From a Rubber Mold to a Finished Piece of Pearl Jewelry

The majority of the jewelry you see in the retail market is made using rubber molds. A rubber mold is what jewelers and jewelry manufacturers usually use to duplicate a piece of jewelry. The original piece of jewelry that is to be duplicated, would have been carved by hand, or created using computer-aided design (CAD) software and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), like a 3D wax printer. We are proud to be able to say that the vast majority of Pearl Paradise’s jewelry (if not all), was originally carved by hand. There is a tangible difference between jewelry that is hand-carved by an artisan, and jewelry that is created on a computer by a technician. While hand-carved jewelry may not be mathematically perfect, the contours tend to feel softer and more fluid, while jewelry created using a computer seems to have a cold and more mechanical feel to it.

My name is John, and I started hand-carving wax models for jewelry, casting and making rubber molds 20 years ago. Over the years, I’ve created an extensive assortment of designs that I’ve captured and added to my rubber mold collection. When I joined Pearl Paradise, I brought over 3000 rubber molds with me. Today, on a daily basis, Hisano and I go through these rubber molds to hand-select which designs can be modified, if needed, to hold a pearl to add to Pearl Paradise’s online collection. After we select a design which we want to add to the collection, and make any necessary alterations, we then begin the process of creating jewelry from a rubber mold.

Above is a typical rubber mold. It was made with a device called a vulcanizer, which compresses and heats several layers of a special type of soft rubber, inside of which, the piece of jewelry you want to recreate is placed. The compressing effect of the vulcanizer squeezes the rubber around and into the crevices of the jewelry, capturing all of its details. The heating first makes the rubber soft, allowing it to flow seamlessly around the jewelry, and then the heat vulcanizes the mold rubber, making it firm. The mold is then hand-cut open to remove the original piece of jewelry. What is left is a three dimensional impression, ready for wax to be injected.

Step One: Injecting wax into the rubber mold.

Doing this step correctly is crucial to having your finished piece of turn out properly. The two key factors are wax temperature and air pressure. If the wax isn’t heated to an adequate temperature, it won’t flow correctly and will not completely fill the rubber mold. If the wax is too hot, it can create air bubbles, which result in your finished piece having porosity.

The melted wax inside of the wax injector is pressurized to force it into the rubber mold. If the pressure is too low, the liquid wax will not flow correctly and will not completely fill the rubber mold, similar to when the wax is too cold. [This is shown with the wax on the left.]

Conversely, if the air pressure is too high, it could result in visible mold lines and/or “flashing”. Flashing is when wax overflows the rubber mold’s design, resulting in extra wax on the injected wax model. [This is shown with the wax in the middle.]

When all of the variables are correct, the result is an injected wax model that is an exact duplicate of the original piece of jewelry. [This is shown with the wax on the right.]

Step Two: Sprue and invest the wax model.

In the photos of the wax injections, you can see a wax stick attached to the jewelry model. This is what is called the sprue. The sprue is basically the pathway for the liquid wax to get from the outside of the rubber mold, to the impression of the jewelry design in the center. Casting the piece in gold or silver is essentially the same process, but with different materials. Instead of injecting liquid wax into a rubber mold, you pour molten gold or silver into a plaster mold.

The first step in this part of the process is to attach the sprue of the wax model onto a rubber sprue-base.

You then slide a metal cylinder, referred to as a flask, over your wax model and onto the sprue-base forming a tight seal.

The next step is to mix a very fine plaster, called investment, and pour it into the flask. Before and after you pour the mixed investment, you have to put the mixture into a vacuum chamber which pulls all of the tiny air bubbles out of the mixture, and off of the wax model. If you left the bubbles in the investment mixture, your casting would have tiny metal bubbles attached to it where the bubbles were touching the wax model.

After the plaster solidifies, you gently pull off the rubber sprue-base, giving you access to the end of the sprue.

Step Three: Casting the piece of jewelry.

You’re now ready to put the flask into the casting furnace to harden the plaster and “burn out” the wax model, leaving an empty cavity that is the exact shape of the wax model. After all of the wax has burned out, and while the flask is still hot (between 800-1200 degrees Fahrenheit -depending on the metal and the design), you pour in your molten gold or silver into the hole where the end of the sprue was once visible. You always have to pour more metal than you need for the piece of jewelry you are casting. This is because the extra metal pushes the primary metal into the empty cavity where the wax model was, filling all of the fine details completely. The glowing metal you can see in the photo is referred to as the “button”.

Step Four: Cleaning and polishing the casting

After the flask cools for a little while, you submerge it in water, or “quench” it. This rapid cooling hardens the metal making it more durable and easier to work with. The rapid cooling also makes the plaster break away from the cast piece of jewelry in the center, referred to as the casting. After you clean off any remaining plaster, you cut your casting off of the metal sprue. If done correctly, your casting will have the exact same shape as your original wax model.

Your casting is now ready to be tumbled clean, then filed and sanded into shape.  Your next step would be to solder together the components if needed, in my case, the bezel and post are attached to the top of the pendant with the jump-ring. After the piece is assembled, you would then set the diamond. Finally, the piece is ready to be polished.

Not done yet! Now my favorite part… Selecting the pearl!!!

Step Five: Setting the pearl.

After the pearl is selected, it is drilled and attached to the mounting and …

 

We are currently creating a minimum of 12 new pearl pieces per month, one of which is posted weekly on Facebook for our “First Look Friday” promotion – One New Pearl Jewelry Design a Week.

I really hope you all enjoy the new pieces as they are produced!

Behind the Scenes – Winter Pearl Promotions Photoshoot

We have a lot of new items that are going to be released soon as well as quite a few promotions coming up, so we decided to have another pearl-photog day! This time we invited a professional model and television personality to join us for an evening of cameras and pearls at a studio in Los Angeles.

Here are just a few shots “behind the scenes!”

A day in the Life on a Pearl Farm, part four

… continued from September 13th

A Day in the Life
My experience on a South Sea pearl farm in Australia
By Ahbra Perry of ‘On the Reel Productions.’

Down on the deck below, the divers have returned from their last trip of the day and everything is wrapping up.  A suspicious smell wafts up from the kitchen, likely canned spaghetti pie and meat lump.  I try not to breathe.  By the time I make it down to the main deck, everyone has vanished off to the showers, attempting to scrub off the daily layer of salt, or huddled in their bunks, trying to pick up enough Internet service for a few precious Skype moments with their significant other.

One of the young men from East Timor slowly walks back and forth spraying the deck with a fire hose of seawater.  His name is Masa and he has been in Australia for 18 months in a program set up by Clipper Pearls.  He has been learning the trade, and so far has sent his family enough money to buy a house, a car, and schooling for his younger siblings.  Masa tells me how he is going to return home and set up his own pearl farm.  He already has the site picked out.

Masa heads into dinner and I get a moment to breathe.  The sunset is a painting. There is absolutely nothing else around and the seas are calm.  The same squabble from this morning loudly approaches me from behind.  Pat and some of the crew have brought a case of the “good stuff” up to end the day with.  By “good stuff,” I mean Aussie 3.2% beer.  There are regulations about the alcohol content the crew can consume while out at sea, so we all sip our cold flavored water together.  Patrick points out Eighty Mile beach to the east, a historic site for the pearling luggers of the past, as a giant sea turtle swims by.

Francesco comes to the back of the boat with a big bucket and everyone cheers.  Alright!  He must be throwing dinner overboard and we’ll get takeout!  Fat chance. He dumps the scraps from breakfast and lunch (which strikingly resemble dinner) overboard as I watch curiously.

Chumming the water and attracting all kinds of fish

“Chumming ‘ze water,” he says, “we are going fishing.”

Before I know it, dozens of small fish have gathered at the surface, so preoccupied with feeding that they fail to notice the larger fish coming up to eat them.  It is getting dark now, so a few of the guys put on their head lamps and drop their lines in the water.  I cannot believe the feeding frenzy that is happening.  I have never seen such a cluster of marine life from the surface of the water.  Every type of fish you can imagine has swum to the surface: turtles, rays, even sea snakes.  It seems that Francesco has finally found an audience for his cooking.

Chef Francesco is a welcomed source of amusement aboard the ship

One of the guys next to me gets a promising bite and is really struggling to pull the line in.  Something big is hooked.  He slowly reels in a giant Mackerel.

Patrick starts talking about fresh sushi, and right as I get my hopes up, a huge tiger shark breaks the surface of the water and chomps our sushi dinner in half.  Hunger pangs and groans of frustration roll in from the crew as we reel in only the head of what could have been a delicious meal.  I’m too despondent to speak.

I was so excited about my sashimi that I didn’t see that we now had six to eight tiger sharks circling the boat.  They are impressive creatures to watch until you realize that not only did they steal your dinner, they are going to be feeding around the boat all night- and you’ll be diving in that water at sunrise.

“Sleep well tonight, huh?” says Pat.

No.  Probably not.  There is never a dull moment on a pearl farm.

Ahbra Perry is a filmmaker whose shorts have played in Cannes, Palm Springs, and the New York Film Festivals. She studied film at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco before forming On The Reel Productions with her partner Taylor Higgins. The two have poured their hearts and souls into telling great stories, raising social awareness, promoting an urgent need for the conservation of marine biodiversity, and for the empowerment of indigenous women. An educational series enlisted their wanderlust for a month long trip around the world with the Cultured Pearl Association of America. While in the Philippines their eyes were opened to a new side of the pearl. They are both driven by the dream of completing this film and sharing their passions with the world.

Follow the film on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PowerOfPearl and for more information visit www.powerofpearlmovie.com

Buoys holding pearl net growing South Sea pearls

The rugged coastline of the Australian Outback

A day in the Life on a Pearl Farm, part three

… continued from September 9th

A Day in the Life
My experience on a South Sea pearl farm in Australia
By Ahbra Perry of ‘On the Reel Productions.’

Extreme skill and precision is precision is required when operating on an oyster.  This job is tasked to only the most masterful and reliable hands with years of training under their belt.  Every time the oyster is handled it is at risk.  Every step in the process of caring for this creature is important, but this step, implanting the seed, is the most crucial for the future of the pearl and the oysters’ survival.  The fate of the farm lies in the hands of these techs.

Nucleating an oyster would be similar to performing oral surgery on a person who happens to house all of their vital organs in their mouth.  What was happening here was like getting a cavity filled by a dentist who walks on a Stairmaster while operating in a dimly-lit flea market.

Patrick, the farm manager, reassures me: “Our shells don’t come from a lab, they come from the wild.  Pearls, as rare as they are, occur naturally…so you shouldn’t need a doctor’s office or computer laboratory to facilitate that, just an understanding and appreciation of the animal.  A little dirt won’t hurt.”  As for the choppy seas: “All the techs get used to it – they have a good center of gravity and their eyes adjust.”

After the pearls are harvested, the oysters are re-nucleated, put back into crates, picked up by a deck hand, stitched into panels, and put back into the water where they will be cared for and tended for the another years.  If the oyster was not a great pearl grower, it still gets another shot or two at redemption.  However, eventually the subpar oysters are split open and cleaned out.  Their adductor muscle, a translucent thumb-sized piece of meat, is removed and packed for market.  Some of the crew slurp a raw one or two down during cleanings.  It must be an acquired taste, or possibly the best alternative to Francesco’s approaching lunch.  Pearl meat, is it is called, sells like crazy in Asia – around $100 per kilogram for raw, or $400 per kilogram for the dried stuff.  The rest of the oyster is tossed to the seagulls and the shell is cleaned off and exported for processing.

Pearl meat, fresh, clean, and ready to eat

After lunch, I follow Patrick up to the wheelhouse to look at some of the harvest.  The wheelhouse has three walls of large windows, offering great daylight for pearl-sorting.  Patrick dumps a basket of freshly harvested pearls into a table-top washer, lets it spin noisily for a few minutes, and empties the pearls onto a white gym towel.    Patrick sets up four empty Tupperware and goes to work.

I really did not expect him to move so quickly.  He grabs a pearl between his fingers and almost by touch alone knows in which container to toss it.  With absolute certainty he can decide the fate of each pearl in a matter of milliseconds.  Only after playing back the footage in slow-motion (240 frames per second, or 1/10th the speed of real life) was I also able to decipher the categories of the pearls.

Pat holds up a high luster 14mm perfectly round White South Sea pearl in the sunlight and smiles. “This is the best part,” he says.  “I had low expectations for this harvest because the shells where hit by two typhoons in two months.”  He rolls his hands lovingly through a bucket of about 100 perfectly round white pearls.  Pat grabs two more pearls out of the Tupperware and hollers at me to come out onto the deck. “Come look at this!”

Patrick Moase, the Clipper and Autore GM, takes a moment to inspect a near perfect pearl in the sun.

The sun is starting to get low and we hold the pearls up to the light.  They reveal a deep pink glow.  He snaps his arm back and chucks the gem out into the sea.  I choke, about to dive in after it. “Ha, just kidding!”  He laughs, revealing the pearl in his hand.  “This is a good one, I would go overboard first!”

Look for the final installment on September 16th …

A day in the Life on a Pearl Farm, part two

… continued from September 4th

A Day in the Life
My experience on a South Sea pearl farm in Australia
By Ahbra Perry of ‘On the Reel Productions.’

After the quick break the Captain comes down and stirs everyone up.  The dive boats will hopefully return with a big catch of wild shell, so everyone must prepare the deck to receive it.  Tables are set up, pumps turned on, buckets are out, and nets are up.  In the blink of an eye, the crew dons goggles and gloves, each with a butcher knife in hand.

The crew having fun listening to Bon Jovi while cleaning shell on deck

With a loud bang, the first dive boat slams into the side of the Trident Aurora.   The dinghy is now docked, but still gets thrown around.  The sea became rougher as the sun rose.  Its captain has a difficult time lifting the nets full of shell up to the Trident’s deck.

The shells are dumped onto the table, sorted, and quickly make their way down an assembly line.  The deckhands use their knives to carefully scrape off barnacles and other organisms that are growing on the wild creatures.  The younger oysters are put into nets and returned to the water to mature, while others are coaxed open, pegged to keep them open, and ready to be nucleated by a technician.  This all happens in a mere forty minutes.  Next, everything is cleaned up and the deckhands head to breakfast.

The crew sits to enjoy a bit of “brecky”

Breakfast, like every meal, is a frenzy.  The kitchen and mess area are combined, and definitely nothing spectacular; the Trident is a much older boat, and was only converted to a pearling vessel 15 or 20 years ago.  However, every aspect of the boat has a certain aged charm.  There are barrels of fruit, hot food, cold cereals, and a definite shortage of spoons.  A variety of international sauces and spices adorn every table.  The iconic Australian Vegemite (the most horrific condiment known to man, and so loved by Australian children) sits neglected in the corner, its appearance lost on this crowd of foreigners.  The chef, Francesco, yells and jokes around with the crew.  He is from Sicily, and like me, still hasn’t fully developed his sea legs.  Francesco is the hub of entertainment.  He is here to enjoy life, find adventure and continually makes sure that everyone is happy.  I learned a lot from our interactions, namely that being Italian does not make one a great chef, nor even a good cook.  However, Francesco’s personality and passion for life brings a lot of morale to this floating community, as does the fact that there will always be cereal and milk.

Dan has no apprehensions toward his burnt hot dogs and canned spaghetti omelet

Breakfast is quick and then it’s back to the deck to take on the next tasks.  It’s a harvesting day, so the technicians are set up in a room that opens outward to the deck.  The Trident does not boast the sterile and well-lit operating room one might imagine, nor even a stable ground for the precise and intricate procedure that the technicians perform.

Six technicians sit at what seem to be oversized elementary school desks in a semicircle facing the walls.  The middle of the room is stacked high with crates of live oyster patiently awaiting their operation.  Each technician has a variety of Tupperware on his or her desk: three contain different sized nuclei, one holds tools, one holds pearls, and the last contains very tiny crabs.  Although I’ve spent three years working on this film, and am very familiar with the seeding process, nowhere else had I seen crustacean assistance- I figured it could be a seaman’s version of a Chia Pet.

Tiny crabs removed from the wild-caught shell during first graft operation

I moved in closer to one of the Japanese technicians to ask him about his crab collection.  His pearl bucket is piled high with 12-16mm high luster White South Sea pearls.  He finishes harvesting another perfectly round and gleaming pearl, adds it to his pile, inserts a larger nuclei into the oyster, and spins around to enlighten me.

Well, it turns out that this ‘pile o’ crab’ is a very common thing.  Unlike pearl farms with hatcheries, Australian pearl farms collect wild shell.  It is typical in the wild for a small crab to live inside and grow with the oyster.  They thrive off of each other, maintaining a symbiotic relationship.  This technician prefers to remove the crab for better pearl growth, but other techs like to leave them in.  As we were talking, two of the overhead lights flickered out and wind began to pick up, heavily swaying the boat.

To be continued on September 13th …