In many ways, making jewellery was a fairly basic operation for many centuries. Goldsmiths needed a furnace for melting gold and silver (later a gas flame), hammers, tongs, saws, files, scissors and chisels, anvils, filing blocks, drawplates for wire making, containers of various acids, lathes, moulds, metal stamps, solder equipment. It was all very time intensive with very little technology. Gradually, that began to change. An early invention was the rolling mill. Leonardo da Vinci designed a rolling mill in 1496 but whether his design was developed further is not clear. Rolling mills allow a goldsmith to flatten metals into sheets. They can also be used to make metal wire and can be used to imprint a pattern on a sheet of metal. Initially, rolling mills were used in mints and in some parts in the iron industry and were not used in jewellery making until to second half of the 18th century (Ogden, 5-6).
The rolling mill, which began to be referred to in jewellery books around about 1763, had an impact for Georgian jewelers as it saved them time when creating repousse jewellery. Jewellers needed to start off with a metal sheet which was so time consuming and which was made easier with the rolling mills.
In 1769, John Pickering, a London toymaker, obtained a patent for a ‘new method of performing that kind of work called chasing, for gold, silver, brass, tin and other metals’ (quote on p 37 of Bury). This was an early version of a die stamping machine. Die stamping or machine-stamping creates a three dimensional form from a flat sheet. Two dies are created, one being convex and the other concave. The flat sheet is placed in the machine and a hammer presses the two dies together, creating the hollow shape.
Pickering used the method for producing fittings for coaches, coffins and so on. Richard Ford, later in 1769, adapted the process for household goods like saucepans, and then, a few years later in 1777, others used it to produce items like cloak and hat pins. Other uses of the stamping press were devised over the following few years, eventually leading to its use for costume and valuable jewellery in the 19th century in particular. It gave a boost to the development of the Birmingham jewellery industry.
J Wolters, ‘Written Sources on the History of Goldsmithing Techniques from the Beginnings to the end of the 12th Century’, (2008) 11 Jewellery Studies 1.
Anon, ‘Technology’, http://web.ceu.hu/medstud/manual/SRM/technology.htm
Anon, ‘Guide to 18th Century Jewelry History’, https://workingtheflame.com/18th-century-jewelry-history/
Shirley Bury, ‘Jewellery: 1789-1910, vol 1’, 1991, Antique Collector’s Club