By Katie McMath
Since Eve opened the gallery in 1988, she and her staff have hand-made each incredible piece of jewelry the old fashioned way. In fact our process is so old fashioned it’s 6,000 years old! It’s called the Lost Wax method. Perhaps you’ve read about it in an art history class. Ancient cultures from just about every continent used this technique to make some of their most precious items. Among these are the Aztecs, Ancient Egyptians, Greek, Chinese, and West African people to name a few.
Left: Mounted Ruler 18th century, Edo people of Benin Kingdom Nigeria, bronze;
Right: Ceremonial knife (tumi) AD 900-1100, Aztec people of Peru, gold, silver, turquoise
No one region can be credited for discovering the Lost Wax method. Rather it dawned on many groups around the same time period. This might seem mysterious, but likely has to do with the evolution of the human brain. As our species gained language, currency, agriculture, and the use of tools, we changed dramatically in our abilities. These sophisticated skills were the result of long physical evolution, including gene mutations and changes to our mouth shape. Along with these changes came complex thought processing. Many of the world’s first art historical artifacts come from this era. This was a global advancement, not insulated to just one community at a time.
Xin Dynasty coin mold, circa 45 B.C. – A.D. 23
The Lost Wax method has changed very little over six millennia. Today we use wax derived from petroleum, rather than natural beeswax. Much like today, ancient cultures produced jewelry, and artwork. They also made armor. We use mostly the same metals as people did long ago: copper, silver, and gold. Today we use Lost Wax in jewelry making and the arts, but not as much in other industries. 3D printing is a less laborious, more mechanical alternative. Both allow for copies to be made, but not all cultures took advantage of this. Ancient Aztecs would ruin their molds after use, to ensure each piece was entirely unique. This makes the remaining artifacts even more precious.
So what is this time-honored technique? It begins with a carved wax model of the desired shape. In our case we sculpt rings, chain links, and a variety of decorative elements. These are fragile and must be handled carefully. With tools and heat, we make fine adjustments. This may mean adding space for precious stones, or changing the size of a ring’s band. Skilled wax workers carve intricate patterns and illustrations into the surface. The wax must be malleable yet maintain its shape. During this stage it may be shown to the customer so they can offer input before the process is too far along.
Two wax elements, one set with a sapphire
After the wax is finished, it is invested. This is why the Lost Wax Method is sometimes called the Investment Method. In other words plaster (or investment) is poured around the wax to make a mould of its shape. We do this by gathering each wax and attaching them to a “tree.” Organic lines link the pieces so metal may flow easily from one to another. Once the tree is placed inside a cylindrical sheath, we carefully mix and pour the right amount of plaster inside. Next we wait for it to dry.
Five invested molds, ready to be cast with metal
Once hard, the plaster mold goes into a kiln and is gradually heated to 1350 degrees Fahrenheit. This way, over a generous thirteen hours, the wax melts and leaves a hollow space behind. The name Lost Wax refers to this dissipation. Once the wax has left, the metal cylinder is quickly removed, and placed into a cradle. Eve pours molten metal, torch-melted, inside. The cylinder is spun rapidly, which projects the metal into the hollow space, forming the final shape in gold or silver. This step of the process Eve and Maurice complete in their home studio.
Once cool the plaster is broken away, and each trinket may be retrieved. These are finally polished, set with stones, and inscribed by hand with your special message. The extra metal is reused in an effort to conserve. Customers may also contribute their own metal.
One ring shown in the wax, casting, and final stage with set stones. Titled “Peaceful Coexistence”, it is from the “Undercurrents” series
A finished sapphire and white gold pendant
I hope this article leaves you with a deeper understanding of Eve’s process. From conception to creation, there is humanity and hard work at each step. This gives the end result an added character as opposed to more commercially produced jewelry. Eve has curated a staff not commercially trained, but sharp and creative. Our jewelry is persistently made by hand, not machine. Each piece is a unique result of labor and love.