3D printing has come a long way since its early days of creating small, plastic objects. In fact, the first item ever made through 3D printing was a little plastic cup that could be used for eye flushing according to one of its inventors, Charles Hull. These days, such printers can now make anything from dental fillings to ceramic housewares to the controversial topic of designing and printing plastic firearms. But what about the favorite item of every gemologist: jewelry?
This concept is not too far from reality. This Scottsdale jewelry appraisal recently learned of one Taiwanese company’s intent to release a 3D metal printer for a myriad of uses, including jewelry making. However, before we get too deep into talking about the move to 3D printing jewelry, let’s first go over the current methods a jeweler or gemologist may use when creating jewelry and how 3D printing works.
TRADITIONAL JEWELRY MAKING
Traditionally, the jewelry making process is a lengthy, physical process done by hand with naturally occurring materials. The jeweler (or, in some cases, a trained gemologist) will design an item, collect the materials, and begin assembling by hand. Metals, such as silver and gold, are hand-forged, stamped, or soldered. Beads are strung together with a needle and thread, often woven or sewn to other materials. Precious and semi-precious stones are set into metals or strung like beads in order to stand out on their own.
With the rise of industrialization and globalization, many of these processes have been outsourced to developing countries. Our Scottsdale jewelry appraisal will tell you this is especially true for less expensive mass-produced jewelry in order to keep costs low for consumers. However, the issue with this has always been the lower production quality due to cheaper materials and a lower level of consistency.
HOW 3D PRINTING WORKS
Ever seen how your home inkjet printer works? A 3D printer essentially works in the same way, except it creates multiple layers in order to produce a three-dimensional product. A model is created in a computer design program and is then transferred to the printer. Plastics are one of the more popular material choices but advances have been made to use ceramic, porcelain, and–as our trained gemologist found in the above article–metals.
A GAME CHANGER?
As discussed in the above article, the Taiwanese 3D printer is able to use a variety of metal alloys in the production process, in addition to becoming a more affordable product for businesses to use. This process can be used to either create an item from scratch or adding gold finishes to stainless steel jewelry. This can be good news for a jeweler or gemologist looking to expand their business without worrying about the problems associated with outsourcing or for those looking for less time-consuming techniques for smaller pieces. There is also the possibility of 3D printed jewelry becoming a new niche market as intricate, unique designs would become easier to create.
Whatever the case, our Scottsdale jewelry appraisal is looking forward to seeing how 3D printing may influence the jewelry industry.