Making Mokume

Mokume gane is the art of fusing layers of precious metals to form a single piece with unique markings. Creating mokume has always been difficult. Even now, in the modern era, most billets (working blocks) are formed by hand. At Michael Daniels Collection, we have developed unique materials and combinations of heat, pressure, forging, and carving to produce our patterns. Combining 18k gold and our special alloys results in our distinctive jewelry. These techniques give us crisp, clear layers and provide fine control of color balance. They also increase workability and durability, preventing delamination or melting during the process of crafting jewelry.

The magic of mokume gane is that it transforms the beautiful precious metals typically used for jewelry, enhancing them to create a stunning material that transcends the ordinary.

The process begins with bonding sheets of different types of metal together into a billet. Our mokume is produced using a process of solid-state diffusion bonding, which means the metals become one without losing their individual character. This is achieved with heat and pressure in a controlled environment, resulting in the metals being fused where they touch on a molecular level. There is no solder or melting involved. This is one of the features that makes our mokume stable and durable and our patterns clear and refined.

After the billet is bonded, forging and patterning begin. It is cut into sections, then rolled, carved, heated and cooled, over and over, with focused attention to detail at each step, resulting in the different layers being revealed and molded into the desired appearance. Our patterns are produced by hand, with skills honed over many years, so they are consistent in character, yet as individual in nature as all hand-made pieces of art.

After the exacting process of patterning is complete, the material is ready to be formed into jewelry. Working mokume into wearable art requires another set of unique skills, with special consideration for the characteristics of precious metal mokume.

ALLOYS

We developed special, proprietary alloys for our mokume to enhance the beauty of 18k gold while improving upon some of the materials traditionally used to create these kinds of patterns. Our special alloys bring the quality of enduring beauty to the characteristic contrasting layers of mokume.

Dark and Light Contrasts

The drama and distinctiveness inherent in mokume gane lies in the layering of different colors of metals. As the primary material in our designs, Michael Daniels Collection uses four colors of gold in varying patterns – 18k red, yellow, green, and palladium white. Each pattern has a dominant note supported and enhanced by the other colors.

Simply using different colors of gold produces a subtle mokume with less contrast. However, Michael Daniels Collection mokume is known for bold patterns, achieved by strong dark and light accents in addition to the 18k gold layers.

For dark accents, the traditional Japanese goldsmiths who developed mokume gane in the Seventeenth Century used lustrous mixtures of gold or silver with copper. Shakudo is copper and gold. Shibuichi is copper and silver. Their white layers were silver. Their most popular designs, in fact, were made of just fine silver and fine copper.

Those traditional copper alloys, beautiful as they are, do not work optimally in all modern mokume gane, particularly when it rests on human skin. Skin chemistry has different effects on metals that change them over time. Pure copper and some alloys high in copper tarnish easily and leave a green residue on the skin when worn for any length of time. In addition, skin chemistry can cause copper to etch (erode or become pitted). Both copper and pure silver are quite soft and susceptible to damage from abrasion and impact. They also have a lower melting point than other precious metals, which can complicate the bonding and working process.

To offset such issues, we developed our own contrast alloys, incorporating increased amounts of gold, silver, and other precious metals. This results in a stable material that solves the problems mentioned above and is suitable for jewelry worn in direct, daily contact with skin.

The Dark Layers

In our designs, we honor the masters of the past and achieve the level of contrast that makes traditional mokume so compelling, while using modern knowledge and technique to ensure the durability and stability of our materials. In this pursuit, we developed a new alloy we named Kurium, which provides the following:

longevity, strength, no discoloration, even with products that touch the skin
proper color: rich, dark contrasts in layers large enough to add a bold touch
good bonding and rolling capabilities
We use several blends of Kurium, depending on which pattern and design we are producing. This gives us the fine control we need in our mokume gane. This material does not suffer from the problems that make the ancient alloys of shakudo and shibuichi unsuitable for mokume jewelry worn in constant contact with skin. Kurium withstands the test of time and wear. Many individuals have been wearing our rings that include Kurium blends for well over ten years, all day, every day. These rings remain strong and retain their unique beauty.

Bright White

Seeking the beauty of fine silver but with greater durability, we developed a white alloy that includes both silver and gold. Fine silver is the whitest of all precious metals and resists tarnishing, but it’s also extremely soft and difficult to bond. We named our new white alloy SnowGold, a proprietary blend that has fine silver’s virtues, yet with the characteristics to work well in all our designs.

By using our own blends of dark and light alloys, we achieve longevity and workability in our wide range of pattern types, and maintain the accents that make Michael Daniels Collection mokume gane so distinctive.