What makes a lantern, a sconce or chandelier fine? Ultimately, what gives a fine fixture more value than lesser fixtures is a combination of style, design, materials, fabrication technique, detail complexity, and execution. So many of the antique style fixtures of exceptional quality are the result of an entire life’s work. In the third quarter of the last millennium, men defined themselves by their craft, and dedicated their entire life to it. A man’s last name indicated his craft: Goldsmith, Carpenter, Baker. Period Lighting by Stanley Wells references several individuals who contributed significantly to what we consider fine. While not everyone appreciates or wants to own the styles developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the foundation laid by Michelangelo, DaVinci, Palladio and others continues to influence artistic endeavor today. And the Medici family, who developed the concept of what we know as banking, personally funded the incredible artistic development that took place in Italy. They were a notorious family, scandalous at times, but are responsible for some of the greatest art that exists.
Many fine fixtures are made of cast brass or bronze. The two metals are very similar; brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, while bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. The process of casting can be of varying complexity, causing the fixtures to be more or less expensive. Brass that is formed by injection molding is done with machines that will produce the same part mechanically, without a lot of handwork. The detailing of the parts is pretty good, and they can be produced less labor intensively and less expensively.
Sand casting requires that a pattern be available so that sand molds can be hand made over and over again, into which the molten brass is poured to form the individual pieces required. This process is far more labor intensive, and requires a higher degree of skill and finesse. After the parts come from the molds, they must be refined to remove imperfections that developed in the casting process. Sand casting is a more expensive method for producing parts, but offers finer detailing.
Lost wax casting is the ultimate technique for producing brass or bronze parts. This is jewelry quality work. It offers far more flexibility in the shapes produced, with extraordinary detail. It is also the most expensive. For example, a wall sconce produced this way can sell for several thousand dollars.