Exactly what is handmade?

I recognize that many on ganoksin believe that a cast item is not
handmade according to the “offical rules”, such as they are.
Understanding that laws or rules can be made specifically to enable
or disenfranchise any particular group, most of us recognize that
just because a regulation exists does not mean that the view it
supports is true (though it may be) or is other than the opinion of
the most influential group of people whose interests are affected by
the law such as it is. The legality of a position is not necessarily
reflective of whether the proposition actually reflects truth or
whether it reflects fallacy of argument, actual falsehood or just
the special desires of a self-interest group. This has always been
the case with human societies. Thus, the interests, opinions and
arguments of one group, suppress those of another group with or
without being clearly superior. The question of whether cast objects
can be considered handmade is perhaps a trivial case of such.

I think that it is difficult to logically or rationally assert that
piece of jewelry I have cast could not be considered handmade if the
following factors are taken into consideration. First, I start with
a bulk slab of wax, which I melt and pour into molds to make sheets,
rods and wires of wax. I then use these pieces of wax to form, with
my hands and appropriate tools, a wax model of the piece of jewelry I
am ultimately intending to make. I then, by hand, form wax sprues,
vents and pouring cups, attach them to the model (at spots I
determine to be appropriate) and invest the wax in a refractory
medium within a casting flask. In my case I make the casting
refractory from scratch according to my own recipe. The flask is
placed in a burnout oven for three hours at approximately 1100 F.
The flask is then, by hand, placed in a centrifuge, which has by
hand been wound up and the detent engaged. To this point, all
operations have been performed by my own hand, using tools at my
direction. All these operations are directly in my control, and I
have a choice to modify any of these operations to vary the
resulting product (sometimes to bad effect). The appropriate metal
is placed in a melting crucible within the centrifuge and melted
with a torch under my control. When I judge that the metal is ready
(another place where are my control and judgment can directly affect
the final product).

I press the detent button, allowing the centrifuge arm to rotate and
sling metal into the mold I have made by hand. At the appropriate
time (in my judgment) the investment mold is broken and the
incipient piece of jewelry is removed. Then, supposing that my
judgment of timing temperature and my control have been adequate,
the metal piece is further processed by hand. Sprues, vents,
feathers and the like are removed using tools such as saws, files,
nippers and the like. The piece is then finished by filing sanding
and polishing, again by hand, and made ready for the setting of
stones, etc.

Where in the above where were processes, tools, timing, temperature,
design and results not in my direct control, initiated and
terminated according to my judgement and operated by my hand? I,
obviously, don’t see it! Even in producing jewelry by forging,
elements are frequently fused or soldered by torch.

Depending upon the technical skill of the technician, the metal, at
the appropriate temperature, goes where it is intended to and does
its job. Or not. Can anyone honestly say that the molten metal does
not, on occasion, go awry, even for the best of us? It certainly
does for me in more cases than I would like to admit. How is this
different from casting except in scale (I admit that this is pushing
a bit far for the argument, but, still…).

Now, just as with hand forming or forging, inexperience, bad
technique, inattention or laziness (in the absence of luck) will
probably lead to a poor product. Further, the casting of preformed
commercial waxes does, to an extent, not meet the handmade
definition. Also, there are some techniques that obviously produce
objects not handmade ( assemblages of preformed beads and
components). Other than that, I stand upon my position and hope that
casters will feel a bit better for the support.

I prefer forging and hand forming because these techniques satisfy
me, personally. It is true that the metal in the cast object differs
in some characteristics such as density and porosity from forged
items. Still, I do not think this is of great consequence to most
cast objects. It is a choice.

At the risk of giving offense, I claim the attitude that cast
objects cannot be considered handmade is a good example of
chauvinism in action. It also seems that the real question being
presented is that of which type of object is superior. As with such
questions asked about religion and race, answer this at your own
peril. I will not touch it.

What I have said above is not intended to be a direct criticism of
any other person but rather a defense of my own point of view. I
wish to continue making unique objects that attract pleased buyers,
cast or forged. I also insist upon honesty in representing my
products. I never call them handmade, but for the most part, I
believe they are. Whatever they are, people seem to be happy with

Gerald Vaughan, Vaughan Studio

PS. A question that bears attention in this arena is how to trust
the purveyors of gemstones in these days of fakes, frauds and
misdirection. I am a fair gemologist but am having problems,
particularly with high end stones. I like bargains but can’t trust
them. In my experience, even non-bargains are risky. I can’t afford
to have all my stones certified and still make adequate profits. Any
ideas? (I could just pay top dollar to Stuller and others that can
be trusted. This rankles, but it may be the only answer)

All that I want to know is whether the stones are “earth mined” or
lab-made. I can judge cut, color, clarity, basic identity and the
like. In the absence of clear evidence that a stone is natural, I
either don’t use it or declare it possibly man-made whether it is or
not (money lost). Are others of you in this position? If so, how do
you deal with it?


It seems to me the important issue is who wants to know? If you are
labeling something, then you must label it in accordance with the
legal statues where you live and work. Doesn’t matter if you agree or
disagree, not following the legal guidelines leaves you open to legal
litigation. Seems like a silly thing to do once I understood the US
guidelines I immediately changed my earring cards, for instance, to
be sure I met guidelines.

As I interact with retail and wholesale buyers, it seems to me they
are NOT interested, for the most part, in what the legal terminology
is, but in THEIR concept of the work. I explain how I created the
piece - and THAT is what they want to know. Most people are just as
happy with a cast piece, when you explain how you made it, as they
are with a fabricated piece - what they care about is that it was
made by YOU, not on a factory machine line spewing out thousands of
identical pieces of whatever.

Some want every part of the piece to have been made by me - and are
willing to pay the price for that. Some are perfectly happy if I’ve
included purchased components which brings down the price, but the
main parts remain made by me. I have learned over time fairly
accurately what to take to what markets depending on what that market

So it seems to me that you must first make sure your labeling is
legal, and second make sure you understand your customers/markets and
create and present what they are looking for. Very few people I have
run into are hung up with the actual terminology - and when they are,
they are hung up on their own personal conception of the meaning,
which may have little or nothing to do with the legal definition of
the meaning. I find it better just to avoid the terminology for the
most part, and focus on explaining how I created the item - which
ultimately, is what most folks are interested in.

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio

I applaud your work in staying legal, Beth. But remember that anyone
can sue anyone for anything. And THAT is the motto of the litigation
lawyer. Thank the good lord above that I am not one. But even in the
bible if you remember, God made Adam and then made eve from her rib
(obviously not completely original ;-)) And then the rest of us were
"begotten, not made". Angels dancing on the heads of pins all over
the place. A beautiful string of pearls - made by the oyster by a
natural process from its secretions surrounding a grain of sand that
came from a a natural process of the rock breaking down with erosion
and strung on a substance that comes from a silkworm’s digestive
processes after dining on mulberry leaves, and closed with a clasp
of silver refining from ore hammered out from underground level and
heated to melting point. My label tag could never be complete in its
disclosure, nor could I say that anything was handmade. And who
would buy guck strung on worm poop anyway? I’m glad I am not a
lawyer. Barbara on a day when we are finally getting some rain on the
island and a respite from the heat!

The recurrence of agonising by some of us on what constitutes hand
made really misses the point of what people who are buying our
jewellery looking at ant thinking. The pieces I make are
differentiated between pieces where I have the means of multiple
copies such as where I have made a rubber mould and can produce
multiple waxes for casting. Other examples might include dies for a
hydraulic press or perhaps CAD-CAM techniques. I only work with
rubber moulds at times which allow me to make limited number of
copies, in much the same way a visual artist might use printmaking
to produce a limited edition artwork.

The other possibility is the pieces are unique in the sense even if
I repeat the process for another piece it cannot be the same. For
instance if I make a wax pattern casting which is destroyed when I do
the casting. Unless I make a rubber mould from the casting such a
piece is unique, and most of the pieces I make this way don’t easily
lend themselves to making a rubber mould in any case. Similarly I
have recently made pieces using reticulation. This process again is
essentially unpredictable as you cruise on the boundary between
control and disaster.

Fortunately in Australia I don’t have to operate within an narrow
interpretation of US law but I am bound by the Trade Practices Act.
For those who might be interested in my jewellery I provide them with
a description of materials and processes I used to produce the work
including quantity and purity of precious metal and whether the work
is unique or is one of a limited edition I intend to make. In the
latter case I tell them how many I intend to make before I stop
using, or even destroy, the rubber mould. I don’t expect I would ever
make an edition of more than 20.

People who have bought my one off pieces appreciate that the piece
is unique.

All the best

Jen, I would be interested to know if you number your rubber molded
pieces as printmakers do their prints. 1/20 for instance.

Thanks for a response

I would be interested to know if you number your rubber molded
pieces as printmakers do their prints. 1/20 for instance. 

I haven’t done so but this would be possible. I do however provide a