nancy shapiro home
ABOUT | CUTTLEBONE CASTING

Casting using cuttlebone - the backbone of the cuttlefish -as the mold material is a technique which has been in use for centuries. It is traditionally a method which gold and silversmiths use when other techniques are either slow or in some other way inadequate. Usually work cast in this manner is highly refined and the characteristic texture of the cuttlebone removed or avoided in the casting process. Contemporary craftsmen are experimenting with the aesthetic quality of the cuttlebone’s inherent texture to create embellished surfaces.

As a method for making jewelry, cuttlebone casting has a great deal in its favor. Its versatility has always been recognized by gold and silversmiths, and it is possible that this fact alone has assured the technique’s survival thus far. The technique is basically simple and there are no strict traditions besides those of practical necessity.
The beauty of the process lies in its simplicity and speed. First, two pieces of cuttlebone are flattened by rubbing them against each other or using sandpaper. Patterns can be created by carving directly into the bone, or by forming an impression with durable materials. Channels are carved for pouring the molten metal in and to allow air to escape. The two halves are then wired together and the molten metal poured in. A mold can only be used once.

Once familiar with cuttlebone and its idiosyncrasies, it proves to be rich in scope for creative development. Most molds are merely means to an end but this is not always the case with cuttlebone molds. The mold can almost be the end in itself as it is possible to conceive the design, carry it out directly into the mold and cast it; the casting is merely a transposition of what has gone before, tempered by the organic quality of the cuttlebone.
While working in a goldsmithing studio in Rome, we quickly poured molten gold scraps into the cuttlefish bone mold to produce sheet metal, which was then rolled into thinner sheets. In my current work, I retain the natural texture of the cuttlebone for its aesthetic quality.

Most jewelers buy clean cuttlebones through a bulk supplier. I have been lucky and have a friend living on what is locally called “Cuttlebone Beach” in Tasmania, the southern island state of Australia. After the annual cuttlefish die off the cuttlebones are washed a shore and gathered. The extraordinary size of the cuttlebone collected in this area allows me to design and cast a broad range of work.












(Click the NEXT button below to see the process)
processpage01nextpage