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Gold fabrication trade-offs


#1

In response to your post on Orchid, here are my thoughts on the
issue, having done all my own gold fabrication for the last couple
years:

If this is a one-time, or very occasional need, you are better off
just calculating VERY carefully what you need, and then ordering the
stock from a supplier. You don;t want to end up with a lot of scrap,
or run short and pay two shipping charges. The major problem with
this is cost, in two different ways – first, if you only order a few
pennyweights, the markup on the gold itself is enormous. Second, the
fabrication charges are very high. But you need some investment of
tools and time to make your own, and you won’t get paid back for the
tools until you’ve done a few ounces of stock.

If you are doing this regularly, there are a lot of advantages to
making your own: the major one is you don’t have to stock all kinds
of different sizes, shapes, and carats. When you need a bit of 18g
14k wire, you just make a button, roll it out, draw it a couple times,
and there you are. You substitute a one-time investment in the tools
for recurring high markups and waits on receiving stock. You can
spend a couple hours making a “master sheet” size, say 22g, in alloys
you use all the time, then when you need a 30g piece for something
delicate, ten minutes with your annealing torch and rolling mill, and
you have exactly what you need. You can recycle your own unsoldered
scrap, and not lose more money to discounts from refiners. And
finally, you can, with some looking, buy gold at MUCH smaller markups
than even buying casting grain from the major refiners, never mind
what the jewelry distributors charge!

I find that making my own stock makes my gold work more price
competitive, as well, and I definitely price my fabrication labor into
the final numbers. Recently, I bid on a job making 14kt gold fountain
pen nibs for a pen vendor. The total gold order was just over 4
ounces, and I was able to reduce my final bid by almost 20% by making
the sheet stock myself, rather than buying, even at a 100 dwt price
level.

I normally buy gold online from one of several coin and metals
dealers, and try to pay 3% or less over NY spot, delivered. I can
almost always hit 3%, and have gotten as low as 2.1% over spot on a
few occasions. Generally, I buy 1 oz Maple Leaf coins. I try to buy
on the market dips, as well. This is a price that you would only get
from the refiners if you bought several hundred dwt of casting grain
at a time, and you would still be doing the fabrication yourself. I
do a lot of work on spec, and probably could not afford to work with
high carat golds if I didn’t do my own fabrication. And, the coins are
instantly convertable to cash, if needed, and take a much smaller hit
on the spread than selling fabricated goods to a refiner (on which you
lose the entire fabrication charge, as well as the spread on the scrap
buy price).

Here’s what you are looking at up front, in terms of equipment:

Rolling mill – this is the big one, minimum of $200 for the cheapest
Indian import, more like $600 to get a Durston mini or similar one
that will stand up to everyday use and take thick ingots, saving you
the labor of hammering them down to 3 mm, which is the max the cheaper
mills can handle.

Ingot molds – combo wire and plate, about $45, and a long wire mold,
about $30 (very handy if you do a lot of wire work)

Draw plates for wire – $10 cheapest to $30-45 for good ones. How
many different shapes do you want to make?

Draw tongs – $15, or use a pair of vice grips that you already have.

Melting torch or furnace: You can’t do this with a hardware store
propane or with the Little Torch (yes I know the LT has a melting tip
– trust me, it won’t do what you want). I use a Prestolite air /
acetylene with the largest “turbo tip”. Works fine, just takes a
little longer. Total cost about $150. Or, if you already have
oxy/fuel equipment, get a melting torch or old welding torch with a
big tip for $50-120. The ideal setup is a HandyMelt electric melter,
which will run $400 up (used for $400). Too pricy for me, since I
have the other torch anyway.

Melting dish or crucible and handle – $15-20. You should have
separate ones for gold and silver, the fastidious ones use separate
crucible for each alloy.

Flux – 20 mule team borax from the grocery store, 75/25 mix with
boric acid. $5 for enough to last you forever.

Fireproof surface to work on – I have a slate paver from Home Depot,
$5, and an old cast-iron skillet to set the mold in (free).

The rolling mill is something you will want eventually if you are a
working goldsmith, even if you buy some stock. Once you have one, you
will wonder how you ever did without it, it’s that handy. And you can
do roller texturing as well.

Hope this long-winded explanation helps. You’re going to hear “your
labor is worth more in making stuff”. Maybe, if you work in a jewelry
store and the boss buys the stock inventory-- but if you work for
yourself, it doesn’t take long to pay back the initial investment, and
you bill each project time for the fabrication work anyway, so who
cares? For production series, maybe I’d buy the stock; but maybe not,
as well, as per the pen nibs example. Buying saves time, but costs $$.
The tradeoff is up to you, as always.

Regards,

Bob Edwards
Chromis Designs
Washington, DC


#2

I know a number of jewelers who roll their own stock, but I think my
time is much more valuable actually making the goods. This is not to
say that in an emergency I don’t roll out some of my own, but if you
want to produce quickly, buying the stock is a lot faster and cleaner.
You never have bad pours, most gold suppliers can now ship overnight,
and if you establish a relationship with a good refiner/supplier (like
Hoover and Strong) you don’t need to worry so much about refining
losses. Of course, since I have my own retail shop, my attitude
usually is that if I pay a little more, the customer will just have to
pay a little more. After all, they can only get my work in my shop.

Daniel R. Spirer, GG
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140
@spirersomes


#3

This truly a area which one must try to decide which is best for the
current situation .If you are swamped with orders it could be better
to order pre made stock.If times are slow and you have some extra
time by all means pour that ingot and roll out the metal anneal and
repeat and repeat etc.

I used to think this is the only way ,I realized the gold suppliers
can make sheet better flatter more polished ,which in the end saves
time.I use many different alloys 14k, 18k, 22k yellow, red , white ,I
have casting alloy and fabrication alloy, each has it own purpose
,and of course there is platinum ,now thats is a tough ingot to pour.

This is one of those areas of goldsmithing that you can do what you
like and only you can realize the benefits or draw backs.

Michael Devlin;
Devlin Jewelry Design
my website:
http://home.earthlink.net/~devlinjewelry/