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Goldsmithing Research Question from a Fiction Writer


#1

Hi-

My name is Scott Andrews and I’m a fiction writer. I’m currently
working on a short story and I need some help with a goldsmithing
detail. From the impressive amount of knowledge visible on the
Ganoskin web site, I’m hoping that someone here on Orchid may be
able to help.

A gold idol plays a central role in my story. It’s about 8-12" tall
and it’s supposed to be 60 years old. It’s more symbolic than
valuable, so I assume it would be gold-plated rather than solid
gold. However, the idol is a fake – one of the characters had it
quickly made from real gold a week ago. The main character notices
something subtle in the construction, since his uncle was a
goldsmith. No one else figures out the idol is a recently-made fake,
but he does.

So I’m looking for a quality appropriate for an idol created in a
hurry, something that the main character can see and realize that
the idol is not authentic from 60 years ago. But it has to be subtle
enough that none of the other characters would notice. Tool marks?
Hardness? Alloy composition, as visible in hardness or color?

Thanks very much for any ideas.

PS – I’m a woodworker, so I know the immense skill that goes into
hand-crafting things. The pieces I saw on the Ganoskin web site look
amazing.

Scott Andrews
@Scott_Andrews
http://www.scotthandrews.com/


#2

I would think the first give away would be the weight difference.
Plated gold is much lighter than solid gold. If something was made
in a rush you could also have a ‘thin’ area where the plating doesn’t
cover the base metal quite as well as the rest of the faux-statue.
Also, I think the plating would chip or ‘flake’ where solid gold
would just scratch or dent.

Just my .02

Craig


#3

Scott, need more detail description and I will see what I can come
up with

Robert
www.robertwhiteside.com


#4
So I'm looking for a quality appropriate for an idol created in a
hurry, something that the main character can see and realize that
the idol is not authentic from 60 years ago. 

Perhaps the idol has a stone or stones set in it which your hero
recognizes as a synthetic of recent vintage.

Lee Einer
Dos Manos Jewelry
http://www.dosmanosjewelry.com


#5
 The main character notices something subtle in the construction,
since his uncle was a goldsmith. No one else figures out the idol
is a recently-made fake, but he does.

How about laser-weld marks? I don’t think lazer welders were around
60 years ago, and a laser weld looks very different (if done in a
hurry) than a torch-soldered seam.

–Noel


#6

Well, this is intriguing. Lots of possibilities. I will say most
people would write from the angle that the original idol is gold,
while the fake is made of inferior materials. Why? Because to get
enough gold, for a figurine 8"-12" high, will be quite
costly–probably in the tens of thousands of dollars, possibly in
the 6 figure range, depending on the thickness of the gold to hold
up under its own weight and the art work (technique) involved. Will
your story be plausible if the fake is made from real gold? Will the
cost of the fake justify the risk that must surely be involved? That
much money will have to have a huge motivator.

If I were to explain to a customer how I would approach making this
replica, and presuming it is to made entirely of gold and they’re
willing to pay for the gold and the labor, it would go something
like this:

There are two methods to accomplish this. The presumption there is a
fair amount of detail to form a 3-D figurine that will be
identifiable as a “thing” rather than just an amorphous lump. It can
be made from gold sheet and repousseed to give it form, or it can be
cast.

Gold is heavy. Gold is malleable. Alloying gold so that it has the
strength to hold its form, and not collapse under its own weight, is
suitable for casting, but it will have a thick wall. Also, there
will be seams on the inside where the parting lines of the shell
mold will come together, and are inaccessible. If it is a solid
casting, then it will be so heavy, a single person will not be able
to carry it easily and it will break a toe quite easily if it should
slip from the grasp. Go get yourself a sizeable lump of lead (since
lead and gold weigh close to the same for the same mass) that will
represent the 8"-12" high figurine and you’ll see what I mean.

The repousse method will be more feasible. It requires considerably
less gold, but it will require a master craftsman to execute the
design and solder it together. I’m not talking someone who is just
good, but a world class craftsman, in order to make the two halves
match, know the gauge of the gold needed for a figurine of that size
so it will not collapse or dent easily from rough handling. It will
require hundreds of hours of labor. Valentin, jump in on this one.

To get someone of this caliber to do this type of work, and be
entrusted with that much gold, first has to be of high integrity,
and would not compromise a lifetime of work and trust to take on
such a project. They have to know just how much the metal can take,
in terms of annealing (softening) and tempering (hardening) the
metal, so it doesn’t crack under stress, doesn’t collapse from lack
of strength and too much weight. So, secondly they must have
knowledge of this particular type of material. Someone who works in
aluminum, or another metal, will not be able to replicate the
results in gold.

Add to this that it is difficult to replicate someone else’s style
when it comes to highly artistic form, especially in a 3-D form, and
many complications arise. They will have made their own tools, which
automatically will cause differences, in both style and execution,
to arise.

I think as you get more responses, you’ll find you might have to
change a few things in your story to make it plausible. I’m one of
those people that tend to pick apart fictitious stories because it
hasn’t had basic research done, so you’ve got off on the right foot
by asking people how it can be accomplished. You might also contact
the members of the Society of American Silversmiths, since they tend
to do large hollow forms.

Good luck on your story.


#7

plating as compared to real gold-24kt, even if your plating gold is
22k it will show subtile differences in deposition. the mellow
yellow of pure gold is hard to reproduce as most high carat plating
is not above 22k as you need alloys to keep the plating from rubbing
of on the hands. riser marks. in reproduction casting the risers are
filed and that increases the hardness making it more noticble than
if it was a burnout replacement casting. also if pure gold then only
atomic testing of the molecules structure will show the impurities
and the level of more noble metals leading to where it came from

John AKA Ringman


#8

Hi Scott,

The question you ask about old techniques in goldsmithing with
regard to your story line is a difficult one, because as an
experienced goldsmith with 44 years at the bench, I can tell you I
am still using work techniques that were being used 60 years ago,
the only things that would have changed over the years would be the
gold and solder alloys. One of the recent changes has been the
banning of the use of cadmium in certain solders and alloys as
cadmium has some health risks, although some of us goldsmiths found
that cadmium solders were much better running than cadmium free
solders especially in the 18ct hard grade. I was taught to solder my
18ct objects entirely by 18ct Hard solder, which if you don’t know
runs at a very high temperature, close to the melting point of the
18ct gold, and when polished, the soldered joints are very close to
the colour of 18ct yellow gold and are not visible. Lower melting
point solders tend to show as paler gold when the surface ages. So
for your a test for cadmium on English gold would tell
you that the metal was of a recent manufacture.

I hope this is of assistance to you, please contact me again if you
require further assistance.

You might be interested in seeing my 6" model of the mask of
Tutankhamun on the orchid gallery as it seems to fit your story
line.

Regards and good luck
James Miller
@James_Miller


#9

Your character notices that there is a distinctive pattern of
little frozen puddles in a crevice. Perhaps the area between the
upper arm and back on the right side of the idol. He suddenly
realizes that it’s the pattern left by a laser welder running a
little hot.

The CO2 laser was invented in 1964. That’s less than 60 years ago.

Not a laser guy…I just like a good story. :slight_smile:

Chuck in Asheville


#10

The original figurine was not solid gold but mercury gilded an
ancient method of gilding. Often the mercury, which is highly toxic
and consequently not done today, in fact it is outlawed, is mixed
with gold. Once applied to the article, heat is used to evaporate the
mercury leaving a quite distinctive and heavy layer of gold. The
metal was then burnished with agate stones for a unique luster. Today
as the nephew of a highly experienced goldsmith, notices quite
obviously that the gold finish is of modern electroplating method. To
the trained eye, there is a world of difference in the finishes and
is a dead give away. Stone setting techniques can and have been
emulated so that would not be something suspect. If it were cast
from a mold, i.e. the original, the styling would be very similar and
as I have said it would only be the finish that would be the give
away.

is the original antique 60 years old? if so. not very interesting.

Robert


#11
    I think as you get more responses, you'll find you might have
to change a few things in your story to make it plausible. 

you’re absolutely right. :slight_smile: i received several very helpful e-mails
and did some research on cast forgeries of ancient coins. the story
takes place before the modern age, so surface differences from
electroplating or lasers are unfortunately beyond available
technology.

i think i’m going to go with the original item having been
hollow-cast silver gilded by the mercury/fire-baking method, and the
forgery having been hollow ‘slush’ cast from just gold with repeated
pourings to build up the wall thickness. [there are plot reasons why
gold is readily available for the fake]. i’ve done some surface area
to volume calculations with specific gravity and both idols would
need to be hollow to keep the weight reasonable.

but at equivalent volume, the gold fake will of course weigh twice as
much. i’ll use the increased weight as an early hint that something’s
not right with the fake, and bubble defects from poor casting / lack
of burnishing as the final detail that tips off the main character.

thanks very much for all the replies.

Scott Andrews
@Scott_Andrews
http://www.scotthandrews.com/


#12

This is highly intriguing. Assuming the original figure were solid
24k. It would be worth stealing, but you would need a replacement. If
it were me I would take multiple pictures from several angles. Then
use some type of stereo optical comparison to make a digital surface.
The same process used in making topo maps. If they can make a topo
with an accuracy of 2 feet from arial photos, seems you could get
sufficient detail to make a digital surface with 0.001" precision.
Spit it into a nice CNC, compensate for shrinkage in casting, hollow
it out, cast it, presto one replacement.

This alleviates the highly skilled craftsmen by using modern
technology. Maybe then as a less than skilled “craftsmen” you
inadvertently leave a few tool marks, maybe a not so perfect casting,
maybe you forgot to account for the shrinkage. This would make the
plot feasible, in my eyes anyway.

Keep us updated about the publication, this makes a nice break from
the techno-chat.

Regards,
Matt


#13

Hi Scott,

I write a little on the side so I just wanted to say a special
congrats on your endeavors.

Basic smithing techniques haven’t changed all that much, especially
in your 60-year time period, so this indeed is an interesting
quandary.

Does your forger know all the details about the real idol? Maybe he
went off a picture when he tried to duplicate the object and missed
some kind of mark or detail of the original. (like he had pictures
front, back and side, but no bottom). Or maybe he doesn’t realize the
real idol had a secret compartment – like reliquaries often do –
and doesn’t duplicate that in the fake.[[ If you want to research
some cool reliquaries, look up buddha statues and you should find
some interesting material. Some were made with hollow bases to hold
sacred items.]]

As far as having your character know something about the idol that is
not common knowledge, maybe his uncle helped create the idol in the
first place so there’s some kind of family knowledge / tradition /
family history that he’s passed down. A secret maker’s mark for
instance.

Is your forger trying to pass off the idol as real to people who
would know the difference between the fake/real? That’s when it’s
tough going with trying to pass off gold plated for say a solid gold
object. It would be easy for all most any authenticator or art
dealer to tell the difference. But it can still be worked into your
story, you just raise the bar to try to make it believable.

Also, as some have pointed out, gold is realllllly expensive. So
your forger would have to have some ulterior motive to try to pass
off a real gold “fake” statue for a real gold “real” one.

Hope this has given you a few ideas.
Good luck and let us know how your story goes.

Tracy
Tracy’s Treasures


#14

First of all there is no problem having a large ‘real gold’ fake -
I’ve seen many fake gold objects over the years some weighing many
many kilos - including a complete set of ‘Antique Russian’ gold
tableware (I mean candlesticks and plates etc, not just knives and
forks)

There are dozens of ways in which techniques can identify fakes,
running from analyses (such as cadmium in solders - patented in 1860s
and rare before c 1900) to casting, forming etc processes. If you
were dealing with a fake of a far older object then there are all
sorts of ‘clues’ - for example: filigree embellishments using drawn
wires (not pre circa 8th century - except possibly Korea, but that is
another story…), characteristic marks left by files, fine saws,
engraving tools and so on. Then, of course, there are the minute
changes to surface and internal structure resulting from age (don’t
want to be too specific about these) and finally the research in St
Petersburg into ageing gold by the gradual change in uranium:helium
ratios over time (very new, of uncertain potential, hellishly
expensive to do, but, hey, who knows.)

However if it is a fake of a 60 year old object then there are fewer
options. There are some modern alloy additions that might show it
up, but the most obvious thing for a solid gold statue might be
tell-tail signs of lost wax casting via a silicon rubber mold. This
is a bit borderline for 60 years ago, since the technique was
patented in 1933 (72 years ago), but it was very rarely used prior to
after World War 2 (ie dead on 60 years ago)- so depends where the
fake was made. It’s the best simple solution I can offer - a
specialist should spot the signs with just a hand lens (though it is
weird how many jewellers fail to spot these clues on supposed
’Victorian’ jewellery)

There will be more on all this stuff in due course as a
result of the research we are doing here in the London Gem Lab
(oldest established gem lab in the world) that has now extended its
remit to look at the other components of jewellery and decorative
objects and develop a clearer idea of the development of jewellery
materials and techniques.

Regards to all

Jack Ogden
(CEO Gemmological Association of GB)


#15

How about a stone cut with a contemporary geometry that the hero
recognizes.

James McMurray
@James_McMurray


#16
    plating as compared to real gold-24kt, even if your plating
gold is 22k it will show subtile differences in deposition. 

Good point, John;

Guess the solution would be to mercury guild the article. That
would give the right color, but the surface would need to be worked
down from the pebbly effect of process. Assuming it was an "ancient"
artifact, it would most likely have a burnished surface anyway.

David L. Huffman


#17
Actually, the figure could be more easily modeled in wax, then the
wax electroformed over with a heavy layer of copper. 

Hmmm, just thought of this. The telltale sign that the knowledgeable
detective observes that give this away as a fake is the slight bit
of fuzziness, like tiny beads, wherever there are sharp edges or
points (that plus the suspicious heft). This is caused by a
phenomenon of electroforming, that being that there is more
electrical activity in those areas hence a faster plating buildup.
The way to avoid this problem is to plate, then strip, then plate, in
a sort of 3 steps forward, 2 steps back strategy, but in this case,
the forger isn’t quite savvy enough to think of this.

David L. Huffman (read too many Dick Francis books myself)


#18

Actually, the figure could be more easily modeled in wax, then the
wax electroformed over with a heavy layer of copper. Then, burn out
the wax and fill the figure with lead to give it weight. Finally,
plate the entire thing in 24 karat. Pay me enough and I’ll make this
thing for you, and I won’t ask any questions either. :slight_smile:

David L. Huffman


#19
        Actually, the figure could be more easily modeled in wax,
then the wax electroformed over with a heavy layer of copper. Then,
burn out 

I recently heard that they’d discovered that some small Egyptian
statues previously thougnt to be solid gold had been made in a
similar way.

Janet Kofoed


#20
  The mellow yellow of pure gold is hard to reproduce as most high
carat  plating is not above 22k as you need alloys to keep the
plating from  rubbing of on the hands. 

So, Ringman, is this the answer to the problem Dante and I have
discussed (off list) about vermeil–that high-karat vermeil (even
22k) on clasps, earwires, etc., doesn’t seem to last?

Lisa Orlando
Aphrodite’s Ornaments