There are three main jewelry industry events in the world. One of these is the Vicenza Oro fair in Vicenza, Veneto, Northern Italy (the others are in the US and in Basel, Switzerland). Vicenza is one of Italy’s 3 jewelry manufacturing hubs (the others are in Valenza and Arezzo). With all these “3’s” it’s really no surprise that 3D printed jewelry is a hot topic in jewelry manufacturing and has been since almost two decades ago. At the T-Gold section of Vicenza Oro, the area where jewelry manufacturing systems are on display, a lot of the attention was on direct precious metal 3D printing.
As we will analyze in depth in our upcoming Opportunities in Jewelry Manufacturing Report published by SmarTech Publishing, 3D printing by lost wax and lost resin casting is already widely used in jewelry manufacturing as is the use of 3D printing to make models for size verification and rubber molds. All the attention from top precious metal powder suppliers such as Progold, Hildebrand and Lego, however, is on direct precious metal 3D printing and the new possibilities it offers. In this regard there are good and bad news.
The Bad and the Good of Directly 3D Printed Jewelry
The bad news is that directly 3D printed jewelry is not a market nor it will be one for many years. The processes are just too expensive, too complex and there is just not enough demand for what it can do. What can it do? While many designers try to fully exploit the new geometrical possibilities opened by direct precious metal 3D printing in jewelry there is only one company that has done this to the fullest and it is Nuovi Gioielli. The owner, Ivano, used SLM 3D printers to create metal fabrics and shapes that cannot be made by any other process and – more importantly – they are more beautiful and “emotional” then traditionally manufactured parts. In the photogallery below you can view a full selection of Nuovi Gioielli’s 3D printed creations, build in red and yello gold, platinum, silver and bronze using Legor’s atomized powders and the Sisma mysint 100 system.
The good news is that while the market is tiny it does exist. Concept Laser, EOS and Realizer all offer SLM 3D printers capable of processing precious metals. And the 3D printed process can offer possibilities that go beyond shape. One of these, as explained by Progold’s boss Damiano Zito, it the “compositing” of metal powders to create mixtures that cannot be alloyed. What does this mean? Well you could 3D print mixtures of titanium and white gold, where the titanium forms a bonding structure around the titanium, thus improving both appearance and weight performance. Not only that, you could also composite precious metals and ceramic powders, altering colors and performance.
In the meantime Progold celebrated its 20th anniversary with a huge Villa party where the company showed off some direct metal 3D printed designs from students at the University of Turin, the next generation of jewelry engineers, tasked with imagining future jewelry that can fully exploit powder bed fusion capabilities (see photogallery above).
Nevertheless, as Hildebrand’s boss – Walter Niedermann – showed us, you don’t necessarily have to 3D print parts to make amazing composite products out of atomized precious powders, but it helps.
Casted 3D Printed Jewelry, Too Much or Not Enough?
While directly 3D printed jewelry remains something of a distant and utopistic (literal) Eldorado, a lot is happening in the world of castable resins and the 3D printers that can use them. Sisma itself recently presented the myrev platform for SLA jewelry 3D printing. Most of the jewelry manufacturers we interviewed – there were hundreds of small brands exhibiting in the main Vicenza Oro showfloor – told us they use 3D printers, mostly legacy Solidscape systems for wax casting and some low cost resin systems for prototyping and modeling. All of them design their jewels in CAD however most of them send the designs to a specialized service for actual production (most of these services use large size 3D Systems MJM and SLA systems, a few use EnvisionTEC and DWS systems).
Some jewelers model by hand and use 3D scanning or vulcanized rubber molds to replicate the design hundreds and thousands of times, however the size of the orders has been shrinking and it is becoming increasingly more convenient to produce all the wax and resin patterns (that’s what the castable models are called) directly by 3D printing. However, according to EnvisionTEC was present at the show with its cDLM system, the ultra fast continuous DLP desktop machine, which will bring productivity rates to desktop devices to new levels, making it truly difficult to compete by traditional processes – at least for advanced jewelry manufacturing. Can you guess which of the jewels in the photogallery below are 3D printed for direct casting?
Several photopolymerization 3D printer manufacturers were present as exhibitors. Some like EnvisionTEC and DWS are already well established in the industry, presenting a wide range of systems and materials for modeling and casting (and direct manufacturing in the case of DWS’s IRIX nanoceramic).
The jewelry sector is painstakingly slow in adopting – and admitting to adopting – new technologies. And yet there are already within it so many examples of how 3D printing can forever change the workflow, almost like going from a square wheel to a round one.