Skeletonfish Jewelry

FSF Staff February 16, 2011

Have you ever wondered what goes into producing the tackle and accessories we use today? Avid anglers and boaters often take for granted the tremendous effort required to design and manufacture the countless components that enhance our on the water experiences. Skilled craftsmen build many of these essential items right here in Florida. We wanted to learn more about these professionals and more about the products they specialize in, and we’re confident that you, too, will be fascinated with what we discover in our ongoing investigation.

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Photo: Steve Dougherty

Whether you’re a novice angler or seasoned salt, sport fishing has the uncanny ability to keep you coming back for more. Once you’ve been bitten by the bug, it’s hard to think of anything else besides wetting a line. Whether it’s a pair of embroidered flip-flops, framed nautical art or a fishy necktie for that Friday afternoon meeting, it’s safe to say that the fishing and boating lifestyle extends way beyond the dock.

Whether it’s a pair of embroidered flip-flops, framed nautical art or a fishy necktie for that Friday afternoon meeting, it’s safe to say that the fishing and boating lifestyle extends way beyond the dock.

Perhaps the highest level of fishing style exudes from lifelike fish replications made into wearable art in the form of pendants, earrings, necklaces and rings. With over 50-years experience designing and producing high-quality jewelry, the professionals at Mark Edwards are clearly on top of their game with no end in sight. In fact, with over 8,000 styles to choose from in a wide range of sea inspired collections, Mark Edwards is highly regarded as the leader in nautical and marine themed jewelry production. Their high-tech manufacturing facility is located in Boca Raton, FL, and is equipped with state-of-the-art jewelry making tools and machines, as well as a team of extremely talented jewelers.

Their newest offerings consist of a unique collection of jewelry in the form of highly detailed fish skeletons. While there are many ways to produce jewelry, investment casting, or lost wax casting, is one of the oldest metal forming techniques and results in a product with superior quality, accuracy and integrity. This historically rich process was thought to have derived from the first century AD and it is still widely used in today’s jewelry production.

Creating Skeletonfish jewelry is no easy task and the extremely in-depth process starts with selecting the desired species and researching its intricate bone structure. The bone structure is then transformed and designed on a CAD file to produce a 3D image (Image 1). What you see is what you get, so the designer must be absolutely precise in the details. While the pieces are indeed biologically accurate, each species requires a personal touch to make the pendant not only visually appealing, but functional. From start to finish it takes the computer designer numerous hours to create the unique design. The CAD file is then exported to a layering program that digitally slices the design into minute layers. On average, a Skeletonfish pendant is made up of approximately 2,000 layers.

The layered file is then transferred to a hi-resolution prototype developer machine (Image 2). With a final product that ensures exacting tolerances, this 3D printer uses a photopolymer-based printing method to create highly detailed skeletal patterns by scanning UV laser over the liquid resin to cure it, one layer at a time (Image 3). The layering process takes approximately 10-hours and only 4 or 5 individual pieces can be “grown” at once. Unlike typical casting, this process requires a new model for each finished product, which results in a product of higher quality when compared to 2nd , 3rd, and 4th generation castings which lose detail over time. In addition, the intricate skeletal patterns would be impossible to create without constructing numerous pieces and assembling them at a later date.

When the resin models are finished they are cleaned and any imperfections are removed so they now resemble the finished piece (Image 4). The models are then placed on a wax gate so they are easier to work with (Image 5).

It is now time for the investment casting. The casting model is mounted to a base (Image 6) and placed in a metal casting frame (Image 7) where successive layers of liquid plaster are applied until a ceramic shell is created. The unit is then placed in a kiln for approximately 20-hours and cooked at 1,400°F (Image 8). The particular resins utilized require a slow burn, which is the reason for the long cook time. After this process the original model will have melted down into a cavity at the bottom of the plaster and all that’s left will be the ceramic casting. Hence the need for an original model for every single pendant and the name “lost wax” casting.

The metal casting frame is then placed in a heat induction melting furnace where the jewelry will start to take shape (Image 9). Whether 14k gold, 18k gold or sterling silver is selected, the molten metal is heated to nearly 3,000°F and vacuum drawn through the mold. The vacuum process ensures no bubbles and that the metal material will hit every pore. The mold is allowed to cool and then the plaster is broken away. All that’s left is the reproduction of the fine details of the skeleton fish (Image 10). The metal castings are then thoroughly inspected to determine if they meet or exceed quality standards.

Remember the wax gate that was added to the base of the model? This must be removed (Images 11 & 12) and from here the pendant is placed in a tumbler to add small texture while also polishing the coarse finish (Image 13). The pendant is starting to come alive with the next step in the process being rhodium electroplating. This finish provides a surface that will resist scratches and tarnish, while giving a white, reflective appearance with depth and shadows. The piece is almost completed but first must be hand polished on a wheel (Image 14).

Attention to detail and exacting quality make each piece a distinctive, sought after jewelry masterpiece. Wearable art for passionate anglers, be sure to take a look at skeletonfish.com and check out their expanding line of species from the around the globe.

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