Hand engraving of jewelry is a very skilled technique used to carve precious metal, creating lettering or intricate designs of decorative jewelry art. These techniques have existed since the times of ancient Egypt, and were refined in the 15th century by German goldsmiths.
A hand engraver is a highly skilled artisan who uses a small wooden-handled steel tool (known as a burin or graver) to carve or "cut" into the surface of the metal, cutting to various depths to achieve the desired design. This hand-carved quality catches the light in a unique manner. The fine lines or cuts are used like a graphic artist might use pen and ink to make fine lines or calligraphy on paper. A skilled hand engraver can do a variety of patterns and images on any surface of a piece of precious metal.
Tools and Techniques of a skilled hand engraver
Hand engraving happens in a studio environment., similar to a jeweler’s studio but specialized for the engraving process. On a bench top the engraver usually holds the piece to be engraved in an engraver’s block, which is a heavy steel ball that has a clamp to hold the work in place. This gives the engraver a movable, but solid grip on a smaller piece and frees both hands for working.
The engraver then marks his design in pencil or ink and uses a steel tool to carve lines and shapes into the surface of the metal object he is working on.
Meet Richard, one of the last practitioners of traditional Hand Engraving Techniques for Fine Jewelry
Almost all jewelry engravers today use a power-assisted tool for their "hand" engraving. Our engraver is old-school, engraving since 1970 using similar tools to those used in the 1500s. He is one of the last practitioners of the great hand engraving tradition.
What can be hand engraved? It’s not just for jewelry...
Anything metal can be engraved. Hand engravers can work on fine jewelry made in different metals as well as guns and trophies. Many famous sporting competitions have grand trophies that are hand engraved with emblems and the people's names who won the competition. The Stanley Cup and the Indy 500 Trophy are just two examples of hand-engraving. They are amazing works of craftsmanship.
Here is Richard hand engraving the name of a recent winner on the Indy 500 Trophy as he did for over 35 years.
Let’s take a closer look at our specialty, hand engraving for custom jewelry design!
Hand engraving on fine jewelry can be on the outside surface or in the case of a ring or bracelet on the inside surface. Inside ring inscriptions are wonderful personalizations that can date a ring to its original owner, sometimes decades earlier. It's wonderful to read an old set of initials or dates that belong to an ancestor who passed the ring on. It's a great connection and tradition.
Beautiful Textures and Patterns
There is such beauty in well-crafted hand engraving. There is no other way to achieve the same appearance in fine jewelry. Hand engraving adds texture to the metal that glistens and shimmers in the light, revealing the patterns used to create the design.
Hand engraving has a sublime quality. Each established master of hand engraving has a personality to their work. After years of practice and concentration, each engraver’s work has a voice that is uniquely their own, like an artist's signature brush stroke. This uniqueness adds character to each piece produced.
With new technology and the desire to reduce expenses, by reducing skilled labor, other types of engraving have been invented. Laser engraving is sometimes used in jewelry creation, but it has none of the character of hand engraving. Simple (mechanical style) Machine engraving is also used in jewelry creation, especially for inside ring lettering engraving. It serves a purpose, but has a printed look unlike the handwritten calligraphy look of true hand engraving. Sometimes in lower-end jewelry hand engraving is simulated by making textures in models before casting them in metal, thereby saving the time to do it in actual metal. This is an inexpensive, poor imitation of true hand engraving and laks the subtle texture needed to give hand engraving it’s telltale appearance.
A Time-honored Tradition
Hand engraving is both a craft and an art form. It takes many years to master, and there are very few master engravers working today. Like watchmakers or any other endangered trade, there is real danger of losing this skill to history. Hopefully, the appreciation of this art will endure and give value to craftsmen ( and women) who continue this craft.
Bespoke, Hand Engraved Jewelry Designs
Learn more about our custom jewelry design process, custom engagement ring design, and see some of our most recent work.
Work with us to Design Your Own Engagement Ring or Bespoke Jewelry
We specialize in making custom engagement rings and bespoke jewelry using raw materials or by using your own heirloom to restyle. Whether you have a style in mind or need a bit of guidance, our designers take you through the process step by step and create one of a kind pieces that last a lifetime.
Christopher and his staff always bring a smile to my face. The jewelry they create is beautifully unique. There is something for every occasion and budget. Christopher and his staff are incredibly lovely people. They are all good listeners and there is never any pressure. They make each customer feel as if they are the most important person in the world. Whether you are looking for something new or wish to repurpose or redesign a piece this is the best place I can think of. —Betty L.