The name Mokumé-Gané (mokumé) translates to “wood grain metal” and is representative of the patterns achieved in its creation. The finished product displays myriad layers of coloured metals rippling and flowing in various directions. The creation of mokumé requires repetitively annealing (heating to “soften the metal” making it more malleable), rolling, twisting and gouging the metal with burrs. Each piece is carved by hand using a drill to achieve unique patterns.
Mokumé was the creation of Denbei Shoami, a 17th century master Japanese metalsmith. This traditional process was often the adornment of choice for the exquisite Samurai swords of warriors. Mokumé is created using precious and non-ferrous metals such as platinum, gold, palladium and silver as well as copper, brass and other alloys. Upwards of 30 layers of different metals or alloys are stacked together, heated and forged to form one piece of metal displaying alternating colours. The mokumé artist will choose both the type of metal and number of layers to create a specific look.
Traditional mokumé was a very difficult process to succeed with as there was a fine line between fusing and melting the metal. Being too cautious may have prevented the metals from fusing properly, resulting in the metals splitting apart when being worked (delamination). Today’s contemporary means of creating mokumé makes use of hydraulic presses, kilns and rolling mills to specifically control the process. Despite these modern amenities, it is still unusually laborious and time-intensive and can result in the metals failing to fuse. The successful result is a stack of several layers of metal diffusion-bonded (not soldered) together such that they atomically function as one piece of metal.
Without a comprehensive understanding of metallurgy, the successful fusing of different metals would be impossible. I manufacture the Mokumé-Gané billets in my studio and then design my pieces of jewellery from this material.