3D printed jewelry

A Look at the Opportunities and Tradeoffs of 3D Printed Jewelry

September 22, 2022 - Emily Newton

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.

You might’ve heard about Millennials “killing” industries like the precious-stone engagement-ring industry. As it turns out, technology may be playing just as big a role as discerning consumers. While 3D printed jewelry opens up many exciting opportunities, its impact on the industry may not be entirely positive, either.

3D printing presents opportunities for almost every industry on the planet. Jewelry-making is one of these. What are the advantages of 3D printing jewelry? And most importantly: is the soft hum of a 3D printer in the garage replacing trips to the jeweler’s counter? Let’s take a look.

What Is 3D Printed Jewelry?

Hand-crafting and wax-casting have been the most frequently used jewelry-making techniques for many years. Traditionally, jewelry-making has been a labor-intensive craft that requires considerable know-how, dexterity, and patience.

High-end jewelry has always commanded a premium for this reason — along with the cost of desirable materials. But even lower-end jewelry requires some skill to create, along with the means to manipulate base materials, like metals or minerals.

3D printed jewelry stands a chance of “democratizing” the jewelry-making industry — that is, making the means of production more accessible for common people to own and take advantage of.

When they first debuted as a consumer-level electronics device, 3D printers commonly sold for $300,000 and up. Today, much more advanced machines may cost just a fraction of that original buy-in.

So how does this apply to jewelry?

What Are the Advantages of 3D Printing Jewelry?

There are several general advantages of using 3D printers in manufacturing. Compared to fabrication techniques like injection molding or CNC machining, 3D printing offers:

  • Substantially lower costs for prototyping (some companies reduced the cost from $125 to just $4 per workpiece).
  • Much faster development times (from weeks to days or hours in many cases).
  • The capability to iterate more quickly on existing products (from one year to just weeks or months in some examples).

Ultimately, it’s the ability to engage in cheap, low-volume fabrication that makes 3D printing stand out from other manufacturing technologies. This makes it ideal for following through on limited-edition, highly specialized, endlessly customizable, or one-off designs throughout the jewelry industry.

How Does 3D Printing Work for Jewelry-Making?

To comprehend the advantages of 3D printing for jewelry-making, it’s useful to first picture traditional techniques and how they might fall short.

Typically, crafting a piece of jewelry involved carving the design by hand from a piece of wax, which served as the pattern into which jewelers pour precious metals. After casting, workers remove the workpiece from the mold and hand-shaped and hand-polished to achieve the desired final appearance.

As you can imagine, this process requires time, attention to detail, physical dexterity, and several steps — all of which involve manipulating physical materials and workpieces and the potential for errors at every stage.

3D printing eliminates a considerable number of steps, variables, and unanswered questions from this process. The 3D printing jewelry-making process goes as follows:

  1. A designer uses a CAD (computer-aided design) program to design the piece of jewelry.
  2. A 3D printer uses a technique known as “burnout” to create a “negative” (like a photograph) of the design. This will serve as the mold for the piece of cast jewelry.
  3. The 3D printer prints the mold. The mold is baked and receives other preparation for casting.
  4. The desired material — gold, titanium, aluminum, etc. — is poured into the resulting mold.
  5. The workpiece is removed from the mold and polished or further shaped.

The biggest advantages of this digital-first process are the computer-aided design tools. There is almost no trial and error required to get the piece of jewelry shaped precisely according to the artist’s wishes before it becomes a physical object. There is also no wasted material or time if the artist needs to modify the design or create a duplicate.

Why Is Using 3D Printing in Jewelry-Making Advantageous?

1. Democratizing a Luxury Industry

The jewelry-making process has always been complex, time-intensive, and consequently expensive. As a result, owning high-end jewelry has always been seen as a matter of privilege and luxury. Today, 3D printing is helping to break down class barriers where jewelry-making and high-end jewelry ownership are concerned.

2. Cheaper and Easier Customization

It’s possible for jewelers of all sizes to offer customized jewelry pieces as part of their regular services or value-added services — all thanks to digital-design tools and 3D printers. Mass production of consumer goods will always have its place, but jewelry crafting is elevated as a whole as more and more artists are empowered to create 100% unique pieces.

3. Fast Prototyping and Clash Detection

The quick turnaround provided by 3D printers also makes it easy to create cheap (but still representative) prototypes of the desired design to ensure there are no surprises after casting or design elements that compromise its structural integrity (sometimes called “clash detection” in other industries that use CAD software, like construction).

What Kinds of Designs and Materials Does 3D Printing Support?

Ultimately, the most important advantage of 3D printers for jewelry-making is design freedom. Traditional manufacturing techniques limited the complexity of designs artisans could realize. Carving a mold by hand is effective, but there are simply some detailed or convoluted designs that are not possible to achieve when using this technique.

The most advanced 3D printers on the market today are capable of creating gorgeous, inexpensive, highly detailed pieces of jewelry. These pieces can sport features such as:

  • Smooth or textured finishes
  • Delicate or complex filigrees
  • Raised or debossed designs and text
  • One-of-a-kind pavé stone settings

Best of all, these features can be realized by a 3D printer in sharper detail than could be achieved by any but the most experienced and dexterous jewelry-making artisans using hand-crafting techniques.

What Will You Make?

Every industry under the sun is busy exploring what’s possible when you combine computer-aided design software with ever-more-affordable 3D printers.

This means lots of exciting opportunities in the hobbyist and professional jewelry markets. 3D printers can make use of a range of durable or desirable jewelry-making materials, including:

  • Stainless steel
  • Titanium
  • Aluminum
  • Cobalt
  • Chrome
  • Nickel
  • Tungsten

Artisans are even experimenting with chopped carbon fiber — a material that grants the finished piece superior dimensional strength and stiffness.

There are some tradeoffs worth considering when using 3D printing in any kind of manufacturing setting. Higher upfront equipment costs are one, and potentially more labor-intensive post-processing requirements are another.

The technology is in the process of maturing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t ready already to help realize some extraordinary artistic visions. 3D printing means individuals in the design and manufacturing worlds are increasingly limited only by the scope of their imaginations.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.

Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She enjoys reading and writing about how technology is changing the world around us.

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.