James Binnion Metal Arts
mokume-gane
The Mokume-Gane Story

In Japan, from the late 1600’s to the mid 1800’s, the samurai sword transitioned from being a tool for fighting battles into a symbol of the warrior class. The quality and amount of decoration on the sword handle and sheath became an indicator of ones social status and wealth. The level of craftsmanship demonstrated in many of these sword furnishings is second to none. The sword smiths developed a wide array of techniques for use in the decoration of these swords. The traditional technique of mokume gane (mokume = wood grain and gane = metal) was one such technique.

Denbei Shoami, a 17th century master metalsmith from the Akita prefecture is credited with inventing mokume and using it for the admornment of samurai swords. Using the mokume gane technique the smith would create laminated metal billets that were fused by heat and pressure. The billets composed of various metal combinations, were forged, carved and finished to produce uniquely patterned metal stock; this stock was then used to fabricate parts for the samurai sword.

Mokume gane as traditionally practiced, was a very difficult process to learn; this was partly due to the difficultly of successfully fusing the metals and partly due to the skill required to forge the laminated billet down to useable material without separating the layers. 

In May 2002 Jim presented a paper about Mokume Gane to the Santa Fe Symposium, an international conference on jewelry manufacturing technology. View a copy of this paper:

Old Process, New Technology: Modern Mokume Gane (PDF file 212K).



After extensive research on this ancient technique, Jim developed his own modern method for making mokume gane using currently available equipment and materials. He has pioneered the use of the electric kiln for the lamination of mokume.  The lamination process involves clamping many layers (most often between 10-30 layers) of selected metals such as platinum, golds, palladium, silver and/or iron, between steel blocks and heating the resulting stack in a kiln. With carefully controlled conditions the combination of heat, pressure, and protective atmosphere allow the layers to fuse but not melt. The resulting fused stack of metal, called a billet, is then forged and rolled to reduce its thickness. The unique patterns are created by hand carving down through the layers in the laminated stack and then forging the carved laminate to flatten it out. The process of carving and rolling is repeated many times to create the finished pattern. The patterns formed in this manner are almost like a topographic map, showing the depth of the carving into the original laminate.

This mokume material becomes the wedding bands, wedding rings, engagement rings, commitment rings and jewelry you find on this site.


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