CAD/CAM is nothing new to the jewellery industry. It has been around for more than a decade. In fact most modern high volume jewellery manufacturers create their designs on a computer and make models with various forms of rapid prototyping (RPT). Many of the newest technologies are using some form of 3D printing to create plastic or wax models ready for casting in precious metals. 3D printing is now coming into the home, with printers priced below $1000 or even half of that if you are willing to assemble it yourself. This is great for hobbyists who can now print toys and even plastic jewellery for their children. Of course with the right materials one could print a model and bring it to a jeweller for casting. As 3D printers become more affordable, most households will have one to produce many of the items necessary for everyday life.
But the jewellery game is about to change. Later this year the Mini Metal Maker, a 3D printer will be on the market with the capability to print in Precious Metal Clay (PMC) up to 6cm x6cmx6cm in size. The estimated retail price for a fully assembled printer is around $1500. A simple gold wedding band will take less than 30 minutes to produce. The only other thing needed will be a $200 kiln to burn off the binders leaving pure gold or silver jewellery that is ready to wear.
People love do-it-yourself projects and 3D printers will allow them to make their own jewellery at home. Our retail customers will be able to go online, choose and customize their jewellery, download a file, and print out their gold jewellery. The designs could even have snap-lock settings to make it easy to add diamonds or gemstones. Eventually the printers may even have the ability to build the jewellery around a stone.
Depending on your point of view, precious metal printing at home can be terrifying or exciting. This will inevitably cut into our business especially for simple gold and silver jewellery as consumers will routinely make their own rings and pendants. There will still be a need for talented hands at a bench for repairs and advanced stone setting. Resolution and finish is fairly poor (for now) so a jeweller is still needed for final polishing and fine detail work. Larger items like necklaces and bangles will require larger and more expensive printers and assembled items, like chains, will still need someone with a torch or laser to put them together…at least for a while. Capabilities will only improve and prices are sure to fall.
It is time to do some serious planning on how to re-invent your jewellery business to take advantage of this new technology before it’s too late.