MAKING A 2-KILO MIAMI CUBAN LINK CHAIN
This is a video about the largest gold chain we’ve EVER made! During the video, we will demonstrate the process behind the making of a yellow gold Cuban link chain that weighs approximately 2 kilograms (around 4.4 pounds). The final chain is valued at over $100,000 and takes over 12 hours of continuous labor to complete.
Calculating How Much Gold is Needed
The initial step involves determining the amount of pure gold (24K) required in pennyweights, where 1 pennyweight is equivalent to 1.55517 grams. The chain in this video is 14 Karats in quality, which means that the resulting alloy will consist of 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metals.
Since the desired chain color is yellow, an alloy of copper, zinc, and silver will be added to the actual gold. Even though the composition of yellow gold can vary depending on the manufacturer, Cu, Zn, and Ag are the metals most commonly used to make this color of gold jewelry. 14K is also the most popular karatage for jewelry manufactured in the United States.
Given how BIG this chain really is, we decided to split and work the gold in two batches (see image below).
Mixing in pure (24K) gold and other metals to make 14K gold
The total starting weight is about 2,220 pennyweights, equivalent to around 3,450 grams of 14K gold. This is about $115,000 in just gold alone (the price of gold was around $57 a gram when we recorded this video).
Remember that the final weight of the chain is supposed to be 2-kilos, which puts our mixture almost 1500 grams above what we actually need. This is because Miami Cuban link chains have a traditionally flat look, so this excess gold will need to be filed down before the chain is finished.
Melting the Gold Alloy to Form Two Bars
In this next section, we’re going to melt each batch of gold down in a ceramic crucible that can withstand temperatures up to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, 550 degrees higher than the melting point for gold.
In order to purify the gold mixture and facilitate melting, borax is added to the crucible. The melting process is conducted utilizing a combination of natural gas and oxygen (see image below).
Melting the gold and alloy in a ceramic crucible
Once the first batch of gold alloy is liquified, it is then poured into a cast iron ingot to create the first bar. The same process is repeated for the second batch of gold to make the second 14-karat bar (see image below).
The two 14K gold bars used to make the chain
The composition of the bars is verified using a Niton XL2 X-ray analyzer, a device commonly used to define the metal composition of jewelry. The reading on the Niton XL2 indicates that gold (Au) makes up approximately 59% of the bar's composition, which is higher than the standard 58.3% gold purity for 14K gold (see image below).
X-ray scanner percentage breakdown of gold and other metals
Stretching the Gold Bars
The next phase involves the stretching of the gold bars to form rounded wires of the correct diameter necessary to make the 2-kg chain.
The rolling mill is essential in this stage of the process. Each bar is passed through the mill multiple times, elongating and thinning it until the desired diameter is achieved (see image below).
Stretching gold bar on the rolling mill
You’ll also notice that the gold is repeatedly heated and cooled during this section (and in other parts of the video). This is a process known as annealing, which reduces the hardness of the metal and makes it more pliable and easier to work with (see image below).
Annealing the gold to make it easier to mold
A drawplate machine is then utilized to pull each wire through and round it off. The wires are passed through the drawplate multiple times until the desired roundness is achieved (see image below).
Using a drawplate machine to round off the gold wire
Making the Gold Links from a Coil
During this next step, a significant amount of manual labor is required. While smaller Cuban link chains can be made by winding the gold wire onto a copper bar with an electric drill to form a coil, for a chain of this size, two people must manually use four sets of locking pliers to wind the wire.
Coiling gold wire around a copper rod by hand
Using a bench lathe, the two resulting coils are cut straight through in order to separate the individual links that will be intertwined to make the Cuban link chain.
Cutting the coil to separate the links
You’ll notice that the links are cleaned by immersing them in a hot sodium bisulfate acid solution (a process you’ll see repeated throughout the video). This is a common method to clean the surface of gold jewelry during manufacturing.
Soldering the Gold Links
The individual links are then pried open and daisy-chained together. Gold solder is then used to fuse the links one by one.
Care must be taken to ensure that the correct amount of heat is applied to the joints during the soldering process, as too much heat will cause the gold to melt and ruin the link, while too little will leave gaps in the chain.
Soldering the links with gold solder
The soldering process continues until we are left with a rough version of the chain, which is then annealed and cleaned in the acid.
Rough version of the chain after welding
Twisting the Chain to Align the Links
This section of the process involves an industrial twisting machine that exerts torque gradually on both ends of the chain so that the links are aligned on the same plane. Smaller sized chains frequently snap during this stage. When they do, the process has to be stopped and the broken links repaired and welded back together.
Aligning the links with an industrial twisting machine
After the twisting machine completes its job, the chain may still require minor adjustments to align the links even further. These adjustments are applied by hand with a wrench.
The final adjustments are made by passing the chain a few times through a rolling mill. At this stage of the process, the Cuban link chain measures around 28 inches in length and weighs about 2700 grams (excluding some extra links that were set aside earlier just in case the chain would get damaged and the links would need to be replaced).
Filing the Chain
The filing process (necessary to give the chain a flat look) is a crucial step in the manufacturing of Cuban links. A successful filing requires skill and attention to detail in order to achieve the highest level of symmetry and beauty possible in the finished product.
To prepare the chain for filing, it is secured to a wooden board using Shellac resin. The board is then secured in a vise and the tedious task of flattening the links through filing begins. Three progressively less coarse files are used to complete the task. The gold shavings and dust generated during this process are collected and used to make other jeweler.
Flattening the gold chain through filing
After filing, the chain is finally sanded using both 220 and 320-grit sandpaper to achieve the smoothest finish possible. The entire process is repeated on both sides of the chain.
Using sandpaper to smoothen the chain even more
Polishing and Cleaning the Chain
The polishing stage begins with a touch-up inspection and pre-polishing using a rotary tool. It continues with the buffing of the entire surface on a bench lathe. Buffing is a time-consuming process, but an essential step nevertheless to create an attractive and high-quality chain.
Using a rotary tool to polish the chain
The chain is then immersed in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaning bath. Steam cleaning is then used to finalize the cleaning process.
Making a Branded Clasp for the Chain
The most common clasp for a Cuban link chain is a box clasp (the one we typically use in our designs), but given the importance of this project for our company, we decided to do things a little differently. Our very own Charlie came up with a new clasp design that included our company logo on the lid of the clasp.
In order to cast the clasp, we turned to master jeweler Gaston Rives (whose amazing ring making designs have been featured on some of our viral YouTube videos). Gaston casts the clasp from a 14K yellow gold/alloy mixture in order to match the color and quality of the chain.
Melting the gold alloy to cast the clasp
The molten gold is first poured into a plaster mold that contains a wax replica of the different parts of the clasp. The hot gold inside the plaster melts and replaces the wax. Then, as the gold cools and the plaster is washed away, the casted gold pieces remain.
The gold pieces that make up the clasp
After preparing and pre-polishing the main parts of the clasp, the gold pin that secures the clasp lid in place and allows it to swing open and close is made. The process is similar to the one we used near the beginning of the video with the two gold bars, but since the pin requires a much smaller wire, we use a smaller rolling mill and drawplate to complete the task.
In order to jazz up the overall design of the clasp, we added two rows of small diamonds along the edge of the clasp. We felt that it would add just the right finishing touch to such a massive gold chain.
Adding rows of tiny diamonds to the clasp
After a few finishing touches and a light polish, our clasp and chain are complete.
The finished chain and clasp with our CRM logo
Dimensions of the Final Chain
Mr. CRM wearing the finished 2-kilo chain
Here are the final dimensions of our 2-kilo Cuban link chain:
- Weight: 2086 grams
- Length: 28.5 inches
- Width: 33 mm
- Thickness: 12 mm
To order the highest quality gold Cuban link possible, click here.