The Jade Warrior
As part of my Masters of Creative Enterprise in gemstone carving I was looking for a major project to construct, and while searching the Internet, I came across a Ruby and gold plate model of the Greer Black Dragster constructed by South American artist, Loius Alberto. The Dragster impressed me so much that I knew I wanted to attempt something similar. After some further research I discovered that Revell Inc had recently produced a kit model 1/8th scale version of the Greer Black Dragster and that Loius’ model was based on this. Being a fan of Carl Faberge’s miniature models inside the famous Easter Eggs, the idea of constructing a gemstone and precious metal model of a vehicle was cemented. This was to be the first model I had constructed since a couple of Airfix planes in the 60’s.
During my research I could find only one other gem encrusted model vehicle which was the Hot Wheels 40th Anniversary production number 4,000,000,000 (yes, the four-billionth car produced by the factory). The Hot Wheels car was cast white gold with over 2,000 diamonds and sold for $60,000 in 2010, while Loius’ Greer Black Dragster recently fetched around $146,000.
I wanted an iconic vehicle and the 1932 Ford kept coming to mind. It’s one of the most popular vehicles for hot-rodding mainly because of its simplicity and elegance in design. The 1932 Ford appears a number of times in Hot Rod magazine’s list of the 100 most influential hot rods (Hot Rod Magazine website 2009), and according to Mecums Auctioneers the most iconic of all hot rods was the 1932 Ford McMullin Deuce Roadster, owned and constructed by Tom McMullen (listed number 8 by Hot Rod Magazine). The Deuce Roadster earned its reputation through extensive publicity, featuring in all major Hot-rod magazines, television advertising, film, album covers, TV shows including ‘Life of Riley’ and ‘Lassie’ and won many show and race events.
While this particular version of the 1932 Ford does not appear to be available in an appropriate model kit form there are a number other similar models and versions. The model I have chosen to use as a basis for construction is the 1/8 scale 1932 Ford ‘Big Tub’ by Revell Inc which was available just down the road from me at Andy Douglas’ Scale Automobilia. My intention now was to re-construct the model with Jade and metal, and decorate it with gemstones, while keeping in mind contemporary hot-rod building aesthetics and Japanese vehicle decoration. I named it immediately and later discovered the Jade Warrior were a particular order of ancient Japanese Samurai highly versed in art, poetry and music. It all seemed appropriate as I’ve also been a musician my whole life.
To get started the first thing was too measure up and construct the frames for the vehicle. For the frames I used stock brass bar 12mm x 3mm and 2mm square brass wire. The frame shape was rather complex for the simple stock so each frame rail required 12 individual pieces of brass to be cut, shaped and silver soldered. The three cross member and front radiator support section were also quite complex and involved numerous smaller pieces to be cut and soldered. Some of these brass pieces were quite large and heavy and soaked up a lot of heat from the propane torch. It took me some time to find the best size torch to give enough heat but I had to be quite careful at the same time because it was mostly small thinner pieces to be soldered to the large brass bar and thus very easy to overheat and melt a small piece of brass. After about a month of perseverance I had all six frame pieces completed and bolted together.
The next task I wanted to tackle was the radiator cowling carved out of Jade. I used a dark Guatamalan Jadeite for the cowling and Mahogany Obsidian at the back of the cowling which is the part where water pours into the radiator itself. The cowling was a fairly difficult shape to replicate and would consume too much stone if carved out of one piece, so I opted for joining four smaller pieces together to carve into the final shape. Jade is an extremely hard and tough stone which can only be cut with diamond tools and a lot of patience.
Next I started work on the front end and for this I used Sterling Silver bar for the leaf springs and various size tube for the shock absorbers and other running gear. The rear suspension was also constructed of the same materials although at a later date. There was a lot of detailed soldering involved but the trickiest piece was the front axle which was oval in cross-section, curved in plan with axle housings and other attachments at right angles. After several attempts I was able to forge a copper pipe to the correct shape
All the suspension (and everything else) is bolted together using model railroad size micro-bolts, and too add some bling I set tiny Cubic Zirconia gemstones into each bolt head. The bolt heads however were between 1.4 and 2.5 mm in size so I needed some serious magnification for the job. Out came the stereo microscope and sub-millimetre metal carving burrs too perform surgery on the bolt heads. As gluing highly polished gemstones to anything is virtually impossible and never used in jewellery manufacturing, I carved out each bolt head to create six prongs to bend over and hold the tiny stone inside the bolt head. At twenty power magnification at least I could see what I was doing and after doing more than 60 bolts I managed to get the time down from an hour each one to about 15 minutes each. The stones, although very small, add a great highlight to the bolts.
It was now time to start figuring out how to construct the various engine parts, including peripherals attaching to the engine such as carburettors, manifold, heads, rocker covers, starter motor, generator etc. Also at this stage is the gearbox, diff, rear axle and wheels. The way I did this was to make silicone molds of the smaller parts which were then injected with wax to form the wax replicas ready for casting. The larger parts like the engine casing/gearbox, tail-shaft/differential and rear axle were too big to make wax models with my gear so I crossed my fingers and sent them directly for casting. There was only one chance for these because if the casting didn’t work the part would be destroyed in the furnace with probably no replacement available but, fortunately they were returned reasonably accurate detail intact. All in all about 60 parts were sent for casting in silicone bronze.
Once returned from casting each piece required considerable clean-up, not just removing the casting sprues but full sanding all over starting from very coarse grades through to 2000 grade carborundum papers finishing with polish. Every metal part required this amount of sanding and polishing because they were to be electroplated later and the plating will not alter the surface finish. If it’s a matt finish then the gold plate will also look matt. I wanted a high gloss finish so that’s why I spent around two months just sanding and polishing all the metal pieces.
After polishing next was to start assembling the engine parts which again required further alterations and re-polishing to get a nice snug fit. The bottom end of the engine and the attached gearbox, the tail-shaft/differential and the rear axle were all soldered as separate combinations so I would have some wiggle room later when assembling them to the frame. All the other engine add-ons were bolted to the engine, sometimes using a hidden bolting method. It was important to keep each piece separate because of the electro-plating required access to every nook and cranny in order to achieve a good coat. Also as there were so many pieces requiring adjustment it would have made the task impossible to complete if I simply soldered everything together and by bolting I could also spread some bling around including the black diamonds in the bolts of the differential cover plate.
For the air filters I used rough aquamarine gemstone and faceted the sides and carved the curves. While I was at this stage I also carved the emerald skull for the gearstick and set some opals into the oil filler pipe and steering wheel. I wanted to enamel the white walls of the tyres but as brass cannot be enamelled my only option was to paint the white walls, firstly with undercoat followed by white enamel then clear gloss enamel. Once this was finished I could do the test assembly of the wheels.
Once I had the whole engine, front end, rear end, wheels and everything else all assembled and bolted together nicely it was then time to start electroplating. After a three hour dismantling job I started by applying the copper flash coat followed by the nickel base coat then the 18k gold plate finishing with an anti-tarnish plate. This was the fiddliest part of the whole construction as the parts were tiny and had to be held and turned while constantly moving and working the electrode into the crevices. Gloves and wires everywhere made the job frustrating to say the least. Regular deconstruction and reconstruction of the vehicle also became time consuming and fiddly but not as bad as plating.
The cabin was next, which I had originally intended to carve from a block of Peruvian Jade but after measuring the Jade it wasn’t big enough. I wasted a lot of the Jade by slabbing it only to find that there still wouldn’t be enough to do the whole cabin in Jade. I settled on making the cabin from sheet copper using the cut Jade for the firewall, side panels and cabochons in the rear. I set the Jade pieces in place then bolted the front cowling, two sides and rear pieces together by making seams of micro-bolts. The copper panels were heat treated for the reds and golds then a patina of copper sulfates, sodium and acid was applied to get a green patina. The patina though was very flaky and could not be touched so I sprayed a clear enamel over it but unfortunately the wetness of the spray lost a lot of the green patina.
Some final jobs were approaching now including the design for the radiator grill which I’d been pondering for a long time. The radiator is set with coloured Sapphires inside a Yin Yang pattern and designed to look like two fireballs spinning around each other. The idea was that there was the energy of a volcano hiding behind the fireballs and this energy is manifested with the spring perch melting out of the radiator to form a hand carrying a large garnet. The rear of the radiator has a mirror set to allow more light into an otherwise dark area and to reflect the gem studded harmonic balancer bolt. For the headlights I used big 17mm cubic zirconia with carved gold sheen obsidian backings held together by gold vermeil bands screwed to the headlight posts.
Finally the interior. I initially considered constructing the interior from copper covered with leather. However by this stage of the project a year had elapsed and I needed an end in sight so I covered the original plastic model interior with leather, velvet and gold trim. The dashboard was cut from a slab of Jasper and the instrument gauge panel was enamelled white with silver trim and blue cubic zirconia set into the bolts. I used the Revell kit transfers for the gauges with a clear cold enamel over the top.
After a final clean of a year of work grime I was ready to build the cabinet to protect from dust then move on to the next project. All in all the Jade Warrior took some 1600 hours between May 2013 and July 2014 and in the course of its evolution I discovered and learned an enormous amount of new techniques in lapidary, jewellery and model construction.