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What Is Wax Casting?

Lost Wax Casting is the process in which a metal object is cast from a mould made from an original wax model. The mould is made from a plaster-like material which is poured around the wax model and left until set. This is then placed in a furnace to melt the wax away and molten metal is poured into the mould, filling the space left by the melted wax.

The History of Wax Casting

Also known by its French name cire perdue, the process of wax casting is thought to be over 6,000 years old. Although the exact origins of the process is unknown, archaeological records suggest that the method was first used in the fourth millennium BC. Some of the earliest lost-wax-cast objects have been traced back to Southern Palestine before 4000 BC, but other early wax-cast pieces have been found all around the world - with their origin a combination of primitive art and religious iconography.
"Some of the earliest examples of lost wax castings in copper include the figures of recumbent animals mounted on cylinder seals carved from limestone or magnesite — a device in use in Mesopotamia and elsewhere before the invention of writing that could be rolled across a piece of moist clay as a mark of ownership or of assent to an agreement." L.B. Hunt, The Long History of Wax Casting, Johnson Matthey & Co. Limited, London, U.K.

Although the process has remained similar, the ancestral methods have developed with new techniques and variations being introduced over time. As well as continuing to use copper, metal workers began to wax cast in bronze and gold. For jewellers like Esme from Duxford Studios, there is a focus on sourcing ethical materials and working with recycled precious metals to significantly reduce her impact on the environment. 

Perhaps the biggest change, however, was when Danish engineer Thoger Gronborg Jungersen patented a method involving rubber moulds that could be reused to make multiple wax models without the need to carve each individual piece. This was soon adopted throughout the industry and, in more recent years, highly ingenious casting machines have been developed to facilitate the rapid production of such pieces.

Esme hand-carving a wax ring in the workshop. 

Alongside new materials and machines, new types of waxes and investment materials (the technical term for the plaster-like substance used to make the mould) have come to fruition. Not to mention that modern jewellers have an even wider range of tools at their fingertips, including 3D and CAD printers. Despite this, hand-carved wax models keep the artist in touch with the ancient roots of their art - and indeed their predecessors who honed the process over time. For Esme at Duxford Studios — whose jewellery calls back to an anthropologic human history and our inherent awareness of our limited time on Earth with a focus on Memento Mori  this is particularly important.

"Hand-carved wax-cast pieces can freeze physical records of moments in time, so our existences can live on beyond our own years." Esme, Duxford Studios.

The wax carving for our Dwylo necklaces; later hand-crafted from ethical recycled silver into a weighty piece of contemporary wearable art.

How to Get Started with Wax Casting

To get started, we first recommend that you create your own wax carvings that can then be cast by a professional. To make your own wax carving to cast, you'll need:
  • A wax block - preferably file-a-wax
  • A pencil
  • Some craft knives
  • A lighter
  • A candle
  • Rough emery paper
  • Fine emery paper
  • A rubber safety thimble
  • A box to be used when posting your design to the caster

The aim is to use these tools to saw, file and melt the wax block into the shape you require, much like an a ice sculptor breaking down a giant block of ice (just on a much smaller scale). You then send your finished piece of wax to a reputable foundry who will cast the wax into the metal of your choice. This gives you a hands-on role in the creation of a lost-wax-cast piece, without the more technical use of molten material and workshop equipment.

We are Duxford Studios. We create custom and customisable contemporary wearable art and modern heirlooms inspired by the human form, modern culture and the sensation of touch. All of our pieces are cast from hand carved wax, in recycled sustainable sterling silver and other precious metals. Shop our collection, or get in contact about a bespoke handmade jewellery commission

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