Today’s $260 billion jewelry market is experiencing transformation with the increased use of Computer-Aided Design and Additive Manufacturing, which hands consumers the reins for creative control and merges technology with personalization.
Computer-Aided Design, or 3-D design software, and Additive Manufacturing, the 3-D printing process, were introduced in the Eighties, with the earliest adopters using rudimentary software to print raw materials for the sake of experimentation. CAD and 3-D printing technology make it possible to create more complex jewelry designs, offer opportunities for customization and speed up otherwise lengthy production processes by improving modeling capabilities. Together, CAD and 3-D printing can produce an array of finished products with a wide range of materials, from photopolymers, which create mock-ups of a piece of jewelry, to the final product in directly printed precious metals.
Dassault Systèmes, a $3 billion European software company that specializes in 3-D design, engineering, 3-D CAD, modeling, simulation, data management and process management, is one of the largest vendors in the market. The company’s SolidWorks unit offers a product personalization platform called SolidWorks Make, whose design efforts are led by Igal Kaptsan, the vice president of product management, that allows customers to create one-of-a-kind jewelry online with a retailers’ own materials. The platform gives design control to the consumer while upholding the brand’s aesthetic and identity.
SolidWorks Make is a cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service, white-label platform that functions as a widget embedded within the web sites of e-commerce retailers that enables consumers to personalize products without requiring any background in CAD or engineering. Interactive clicks display a what-you-see-is-what-you-get real-time, 3-D rendering of customized jewelry. The software’s “design editor,” an online tool that guides the personalization process, is invisible to the customer and allows the retailer to exclusively incorporate their own identifying characteristics — namely colors, gems, materials, settings, shapes, or sizes into the system. The platform’s on-demand manufacturing model reduces traditional manufacturing and supply chain management costs while bridging the gap between production and point-of-sale. Moreover, because the platform’s on-demand production is based on existing and new digital data, superfluous production and stored inventory costs are diminished.
Once a design is created, the platform exports a data package to the retailers’ 3-D printer of choice. When the data package is received, it prints a tangible 3-D mold of the object layer by layer in materials ranging from wax to steel, a process comparable to building up pieces for a topographic map. After the mold is fully formed, it is used next in the metal casting stage, or if precious metals are printed, is ready for immediate use after a post-process clean. Separately, gemstones are added to complete the design process. The software platform is wholly independent of the 3-D printing process, but the firm partners with companies that offer printing services.
Cecile Raley Designs, a jewelry brand that added the software platform to its e-commerce experience, evangelizes the personalization experience it offers for their customers: “The fastest-growing segment of my business is custom orders. SolidWorks Make allows my customers to take charge of customization and make something they love while simplifying communication and pricing their design options on my end,” said Yvonne Raley, owner of Cecile Raley Designs.
Albeit, for an industry that prides itself on generational skill and production, resistance was strong in the early stages of CAD development. “When CAD was first adopted by members of the jewelry industry, there was quite a bit of stigma associated with the technology and many believed that it detracted from generations of skill acquired at the bench. Much of the jewelry industry was made up of family businesses that still operated with paper ledgers. The industry is slow to change,” said Eve Streicker, a CAD expert and founder of Original Eve Designs.
Operating costs for 3-D printing have sharply declined over the years as technology continues to improve at an accelerated rate. Today, advanced 3-D printing systems are available at affordable prices: At-home printers can be purchased for under $2,000 and professional jewelry industry printers equipped to produce “castable” resin begin at approximately $5,000. Designs created by SolidWorks Make include a small premium built into the price of each personalized design, but generally, costs for 3-D printing vary significantly based on brand, printer type, location and most critically, volume, which dramatically impacts 3-D printing prices.
Awareness of 3-D printing among relevant industries, including architecture, construction, engineering and manufacturing has increased from 66 percent in 2014 and 74 percent in 2015 to 79 percent in 2016, demonstrating intrigue and momentum for the technology, according to researchers at Business Advantage.
“Today, many in the jewelry industry view CAD [and 3-D printing] as a tool — a means to a faster and more efficient end — however, I think we will see as mastery of the technology improves, finesse with the technology will emerge,” Streicker said.
“For generations, craftsmen have manipulated metal at the bench, creating beautiful works with incredible, intricate skill. I think it is only a matter of time before the artistry that can be honed with CAD is realized and masters of the medium emerge,” she added.