I'm in the second camp, but eventually want to also be in the first camp. With Lost Cast Waxing for example, equipment is expensive, so to get started requires a bit of capital. That being said I could carve a piece out of wax and send it out to a casting company, but I think I'd only consider that if I was going to start batch producing single pieces.
This ring was hand forged, and started out as a strip of sterling silver, bezel wire, and a homeless piece of green agate.
Before I go any further, I should explain what "hand forged" or "hand fabricating" means. As the phrases might suggest, it's a process that doesn't involve wax, casting or molds of any kind, but only tools such as saws, files, hammers, and torches.
Each piece of hand fabricated jewelry begins from a sheet of metal or wire, and an idea and/or sketch of what a finished piece may look like. Some artists melt their own metals into ingots and then draw them through plates or rollers to get wire or sheets, and others, such as myself, buy the raw materials through jewelry supply stores, such as Rio Grande out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The ring above started out as a 6" x 1" strip of sterling silver, which was then measured and cut, formed and soldered, in order to make a size 8 ring band.
If the design is a simple band, at this point a decision would be made as to any design elements to add, such as a hammered effect, or soldering small swirls, strips, or balls onto the band, or even adding flush set stones or small cabochons. Then the finishing process would begin.
In the case of the ring I created above, I wanted to use a green agate stone I had, as well as, create a bezel with a backplate larger than the stone itself.
First I had to solder the bezel - the piece that will eventually hold the stone, and then solder that onto the backplate - a lot of pleading happens at this point as you fervently hope to a) get the solder to flow; and b) to not melt the bezel. As a side note, most bezels are usually made using fine silver* instead of sterling as it's easier to form around the stone. This becomes vitally important when wrapping a tiny 3mm cabochon.
Once the bezel is soldered onto the backplate, time to recheck that the stone still fits. I use dental floss, so I can pull the stone back out. Next, I draw the shape and design I am intending. I wanted to keep the shape of the backplate close to the shape of the stone, so drew the line and sawed out the backplate. I stamped a design around the rim, and then soldered the backplate to the ring band.
The final step is finishing which involves sanding and polishing. I also decided to use guilder's paste in order to accentuate the stamped elements.
All in all, I am quite happy with how this ring turned out!
* There are two types of silver, fine silver and sterling silver.
Fine silver is .999 or 99% pure silver, and because it has no alloys in it such as copper, it won't tarnish or oxidize. It's also not as strong as sterling silver, so not a great choice for ring bands or bracelet cuffs which tend to take a beating.
Sterling silver is .925 or 92.5% pure silver, with the remainder being made up of an alloy such as copper, so when exposed to air, oxidizes causing the piece to tarnish. The alloy mix is what helps to make sterling silver strong.