Given how fast 3D printing and jewellery CAD technology have been changing since these questions were first asked at an IJL talk in 2006, I think every UK business should be aware of how far jewellery CAD/CAM has grown since that time.
For starters, CAD is no longer changing the jewellery industry. It has already changed it. The question we should be asking now is what these changes mean, and what new opportunities they bring to British businesses.
While it is true CAD has not yet brought back British manufacturing power as once promised, it has instead reduced the minimum size of a factory all over the world, providing an entirely new business model for SMEs. As a consequence, bespoke design is now more affordable than ever before to an entirely new generation of customers.
For example, last year several of my students did a comparison survey of old hand-made bespoke design versus new CAD-made bespoke design services. In 2014, the cost of old-fashioned hand-drawn and fabricated bespoke design services seemed to start at around £24,000. Meanwhile, newer CAD based bespoke jewellery design services at jewellers across the UK offered starting prices around £2,000.
Interestingly, this is only the first of many opportunities CAD has brought to jewellers. Over the past two years an entirely new market of jewellery and accessory designers has appeared who use plastic 3D printing to make products directly for retail. The Rogue and the Wolf is one example.
At the same time, we’re now seeing a generation of CAD designers who sell their 3D models directly online for users to download and 3D-print. For 10 years Bermark Design has been quietly building an impressive jewellery CAD model library. Likewise, Shapeways allows modellers to sell their CAD designs online, while buyers 3D-print these designs on demand in any material. The proliferation of inexpensive plastic home 3D printers has helped fuel this spike in demand for 3D models, and it seems to be only growing as these machines get cheaper and better every year.
Jewellery CAD is no longer limited to just plastic or casting wax either. As of last year, there are now two 3D metal printing service bureaus for jewellery metals in the UK, where items can be printed in precious metal, polished, and worn directly from the machine with a minimum of assembly.
Given how fast these changes have arisen, it can be easy to see how many individuals may not be aware of what’s been happening. In the past 10 years alone, jewellery CAD/CAM has gone from being a dirty word among jewellers, to being a reliable silent helper in every major jewellery house when repeatable precision and cost-saving experimentation are called for, to now becoming a doorway to entirely new business models.
It seems jewellery CAD and 3D printing are now making it possible for smaller manufacturing businesses to find ways to market never before imaginable. According to The Economist, highly skilled London-based manufacturing jobs have grown by 15% since 2010 thanks to new technology. Perhaps this technology really is a way Britain can reclaim our old status as a manufacturing powerhouse.
Jack Meyer is Senior Jewellery CAD Lecturer at Holts Academy. This feature first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Jewellery Focus