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Brightcut.  A bright burnished metal surface from tooling, chasing or engraving to effect a highly reflective surface. Each piece must be polished, then separately tooled, often by a hand engraver with a special tool, thus it is not suitable for long production runs. Brightcut is formed by short repetitive strokes of the cutting tool and exhibits the tool marks, in fact the brightcut is the cumulative reflective texture of many tool marks.

            It is usually a small area compared to the item's total surface area – the contrast between the two surfaces is the effect being sought. A tooled surface that is not brightcut is called dull cut (which is not cut at all). Often used in jewelry making, brightcut is limited in the medallic field. An example is the Diocese of Fall River Mariam Award Medal which was centrifugally cast, polished, brightcut and mounted on a ribbon drape; it was made by a jewelry manufacturer.  See jewelry finish.

Brightcut History.  The procedure was developed by John Barton of England. He used it in the manufacture of buttons, where the finely engraved lines made somewhat of an iridescent finish. It was called variously Barton's button and grating. In optics the term grating means parallel lines etched or ruled on a polished surface for producing spectra by diffraction. As such up to 40,000 lines per inch have been so made.

Medallic art example.  Artist Harold Tovish wanted a modified brightcut surface as contrast to a polished central device and satin surface of a broad rim on his Meshed Faces Medal of 1965 in creating one of the first medallic objects. For his instructions to the foreman of the finishing department of Medallic Art Company, which had struck the medal, he wanted to see sample brightcut surfaces they could produce. Different chasing and engraving tools and techniques were used, but none to the satisfaction of the artist. Finally the foreman picked up a beer can opener (used before pulltop cans) with a sharp, hard, pointed tip. He applied this to the appropriate surface in somewhat circular freehand motion. This was exactly what the artist wanted.  See illustration.

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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