IT’S A WELL-KNOWN FACT THAT WE LIVE IN A WORLD NOW WHERE TECHNOLOGY RULES AND BRANDS THAT UTILISE NEW AND MODERN METHODS FOR MANUFACTURING JEWELLERY ARE GOING FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH. BUT WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR TRADITIONAL TECHNIQUES? WILL THE NEW ENTIRELY REPLACE THE OLD AND IS THE TRADE RUNNING THE RISK OF TIME HONOURED TRADITIONS FALLING BY THE WAYSIDE IN PLACE OF CAD, CAM AND, EVEN MORE RECENTLY, LASER SINTERING? JESSICA KNOWLES CONSULTS INDUSTRY EXPERTS ON THE CHANGING TRADE.
rofessional Jeweller discusses these tech advancements with Goldsmiths’ Centre director, Peter Taylor, bespoke designer, Simon Wright, Weston Beamor head of CAD/CAM, Ed Hole and Gemvision UK Distributor, Graham Dicks about the importance of balance in upholding existing methods while allowing technology to save time and money for both designers and consumers. Wright says that, to use CAD software, it’s not enough to just be savvy with the technology, understanding the end product materials is fundamental ‘if you
don’t get your hands dirty figuring out how metals behave and wear over time, or how gem settings react to stress application you can waste a lot of time on CAD designing something that just won’t work. It’s this that gives the software a bad name in the industry ‘quite a few people who use CAD software are doing so because they think it’s a quick and easy route into being a jewellery designer, but without the technical knowledge of the materials being used, it’s more like a quick route to getting it wrong’ continues Wright.
This is a sentiment echoed by Taylor, ‘I think it’s very hard to design jewellery unless you understand how jewellery is made. A lot of the best jewellery designers who use CAD in their work are the ones who are bench trained as opposed to those who’ve only ever used CAD. Taylor truly practises what he preaches when it comes to the training programs at The Goldsmith’s Centre, ‘we don’t introduce those on the foundation course to CAD/ CAM until very late in the course because, we believe, the first thing they need to learn is how to put jewellery together by hand
before being introduced to any computer aided methods.
ather than being a case of “out with the old, in with the new”, the best way for jewellers to embrace any new technology presented to them is to combine the cutting edge with customary to achieve the best results. Graduates who visit the Goldsmiths’ Centre for training, those who already have the technical knowledge of making jewellery, can decide to what level they want to incorporate CAD/CAM into their work, ‘some of our graduates are very keen to use the software, where as others don’t feel a need to use it at all, preferring to only make things by hand’ says Taylor. However, he clarifies that this is more to do with the students level of access to the technology after their course has commenced, rather than any aversion to the method itself ‘you can draw a beautiful design on CAD software, but if you haven’t got access to an RP machine, then you can’t do anything with it, where as if you’ve got a hammer a saw and a bit of wire- you can make jewellery in your garden shed!’ Instead of being viewed as a threat to timehonoured skills, technological advancements should be seen by jewellers as ‘another tool in the workbench’; a phrase used by Taylor and echoed by Wright, who refers to his computer aids as ‘very expensive hammers’. Taylor feels ‘they add another string to the industry’s bow’, but cautions that the technology has, so far, been developed in an attempt to replace bench skills; however, the most exciting work will come when jewellers fully embrace the creative potential of intertwining their existing skills with the software ‘We see it here at the Goldsmiths Centre, where those that don’t have that attitude [to shortcut traditional skills] and who see it as another tool really produce some fantastic results. Rapid prototyping is now a reasonably established method of production for a number of companies and bespoke designers, but the most recent technology introduced to the jewellery industry is laser sintering. It’s method that uses powdered precious metals combined with heat and lasers to fuse designs into pieces in a new method of casting jewellery. Despite being ahead of the curve in the 3D printing game, Wright says he’s unlikely to make a move into using laser sintering ‘it’s somewhat unfeasible for small, independent designers or companies because it’s just so expensive’ adding a justification for why the process is not a popular as once predicted, ‘I can make back the start up costs of buying a 3D printer with 25 diamond engagement rings, which is not many in the grand scheme of things, but the cost of sintering machines and materials are out of this world, I think that’s why it’s yet to take off, only big brands can afford it’. But for casting companies like Weston Beamor, sintering represents a much more real threat ‘we’re initially quite wary of laser sintering technology because that could,
potentially, take over the current casting methods’ says Hole, and also attributes the high costs of sintering as a hindrance to the technology being adopted by the industry. Although sintering works to the finishing stage of manufacture, this finish is rough at best and still requires the piece being brought to the bench. The real draw of sintering is the ability to make pieces that would not be possible in any other way, such as chain mail or intricate, experimental pieces. It’s because of this that it represents less of a threat to traditional skills, additionally, unless the high costs of the precious metal powder required for sintering reduce drastically, the casting industry is certainly safe for at least for the next 10 years. 3D printing and CAD design have been hailed as being quicker than traditional hand making but Wright argues that ‘efficient’ is a better description ‘it’s not quicker, printing itself can take four to five hours and that’s before it’s been cast and finished, but I could hand make a piece in two’, ‘with the printers, I can have a design printing while another is off being cast and I’m doing the CAD design for eight more pieces in that time, if I was making it by hand that’s all I’d be able to do and I wouldn’t get half the amount of work finished that I can using technology. This sentiment is echoed by Gemvision UK distributor, Graham Dicks. Gemvision are the creators of Matrix software, created over 20 years ago by jeweller, Jeff High who was looking to improve his bespoke service by offering clients the chance to see a three dimensional version of their
design. Dicks feels that it’s this application of the software which has brought so much success to the trade, ‘Bespoke designs have always been an interpretation, a design program that allows a photo quality image in advance of committing to production with the associated costs ensures the end product is exactly what the designer intended. Add to this the ability to then have a design, created in CAD to be 3D printed ready for casting has really made an encouraging difference to production. Both Taylor and Hole feel that there is still much more to gain from CAD before any new technologies can be introduced ‘It’s still in its infancy; it’s come a long way in the past 6-7 years and now most universities and colleges are teaching CAD I think more people are going to get into it and start pushing it’ says Hole, ‘It’s still a relatively new technology and we’re only beginning to see what it can do’ continues Taylor. In terms of traditional skills then; replacement doesn’t seem to be on the horizon anytime soon, especially not for fine and bespoke jewellery. The level of quality required to warrant the higher selling price of fine jewellery is currently achieved by skilled setters and finishers, although Hole cautions that these skills need to continued to be honed through education ‘it’s up to companies like us [Weston Beamor], Holts [Academy] and centres like the Goldsmiths’ Centre to ensure that new talent in the finishing sector is constantly being brought along’.
roviding new developments don’t aim to replace these skills, the traditional methods will invariably be upheld by the industry, not simply because of a respect for them, but because bench methods continue to produce the best results. Equally, this represents a lack of demand from both trade and consumers. The term ‘hand-made’ has altered in line with these updates in technology, it no longer means a complete lack of mechanical input, but rather that the detailed elements of making a piece are performed by a dedicated gold or silversmith. Consumers would rather have a piece of jewellery
that is precise and long lasting over one with the potential complications that occur through simple human error, a fact that Wright has discovered time and again ‘most consumers don’t care that something hasn’t been hand-made from the start, they just want the design they have in their head for a reasonable price, and it’s almost impossible to tell either way. He makes a fair point; ironically, it’sthe imperfections that signal that a piece has been entirely crafted by hand, 3D printing is precise, making it less time consuming for meticulous bench jewellers to finish pieces.
o, whilst CAD/CAM software and rapid prototyping have become established tools in the jewellery industry, new technological methods need to seek to enhance bench skills in the same way. Developments in sintering technology encourage jewellers to think way outside of the box for design possibilities and push the boundaries of what can be achieved with more advanced tech. Equally, increased hybridity between the customary and cutting edge could present a whole host of exciting possibilities to the trade.