The jewelry described above is called “die struck” jewelry. It is considered one of the finest ways to produce high quality and unique jewelry. Because it is a labor intensive process and requires special equipment, it has become less common and consequently more treasured. Many of the dies used in die struck jewelry are over 100 years old! “Casting” jewelry took over in the 80s and is how most commercial jewelry is made today.
Here is a little bit of history about some of the dies we use. The actual images of many of these were made during the industrial revolution that happened in the late 1800s. First, the original artist carved a design. Next, a “hub” is made – this is the reverse of the artists’ rendering, it sticks out. That hub is then used to make the female die. Sinking is the term used for pressing, driving or ‘hobbing’ of dies. You take the hub and force it into a block of steel using a drop hammer, a power press, a massive hydraulic press, or even a sledge hammer. The resulting steel female die is the tool used to form the final piece of metal. The die would go into the jewelry factory and stampings were made from it. The hub went into a vault where it sat forever or until the die broke (at that point they can use the hub to make another die). This hub was the intellectual property of a company and the cost thousands of dollars to make.
Hubs are mainly only used in coining now. Jewelry dies are seldom made anymore today.
One of the companies that we source these dies from, Potter USA, has been collecting hubs from around the world. Working off these original master hubs is problematic as they are very old and the steel was not good. They break easily they were not designed to be sunk more than a couple of times. Therefore, Potter USA uses the original to make a single massive high strength ‘tool steel die’. They then use that ‘tool steel die’ to create a ‘working hub’. The working hub below of the lady in the photo took over a week to make. They then, in turn, use the working hub to make the jewelry dies that I use.
The reason Potter USA is able to collect all of these hubs is because of a massive technology shift and a shift in domestic manufacturing to factories in Asia. Hubs and dies fell victim to casting and offshore manufacturing. Potter USA is trying to save what they can as these giants of the industry collapse. The companies that produced these tools have been in decline for decades, many in business over 100 years, have huge archives of hubs, and are selling off their inventory at auctions. The only people coming to these auctions are scrap buyers. This same story is playing out around the world as the last of these companies are closing. We are thankful Potter USA is working so hard to preserve this lost art and are thrilled to be a part of sharing it with you!
There you have it! If you have made it this far you now have a little background into what we are doing and I hope you can appreciate the history and the preservation of the art of die striking!