950 Palladium: A Seamless Operation for Bridal Products

  1. These wedding bands were created by Guertin Bros., a division of Nordt. They are seamless and made from 950 palladium extruded tubing that has been alloyed with ruthenium, another platinum group metal. The extrusion process forms pipes of metal with a fine-grain structure and increased Vickers hardness. For consumers this translates into longer wear over comparable palladium products that have been made using traditional lost wax casting methods.

  2. The pattern or design on each piece is deeply cut into the metal by computer-controlled lathes and cutting machines. Because of the varying factors of time, labor, and material for each of its designs, Guertin Bros. prices its product by the piece and not by weight.

  3. Melting the Metal and Pouring the Billet
    The process begins by melting small particles of 950 palladium at 3,000 F. The molten metal is then poured into a large cylindrical mass called an ingot or billet. Each billet weighs 175 troy ounces. Palladium absorbs oxygen when molten, so melting is done inside a sealed chamber of the machine featured in this image where the atmosphere is first vacuumed out and then back-filled with a cover gas prior to melting. Induction heating is used to melt the small particles of metal that are contained in a zirconium crucible. After melting, the metal is poured into a copper ingot mold and allowed to solidify in the chamber under protective cover gas.

  4. Machining and Core Drilling the Billet
    Next the billet is mounted on a computer-driven lathe, which drills a core and machines the outside to an ultrafine surface. This image shows a machined billet covered with a water-soluble lubricant.

  5. One of the drills featured in this image performs the core drilling. The size of the drill depends on the ultimate finger size of the wedding bands that will be made from the extruded tube.

  6. The Results
    This image provides examples of the featured process. Shown are freshly poured billets, machined billets that have been core drilled, and extruded tubing or pipe. The piece closest to the foreground is 950 platinum. The freshly poured platinum billet weighs well over 300 troy ounces. The billet in the background is 950 palladium
    and weighs 175 troy ounces. The billets are of exactly the same volume but the difference between the densities of the metals has the platinum weighing in at nearly twice as much as palladium. Note that the platinum example has a shiny finish while the palladium billet shows the bluish surface oxidation characteristic of palladium after heating. Both metals will have a lustrous finish after machining and drilling.

  7. Hot Extrusion
    Hot extrusion is the first step in the process of making seamless tubing from the billet. The billet is heated to a very high temperature and then placed on a platform just below the yellow and black diagonal lines with a central opening that holds the die below. The large multiton press above the diagonal lines is then started downward, forcing the heated billet into the extrusion die, which reduces its diameter, compresses the molecular structure, and elongates it from its original 10-inch length upwards to 4 or 5 feet. The ultimate length of the extruded tube depends on the final diameter.

  8. Cold Drawing the Billet
    With the tube extruded, it is then cold drawn. One end is slightly tapered so that it can be forced and pulled through the forming dies to achieve its specified dimensions. This extrusion process is done under significant pressure and condenses the molecular structure of the metal, making it harder with each pass through the series of dies that reduce its dimension. No annealing is done to palladium during this process.

  9. This cart is stocked with extruded and drawn palladium tubing of various inside and outside diameters. These pipes will be cut into specific widths to fill orders. The cutting is done on a computer-controlled lathe using polycrystalline diamond tooling and water-soluble lubricant.

  10. Forming Wedding Bands
    Each part produced by the Nordt companies requires a different series of machining strategies and finishing techniques. Here a five-axis mill shapes a palladium wedding band and engraves the intricate detail.

  11. The Nordt Factory
    Nordt’s array of specialized equipment is housed in a 35,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. The company follows ISO 9000 quality requirements and hopes to be certified within this internationally recognized system soon. Its computer-aided-manufacturing equipment can engrave patterns, cut bands to length, add texture, and apply a variety of detail. The area shown in this image houses approximately 25 workbenches where the manufacturing detail—such as stone setting, application of certain finishes, and laser joining—is done by hand.

  12. Leading the tour of the Nordt manufacturing facilities were [from left] Wayne Flippen, general manager; David Skuza, vice president of sales and marketing; and Paul Nordt, CEO. A large part of the tour was also conducted by Clark Hill, director of metal fabrication, who oversees much of the manufacturing process. Hill also works with Phil Weeks in the company’s metallurgical lab doing Vickers hardness testing and other analysis of product to ensure quality and consistency.