A decade ago, the idea of being able to print anything other than a flat sheet of paper seemed ridiculous. Today, we are able to print all kinds of 3D objects including solid gold jewelry.
The jewelry industry is being transformed by CAD, an acronym for computer aided design that allows jewelers to make sketches using computer programs rather than by hand. The sketch can then be fed into 3D printing machines that use lasers to build 3D models of the jewel. These highly accurate and to scale models are then be cast in precious metals.
A Jeremie Brunet ring.
It’s about reaching a higher level of perfection. CAD also allows a customer to print out a design in wax, allowing a customer to view the piece and make any necessary alterations before casting it, thereby achieving an even better final piece.
The next stage of this technology cuts out the middle steps of wax models and casting to print directly in precious metals, which is now possible thanks to direct metal laser sintering machines. The lasers deliver precise zaps of heat to powdered gold, solidifying it, layer by layer, until the finished jewel appears.
Jo Hayes Ward uses 3D printing to create the cubes that make up her jewelry. Photo courtesy of the Jewellery Editor.
While the printing of solid gold jewelry – silver and platinum powders are set to follow soon – is not yet widely used, it does open up the possibilities of jewelry design. While each piece still needs to be finished by hand, it is reassuring to know that the goldsmith is yet to be replaced by a laser-wielding robot.
Sapphire and diamond ring by American Pearl.
I recently recreated a customer’s antique family ring using a CAD design. The old mounting was beyond repair and the new model is exactly (only a little better looking) than the original. Truly amazing.