Champlevé vs. Cloisonné:
Throughout my website, I make repeated references to Champlevé badges. The vast majority of automobile
manufacturers that used vitreous enameled badges on the radiators of their automobiles in the early twentieth century,
actually used Champlevé badges; not ‘Cloisonné’ badges as so many people mistakenly refer to them.
Cloisonné is a process of (typically) bending (flat) wires, and placing them above the surface of a background plane
(generally a flat sheet of copper or fine silver); then packing the glass between the wire ‘separators’ and firing it.
Using a swimming pool for an analogy, a ‘cloisonné’ swimming pool would be an above-the-ground (generally
considered) ‘temporary’ swimming pool, and the water therein would be the equivalent of the vitreous enamel—above the
Champlevé is (generally) striking a copper blank like a large coin, simultaneously striking recessed cavities, or ‘cells’
below the surface of the blank into which the glass is packed and fired.
A ‘champlevé’ swimming pool would be an in-ground, ‘permanent’ pool, and the water would be the equivalent of the
vitreous enamel—below the ground plane.
Plating Champlevé Badges:
Generally the last step in manufacturing a champlevé badge is to plate it. Although there were some badges that were
gold plated, most were plated a silver color. According to Steve Conner (the past owner of Christensen Plating Works in
L.A.), nickel plating was predominantly used until roughly 1928, when an almost universal and immediate move to chrome
started on exterior parts. Interior parts however, continued being plated with nickel (for most manufacturers) with a gradual
transition to exclusively chrome by the early 1930s.
Plating occurs several steps after the vitreous enamel has been fused to the metal in the depths of the color cells; and
that is why when the glass breaks out of a cell, the metal looks like copper—it is copper. Or when the glass is cracked,
oxygen seeps its way down to the copper and oxidizes the copper to a dark color under the surrounding glass.
Production of One Part:
Most consumers know that the first part will generally cost considerably more than the subsequent identical parts
made in a small production run. If you’re interested in economizing, please consider ordering multiples to amortize the cost
of producing the one part you need, then sell your extras to other individuals in need of the same part.
It is always beneficial to find an original part, or a part of an original part (no matter how long it takes to find) as a visual
resource during a restoration, repair or reproduction. This will allow me to incorporate the subtle nuances that can make
your finished part or object look most authentic or like an original.
Lost-Wax Casting Process:
A brief explanation: If an object is to be reproduced, it must first be molded, and then cut from the mold. The mold will
now have a negative 3-D image ‘chamber’ of what you want made (however, this mold is not capable of having molten
metal injected into it). Instead, the mold is injected with wax. Once solidified, the wax ‘positive model’ of the object to be
cast is removed from the mold (and it is at this time that this wax model can be modified or altered as per the client's
parameters). Then another ‘mold’ is made with the wax model (the material for this mold, called investment, is similar to
plaster of Paris, except that it can withstand the temperature of molten metal). However, the wax model is ‘trapped’ inside
the investment mold. The mold (called a flask) is put into a kiln and fired to the temperature that first melts out the majority
of wax (hence ‘lost-wax’), then as the kiln gets hotter, it burns out the rest of the wax residue to the atmosphere. Now the
flask has a negative 3-D image ‘chamber’ of the object again, and now molten metal is centrifugally forced into the mold
(hence 'centrifugal casting'), and retained until solidified. Once the flask of investment has been fired, it dissolves in water
readily, and the casting can be retrieved.
Lost-Wax Casting Associated Shrinkage:
Generally, parts reproduced through the lost-wax casting process will shrink about three to six percent for every
generation removed from the part that was originally molded. If it is anticipated that the reproduced casting will shrink so
that the distance between two pertinent points (like two posts) will be shortened, or the casting otherwise shrinks to a less
than acceptable constraint, then some form of compensatory alteration may be necessary to the original part in advance of
the molding for reproduction.
The most predictable part of shrinkage occurs as result of the wax first solidifying in its mold, and again when the metal
solidifies in its flask. The least predictable part of ‘shrinkage’ will occur during finishing and polishing. Though finishing and
polishing is not technically 'shrinkage,' it will entail removal of varying amounts of surface material necessary to create the
desired, finished appearance.
'Cleaning Up' a Raw Casting:
As stated above, the least predictable part of ‘shrinkage’ comes from the less than scientific process of finishing and
polishing the surface of a raw casting. The raw casting will have a surface appearance like fine sandpaper, and will likely
have some slight (and frequently hidden) cavitations that can vary in depth right beneath the surface. Removing the sandy
texture requires a little surface removal. But removing suddenly exposed cavitations requires more finesse and experience
or one might inadvertently remove adjacent, pertinent details like ‘stamped’ digits or other surface patterning.