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Cire perdue (French), literally, lost wax. A process of casting metal originally used in casting bronze ware, but later for much gold jewelry.
Its use was primarily for articles of intricate design in the round that could not readily be made by shaping the metal by chiselling, hammering or ordinary methods of casting. The technique for a solid object involved carving a model in wax, then encasing (‘investing’) it in a clay, plaster or steattle mould, and applying heat to cause the wax to melt and run out of a hole (sprue) in the mould, after which the mould was filled under pressure with molten gold or silver (or, later, glass).
In the modern technique the mould, before having the molten gold poured into it, is placed in a vacuum to force the metal into the entire space. For making a hollow object, it was necessary to insert a core inside the mould, leaving a thin surrounding space of wax, with the core held in position by small pegs (called ‘chaplets’).
The Egyptians used the method in ancient times in the 15th/14th centuries BC. It was extensively used in Columbia (especially in Quimbaya jewelry) and in Peruvian jewelry, c. 500-1500, and in West Africa in Ashtanti jewelry of the 18th/19th centuries. Articles of Anglo-Saxon jewelry were also made by this method.
It is sometimes called the ‘lost wax process’, and a modern mass production method is called centrifugal casting (or ‘investment casting’). As the mould must be broken to retrieve the object, only one reproduction can be made from each wax model and from each mould.