our family visit to the total eclipse of the sun in central Idaho.
The Rings Disappear
Lauren’s next step was to deconstruct the rings. She removed all the diamonds and sent away the bands to a processor to melt them all down, separate the different precious metals and then send us back the gold and alloy we need to create the band.
Once she had all the diamonds out of their rings, we realized we had enough to make a pair of diamond studs. Wow! She suggested, and I approved a pair of diamonds for the studs. We purchased posts with tiny screw-backs, so I wouldn’t lose them.
(Meeting with Lauren is always a pleasure. She had tea or infused water and healthy snacks for me as well as cheerful music. She made me feel very comfortable and at home.)
Wax on, Wax off…
Lauren worked quickly to make a wax model of the ring. Although it is too fragile to try on, it helped me see the ring and gave us a chance to discuss design changes. We decided to add a few medium size diamonds to the band and added a “constellation.” This process assured me that the ring was exactly what I had envisioned.
Pure gold is really a beautiful color, and it’s something I hardly ever see. When the 24K and alloy arrived, I stopped to admire it a few moments. I was amazed at how heavy these little gold pellets are! Gold packs a lot of atomic particles into a little space.
“Assume everything is hot,” Lauren cautioned as we started the casting process. There was no mistaking the temperature on her kiln (1200 F). She opened it with a giant hot pad and using industrial tongs, pulled out a ceramic cylinder. Inside, what was once the wax model of my ring had melted out and left a negative space for the gold. She fitted this cylinder on the outside of a casting centrifuge.
Before this project, I had never been part of creating a unique piece of jewelry for myself. I recommend treating yourself to a meaningful piece. Lauren asked me if I wanted to cast the ring, and I said “sure!” This enhanced the experience of creating something personal, and I had never seen a casting process before.
All those pretty nuggets and the alloy needed to create white gold went into a ceramic dish. The blowtorch made quick work of the material and created a pool of molten metal. Lauren added a compound to make the consistency right.
Then it was my turn with the blow torch. Lauren wound up the centrifuge while I re-melted the ingot. When it was back to a molten state, I lifted the blow torch and she let the centrifuge unwind. The spinning forces the liquid metal out through the hole in the end of ceramic crucible and into the hole in the mold. I appreciate the low-tech quality of this casting process. It only took a few seconds.
The Kids are Alright
When the centrifuge came to a stop, Lauren removed the cast with tongs and carefully handed it to my ten-year-old son, so he could “quench” the hot cast in a bucket of liquid (mostly water and a few other non-toxic chemicals). This cools everything down and makes a lot of fun steam and hissing noise.
Cool and Cool!
Once the cylinder is cool enough, Lauren opened it to reveal the ring. You can see it has a little umbilical cord or “foot” attached to it. This foot is the channel through which the molten metal traveled to get to the wax resist–created cavity.
The casting process is complete, and here is my new ring (almost). Looks like a prop from Game of Thrones. Lauren will polish it and fit the stones. During this finishing process, the ring will become small enough to fit on my finger. The whole process took about 45 minutes.
Best Birthday Present
As promised, Lauren delivered the ring on my birthday. I had one more easy change I wanted to make. She got the ring back to me in 48 hours.
My experience with Lauren was exceptional! Her pricing is fair, she keeps her commitments, she is a talented designer and a skilled metalsmith. She gave me a meaningful experience and a piece I will treasure.