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3D Printing: A Jeweller’s best friend


Consumers loyalty to the desire for luxury is timeless and the jewellery industry is amping up this eternal craving with tailored pieces suited to one’s specific sense of style and preference. In this regard, 3D printing presents as the silver bullet, easing the transition of the industry from analogue to digital and now post-digital. As with additive manufacturing, jewellery meets both luxury and sustainability with an added pearl of customization. The statuesque of 3D printing among artisans, designers, manufacturers and the fashion industry as a whole is owing to its very many advantageous traits.

First and foremost being the freedom of design enabled by 3D CAD and 3D printing that allows for mass customization without dependence on order quantity. With uniqueness, intricate attention to detail and shorter processing time, 3D printing is elevating jewellery manufacturing towards personalization of the highest quality. Traditional processes demanded expert hands with know-how on various disciplines such as mould-making, fabrication, casting, electroplating, stone cutting, engraving, smithing and polishing. The scarcity of such expertise has immensely accelerated the adoption of 3D printing in the jewellery business. Moreover, 3D printers possess the ability to produce large batches of jewellery pieces at one go, ultimately shortening the manufacturing process and providing inventory less retail. More important is the capacity to readily test and prototype various designs which is a game-changer. As it provides the end-consumer with realistic renderings. The quality can be verified in prior and allows for any changes to be carried out without laborious rebuild of physical models. Simply, the reduction of turnaround time and involvement of the customer in the designing process are key drivers towards the 3D printing rush.

Where???? It is being applied

In terms of assisting creation, facilitating efficiency, enhancing designer’s productivity, improved and better communication of design ideas and shortened production time CAD/CAM applications are becoming a no-brainer for the jewellery industry. To keep up with growing demands of unusual geometries, computational design principles are resorted to with extensive utilization of 3D printing technologies. The workflow of conventional and computational methods has been outlined (Fig 1).

Fig 1.

Mastermold for mold making

With traditional mass-manufacturing methods, the challenge lies in longer lead-times and costs associated with manufacturing of tools such as moulds. However, using 3D printing to produce customised moulds overcomes such limitations for manufacturers. Firstly, a 3D modelling program is used to create a digital version of the jewellery for instance a ring (Fig 2). The output which is a high-resolution .stl file is then sent to the 3D printer to produce a wax pattern of the ring for investment casting. The wax pattern is then covered in a heat-resistant material, such as plaster, and placed into an oven wherein the wax burns out, leaving behind the hardened plaster mould. Later, the jewellery pieces are cast with metals such as gold or silver to create the final product. 3D printing in this way complements the traditional jewellery making process while saving time and effort associated with hand carving models. Thereby, highly intricate custom jewellery pieces are made with added value of preserving the design and scope for modification; that would hardly be achieved with conventional technologies.

Fig 2.

Innovative family of geometries

In order to create unusual geometries for the jewellery industry whilst also exhibiting a capacity to generate a complete family of geometries that can satisfy even the most demanding customer, 3D printing reflects as a standalone choice. As the technology takes no more time, energy, or material to manufacture a complex shape and zero tooling means printing a variety of designs with no added production costs. To construct complex models with interlocking or internal undercuts and voids were unachievable with traditional methods. Whereas, 3D printing not only allows production of complicated geometry but also offers impressive results in a limited time period.

Fig 3.

Moreover, there are CAD based editing platforms wherein a scanned geometry can be reworked for personalization. Fig 3 illustrates the 3D scanned consumer’s arm with varied versions of the bracelet generated using design algorithms. Further, the characteristic of the proposed methodology is that the used algorithm can enlarge the designs without altering the size of the elementary structural elements as well. The computational design tool thus offers the possibility of executing alternative designs for the same customer’s geometrical data thereby providing perfect fitting and personalization.

Design unimagined freedom

For art and fashion industry, design and creativity are the sum and substance and 3D printing allows designers to experiment their out-of-the-box designs without drawing a line on their creativity. Additive manufacturing has matured over the past decade and possesses the capability to produce complex functional consumer products without the use of tooling. From a design perspective, 3D technology offers designers the freedom to create and print things that were otherwise very difficult to produce using traditional techniques. Any concept can be interpreted and translated to one’s fashion statement. For instance, a piece of a wooden sculpture (Fig 4) being converted into a wearable piece of jewellery such as a bracelet. Such production of conceptual and functional prototypes is now possible for almost anyone.

Fig 4.

Recreation and inspiration

The parallel of 3D scanning with 3D printing brings forth a new paradigm to the art world, in that artists and students can reproduce the work of past masters and create exact replicas of ancient (and more recent) sculptures for closer study. Presently, there are numerous artists that have now carved a name for themselves by working specifically with 3D modelling, 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies like Joshua Harker, Jessica Rosenkrantz at Nervous System, Pia Hinze, Lionel Dean and many others. Additionally, taking inspiration from nature 3D models can be generated to print jewellery as well (Fig 5).

Fig 5.

What???? To keep in mind

There exists direct as well as indirect additive manufacturing methods. Direct metal AM processes, selectively melt the metal powder bed using an energy source, such as a laser or electron beam, and fabricate the metal parts directly. Namely, Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and Electron Beam Melting (EBM) are direct metal 3D printing technologies useful to jewellery manufacturing. On the other hand, indirect 3D printing (Stereolithography (SLA), Binder/Material Jetting, Digital Light Processing (DLP)) does not yield final parts directly. Here, the master patterns are produced which are then used for investment casting for final products or to produce the moulds for casting. Indirect 3D printing has the advantage of producing parts at a competitive pricing, especially at a larger production quantity and is widely preferred by the jewellery industry. As the direct method requires extremely high investment for the system and metal powder used; with added distortion of products be