How It’s Made
Ever geek out on those “how-it’s-made” kinda shows? Me too! Have you ever wondered how a near exact replica of an object is recreated in sterling silver? If you answered ‘yes’ again, keep reading to see how these beautiful sterling silver succulents are made.
By using an ancient process called Lost Wax Casting, or Investment Casting, plants are transformed into sterling silver. When casting succulents, the process begins with the actual plant itself.
Did you know succulents will propagate from individual leaves?
Pretty cool, right? you can pluck the leaves from clippings, or from the parent plant. Either way will work.
Place clippings and leaves, with the cut end facing up, on a dish filled with fast-draining soil. And then place the dish in direct sunlight for about 3 days, or until you see callouses form over the ends. Once this happens, use a spray bottle to moisten the soil, but not soak it. You should repeat this step whenever the soil is dry, roughly every 4-5 days. Six or seven weeks after starting the propagation process, the baby succulents will be ready to sprue and cast.
What the heck is a sprue?
Great question. The first step in casting is to sprue up whatever it is you’re casting, in this case, the succulents. Essentially, a sprue is like a stem, made of wax. Each succulent is attached to the sprue by heating and melting bits of wax.
Once all of the succulents are securely attached (you don’t want anything moving or fall off), a flask is carefully placed over the entire sprue tree. It’s important that the succulents don’t touch or come too close to the sides of the flask. Next, water is mixed with a powdered substance called investment, and poured into the flask. The investment contains silica, which is toxic to inhale, thus the stylish dust mask.
The investment needs to dry completely before moving on to the next step. This takes about 2-hours. Once dry, the flask is placed into the kiln for the burnout. Depending on the size of the flask, and number of pieces being cast, the burnout can take anywhere from 3-12 hours. During the burnout process the kiln will get up to 1350-degrees.
What exactly is a “burnout”? Essentially, every piece attached to the sprue, including the succulents and all of the wax, will melt, creating cavities where the molten metal will flow.
Playing with fire!
Here comes the really fun part. Using a torch with a giant flame, the sterling silver is melted in a crucible, until it transforms from solid metal to liquid. Once the metal is completely melted, and the brightest silver you’ve ever seen, it’s GO time! Take a deep breath (and say a little prayer to the “casting gods”) and pour the molten silver into the flask sitting on a special vacuum machine. If all of the previous steps have been done correctly, the molten silver will flow and fill all of the cavities entirely.
The flask is then quenched in water to dissolve and knock loose all of the investment, and a final check of the pieces is done to be sure the silver flowed into all of the cavities completely, with no holes or gaps.
Designing with the handmade sterling silver succulents
Next, each tiny sterling silver succulent is cut off of the sprue (which is now silver, and not wax), and the metal gets some cleaning and light finishing. And finally, they’re ready to use! The possibilities are endless. I’ll use each sterling silver succulent to create beautiful rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.
Special thanks to @silversmithnursery for allowing me to use a few of her process photos