Lost Wax and the Art of Bronze

This vignette includes the Edo Bronze Lobster, which is made with the lost wax process.
This vignette includes the Edo Bronze Lobster, which is made with the lost wax process.

Because we have a number of offerings in our bronze product-line and some exciting new accessories being introduced in the next few months, all of which are created using the lost wax process technique, we asked our intrepid sourcing guru Jean-Charles Chappuis to share with us his knowledge about the artform, and boy did he deliver! 

The Beauty of Bronze

The Currey & Company Edo Bronze Lobster.
The Currey & Company Edo Bronze Lobster.

About the new accessories made with the lost wax process technique, Jean-Charles says, “These are a reinforcement of our bronze collection, created to resemble real antiques with a lost wax process technique. We will be introducing a horse that is a very decorative, Assyrian-style horse and should be the darling for our interior designers with its strong graphic line. The Bronze ladies we will bring to market are whimsical, whether they are dancing for us with the lightness of a butterfly or meditating.” 

The Currey & Company Lady Dreaming Bronze.
The Currey & Company Lady Dreaming Bronze.

The products we already offer that were created using a lost wax process include the Edo Bronze Lobster, the Lady Dreaming Bronze, Le Chat Bronze, our Jackfruit vases, and the Odalisque Bronze. To help you better appreciate all of our lost wax pieces, here’s an overview of this complex process that results in such artisanal pieces.

The Art of Lost Wax

A mould is covered with sand during the lost wax process technique from one of the factories where we source our bronze sculptures.
A mould is covered with sand during the lost wax process technique from one of the factories where we source our bronze sculptures. 

Lost Wax casting, or Cire Perdue in French, is the process by which a duplicate metal sculpture (often silver, gold, brass, or bronze) is cast from an original wax sculpture. It is an ancient technique belonging to the world patrimony of crafts, the oldest known example of the technique a 6,000-year old amulet from the Indus Valley Civilization. Other examples that date back to the third millennium B.C. have been found in Mesopotamia; and items found in the Cave of the Treasure hoard in southern Israel date to circa 3700 B.C., making them more than 5,700 years old! Lost-wax casting was wide-spread in Europe until the 18th century when a piece-moulding process became more predominant.

The Currey & Company Jackfruit Large Vase, created with the lost wax process.
The Currey & Company Jackfruit Large Vase, created with the lost wax process.

The steps to cast any bronze sculptures are fairly straightforward, though the process slightly varies from foundry to foundry today. Here is a digestible look at the many steps it takes to produce one of our bronze accessories:

First step: An artist or mould-maker creates an original model from wax, which is a soft material that can be carved to retain many details like hair, feathers, and even wrinkles in the skin. 

Another look at how a mould is covered with sand during the lost wax process technique from one of the factories where we source our bronze sculptures.
Another look at how a mould is covered with sand during the lost wax process technique from one of the factories where we source our bronze sculptures.

Second step: This original wax piece is “framed” within a sand structure that will create the exact negative sculpture of the wax model as sand goes deep into the sculpture’s fissures. This sand structure creates a rigid outer mould containing the softer inner wax mould, which is the exact negative of the original model.

Third step: The wax piece and its sand frame are again framed in a last mould that holds the wax sculpture and its negative sand mould. This last outer frame can be made from plaster, fiberglass, or any number of materials. In this last outer frame, a hole is left for the next step.

Molten bronze being poured into the mould, the result will be a finely crafted artisanal sculpture.
Molten bronze being poured into the mould, the result will be a finely crafted artisanal sculpture.

Forth Step: This is the step where the hole is important, as it provides access to the wax sculpture held by the strong sand counter mould. Into this hole, molten bronze is very carefully poured. The heat of the bronze makes the wax melt and the bronze replaces the wax in the shape of the mould. The bronze is prevented from expanding beyond the volume of the original wax sculpture by the sand counter-mould.

Fifth Step: Once the item cools down, our newly-born bronze sculpture is still embedded in its sand outer-mould, which must be broken to free the sculpture because the heat has solidified the sand particles, creating a strong stone shell.

The Currey & Company Le Chat Bronze.
The Currey & Company Le Chat Bronze.

Sixth Step: Our bronze sculpture is finally born, its exterior encrusted with melted sand. Now comes the very long process of cleaning and polishing the bronze, freeing it from anything that had become attached during the process so it will have a refined and smooth texture.

An Appreciation for Artistry

We were inspired to share this explanation with you so that every time you hold a bronze piece created using the lost wax process in your hands, you’ll know how painstakingly it was born. We still find it remarkable that a hand-made wax sculpture produced by an artist takes such a fine attentiveness and we’ve witnessed it many times!

The Currey & Company Odalisque Bronze, created with the lost wax process.
The Currey & Company Odalisque Bronze, created with the lost wax process.

It’s also important to remember that some of our pieces require as many moulds as they have parts. For instance, our Bronze lobster needed more than 10 moulds to create its intricate exterior, while our cat required only one mould. With some of our pieces, the bronze is polished to look gold, and some are treated to a long process that results in the exterior having dark bronze or dark green hues. As we said, this is art: the art of bronze!