Back in the Fifties, Marilyn Monroe might have gone for a more materialistic sentiment when she sang “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” but as the doors open up to a new generation of designers, in particular, women, the famous line attracts a whole new meaning for manufacturing.
Digitising design is changing the way designers think about the products they create. This is particularly evident in the jewellery industry where it’s out with old traditions and in with new 3D software and tailored manufacturing.
“You can free your mind, design something, see visually on the screen if it’s going to work and check the weight which is very important with commercial products,” explained Graham Dicks, responsible for turning the UK subsidiary of Gemvision, GVUK into an independent distributor for the CAD/CAM specialist. “Now if you do all of that in advance you’re taking a design conception from months down to weeks.”
“It was typically six to nine months on a lead-time where we would sit down with 300 models and end up with 60,” Graham continued. “All 300 models were made by hand on the bench and then most of them would be thrown away. You start again every single time whereas we can now send you renders and we can reverse engineer. So we end up designing 60 products, making 60 products and selling 60 products so it’s a win, win. You can do all of that before going into production saving you an absolute fortune.”
The benefits of using 3D software to design a product are being sung throughout the entire manufacturing industry; its quick, saves money, allows for rapid changes and so on.
For traditional jewellers, months on the bench was just part of the remit for the job. Though the move into the digital space has been both radical and challenging it has also been completely freeing.
“It works so well because it works the way a goldsmith works,” Graham explained. “Goldsmiths traditionally are not computer techy people, they’re artists so with a lot of the Matrix stuff you’re not typing in commands, you’re not having to spell stuff. Its very intuitive to work with and it’s used by the good and the great.”
Render designed in Gemvision.
What’s more it has opened independent jewellery designers and young businesses up to a whole new way of doing business. Artists can produce designs on screen and show them to prospective buyers without having to go through the potentially costly process of making them. Changes can be made according to buyer’s requirements and then the designer is able to go ahead and make it completing eradicating the need to outlay several thousands of pounds on a full tool kit.
“It gives new businesses and small businesses an equal footing to go out and create some amazing designs and sell before they make,” Graham commented. “That’s a real big pull. You can do that from home – you could sit on the beach and do it!”
What is perhaps most exciting is the role women are now playing in the jewellery industry which Graham insists is a dramatic turning point for the trade.
“If we go back 10 or 15 years, design and manufacturing was very much a male dominated industry,” explained Graham. “Typically 80 to 90 per cent of the students at Birmingham’s School of Jewellery are women. A lot of women have a great talent for design and this allows them a more artistic opportunity to get into manufacturing rather than the traditional heavier bench work style of manufacturing.”
But it’s not just giving women the opportunity to break their way into an essentially male industry, it has also paved the way for a new perspective which is having a huge impact on the types of designs we’re seeing today.
“The irony of course is, who wears jewellery?” Graham asked. “It has always been designed by chaps. The opportunity is there and we’re seeing a new collection of designs that traditionally men would not lean towards or on the bench would be something you would avoid.”
Again the old 3D printing chestnut of the ‘barrier to entry’ has plagued the jewellery business and takes a large chunk of the responsibility for the slow uptake by jewellers to adopt additive manufacturing technology. Machines can typically cost somewhere in the region of £70,000 with leading names like EnvisionTEC and EOS providing machines tailored towards the market. Now the goalposts have shifted as machines designed specifically for small batch runs are being introduced at around a tenth of the cost such as EnvisionTEC’s Perfactory range of machines distributed by GVUK.
Graham added: “It has changed the market. We now have the industry starting to wake up and starting to buy these machines. I would say its almost exploding. Now there are affordable machines in the market space, people are now interested. For £8,000 upwards you can buy a professional, great machine and that’s a game changer.”
The designer’s perspective …
Sarah Heulwen Lewis, Bespoke In-House Designer at Kings Hill, St Albans believes 3D design has provided more creative prospects for up and coming jewellers.
“3D design has enhanced my understanding of objects and how they are manufactured - tenfold. When I started designing many years ago, I would design and not take into consideration how it would be made, or even if it could. That is the beauty of designing and I do love to create an 'impossible' piece of jewellery.”
Proof of the positive impact women are having on the manufacturing industry, Sarah reveals that most teams she has worked with in the jewellery sector have been predominantly female. “Companies who design, run or provide the software and machinery can be very male dominated. I am delighted that woman are becoming more interested and involved.”
3D design is a great tool for collaborating with existing processes just as 3D printing has proven most effective as a hybrid form of manufacturing with traditional practices. This co-existence has enabled the creation of pieces such as the Deco Spine Bracelet that won Sarah a Lonmin Design Innovation Award.
“With my Rhino/Matrix skills and having worked alongside an exceptional mounter and setter for a few years, I can now visualise how to make an object whether this be in multiple parts for ease of mounting or a different style of assembly/setting.”
Having the ability to create a design on screen and then produce a prototype on demand is an invaluable commodity to the sector.
Sarah explained: “I am able to render a clients ring design to show realistic images, as well as using rapid prototyping machines to produce a model for viewing.”
“I adore my job and think that 3D design has definitely given me more creative opportunities, without CAD I would not be where I am today.”