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Repousse technique for decorative objects, jewelry, silverware, and ormolu

Repousse is a technique used mostly by jewelers and silversmiths, primarily making jewelry and silverware. Tea pots and tea services, coffee pots, vases, metal plates and decorative chargers, pendants, buckles, bangles, and other decorative objects have for centuries been made using the repousse technique. A craftsman working in repousse stamps a design into a soft metal, like gold, silver, or copper from the back of the work piece. The craftsman uses a variety of tool shapes and sizes, and special hammers. The workpiece is embedded in a hard wax to facilitate efficient energy transfer of the hammer blows to the metal. After the repousse design is imparted to the work, the front side may be chased or engraved to enhance the design.

An example of the technique is shown below. The project required replacing missing trim from a coffee table below, shown after the work. This technique requires working from the backside, with the front embedded in wax. Hammering too hard will ruin the piece, and not hard enough and it has to be repeated. The craftsman must have a good feel for the metal and of his own skills with the hammer, to work effectively.


The restored brass plated copper trim is shown intact here, without the marble top.


Various legs of the repousse trim were broken off and lost over the years.


First the missing pattern is sketched out onto copper of similar gauge as the original repousse.


Work piece heated to embed into hard wax for support


The pattern is more precisely drawn onto the workpiece.


Work pattern engraved delineating edges of work, and main lines.


Repousee tools                     The repousse hammered pattern roughed out

The pattern has been hammered out, in reverse. It takes considerable experience to know what is on the opposite side. The craftsman must work blind, not seeing the depth and texture of the work until he is almost done.


The workpiece has been heated and removed from the wax, and cleaned. This shows the faces of the pieces that were concealed in the wax.


Further refinement will be needed of the face. To chase for front side, support is needed, so again, hard wax is melted into the back of the piece.


Chasing of the front side is complete. The quarters shows the scale and precision of the work.


The new repousse leg soldered to the original piece remaining.