The Future Arrived Last Week

We are at a potential major turning point inside the fine jewelry showcase. Certain facts have come together in a way to offer a fundamental leap in what fine jewelry can look like. This is due to a consumer driven desire for ever more color, variety, customization meeting up with newer manufacturing technologies. Major retailers are advertising colors that very few could work with like “black” and “chocolate”. Purple and blue golds are long infamous .These are gold mixed with iron, or aluminum or indium, or who knows what else.

Despite a few fancy color gold patents, why are we not seeing purple, blue and black gold in every store for decades already?

This question just begs a technical answer but lets leave that for the technical articles. Really, the primary problem is a brittle structure necessarily comes along with that beautiful color. The other big issue is a hyper sensitivity to air when molten or even heated much. Like when we use a torch for sizing or assembly. This is called an intermetallic alloy.

Two technologies are now in common use that put the more exotic colors within reach. Electric furnaces and casting machines that have a controlled atmosphere chamber are available and affordable. This gives us a better chance when using exotic color karated precious metals and existing alloys in advanced ways. The manufacturing path to these exotic gold alloys requires a near perfect lack of oxygen in the casting chamber when melted. Now those atmosphere controllable machines cost less than a new Chevrolet. Ditto for a new laser.

While intermetallic alloys have brilliant colors to die for, their limitations are still severe. You will not see pave setting in purple or black gold anytime soon. You might see more purple pendants than ever before. In more designs than ever. In more sales reports than ever. In your shop perhaps?

Once we have these shapes cast and polished we usually need to attach something to them. Or vice versa. Intermetallics do not solder at all well. In fact they just get wrecked by oxidation. So, our second critical recent technology is the argon or any neutral gas laser welding machine.

A laser can have atmosphere control via that argon, so we now have a better chance at assembling these exotics than ever. The latest laser models can be so well tuned and adjusted that all the laser heat goes on target at exactly the right curve or energy. That means more difficult metals than ever will weld securely..

The early pioneers of purple overcame all the challenges we now have solved with a capitol purchase of moderate size. If you can say SEIT or Yasui or whatever brand you are in business. Look at some older Spectrum Design Award winners from the 1990’s to see for yourself. And then understand just who pulled this trick off early on.

An example from current manufacturing-We do have a “semi-exotic’ alloy on the market right now that is depending on controlled atmosphere technologies. Most of us have read of 950 palladium, and might even be aware that the best way to cast palladium is in an advanced technology machine. The best of these can spin cast metals in a vacuum or in a neutral atmosphere like nitrogen or argon. If we were all lacking the electronic technology the new palladiums would not be practical. Just read the blog palladium-experience.blogspot.com for the details.

Since palladium is so well served by electric heat, and so disturbed or damaged by a casting torch flame we see the natural fit between newer technologies and more exotic or difficult alloys. The convergence of the machines, the pd alloy work, white gold issues, and of course platinum’s astronomical market price all came together to put 950palladium on the market. This despite its more exotic nature. Lets just take the natural next step!

The established fact is that the growth in the US jewelry market at least for now is centered on custom designs. Designer jewelry lines strongly favor these technologies. Custom means a run of one piece. “Big Name” designer? That is usually short achievable runs of each exotic colored gold style.

Then look at what the fashion trends are saying-Rose gold, chocolate gold, and then there is the whole general fall design season for clothing approaching fast. An old saying was “the pioneers get the arrows, the settlers get the farms.” Well, thanks to the exotic gold pioneers of a decade or two ago, you and I can go see about those farms….

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By Daniel Ballard ©2007