We’ve seen this word pop up everywhere. Electro-forming is the process of transferring metal deposits from an anode metal, through an electrolyte solution onto an electroconductive surface. Basically, you are building up metal onto a rigid, conductive surface.
The process involves high current usually produced with a rectifier, bus bars, anode, conductive paint, and electrolyte solution. This process opens the door for creativity in the arena of jewelry. Stones, organics, and fabrics can be combined to create unique pieces, each original.
We have a tank, (soon to be two as soon as I put it together) which is essentially just a plastic tub, designed to hold our pieces suspended in the solution. Our tank has two bus bars down the center where we attach our pieces to the negative current and two anode bars on either side; this is where the positive current goes.
Depending on the size of the piece or how many pieces are in the tank at any given time will determine how long the process will take. A slow build-up of metal yields the best results. Low voltage/amps and patience will ensure that your pieces are structurally sound. However, increasing the amps does create some interesting textures but can result in crumbling if done too quickly. Pieces must be checked periodically, adjusting and to keep the piece from attaching to the suspending hook. A small piece can take from 2-12 hours depending on the desired look, weight and feel.
Although there is a learning curve with this medium the results are stunning. You’re able to unleash your creativity making freeform designs that allow you to mix mediums. For us, it’s finding an acorn or beautiful feather. Seeing a rough stone that’s beautiful but doesn’t lend itself to traditional setting methods without expensive machinery to grind the stone.
The work in progress shown here will be a pendant at the end of the process. I’ve built the base, set my honeycombs, positioned a lovely, slightly polished amber stone and a premade bumblebee. The base and perch holding the bee are soldered; structural integrity. The base also has two-part epoxy, which is curing in this picture. Similarly, the antler on the left also a pendant taunted me for days before this design emerged.
The next step for both pieces will be to sand the epoxy, paint it with conductive paint and then place it in the tank. Due to the size of the piece and the complexity, I’m guessing it may take a couple of days of slow plating. I want to make sure that the copper gets into and covers the inside of the honeycomb and around the skulls on the other.
The one thing I must say about this process is that it is not instant gratification. For me, it takes time to design the pieces. Many times, I start and stop because the piece stops speaking to me. Other times, the stone or antler has a mind of its own and dictates the design. Either way, it takes time to build the piece as one component is dependent on the other.
Once the pieces come out of the tank, they're soaked in water with baking soda; this helps to neutralize the electrolyte solution. At this point, I decide to tumble, grind, patina and so on; like with any other piece.
Is it durable?
Yes, it is. The slower the plating the better coverage and strength. This process is different than electroplating. Electroplating deposits a thin layer onto an existing object. Electroforming creates a whole other object, with thicker coverage. You literally grow the copper; you control how thick you want it. I personally own one of the first rings I made about three years ago and I’m happy to report that it looks as if I made it yesterday.
Electroformed jewelry is quickly emerging as one of the new "must learns". I became fascinated years ago and over the years have developed my own style and personal preference. It's not for everyone, but if you love the unique, handmade scene then electroformed jewelry is the way to go. It’s organic, beautiful and strange…one-of-a-kind jewelry.