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December 13, 2013

Can a 3D Printer Revolutionize the Jewelry Industry?


There's a special thrill about heading to your local jewelry store, studying each stone and picking out something out for that special person. In New York, however, the technology industry is moving full speed ahead to revolutionize that most romantic of sectors: jewelry. American Pearl is the first company to try using a 3D printer, with the hope of allowing customers to create custom platinum, gold and silver jewelry.

The process is fast, it's certainly cheaper than going the old-school route, and consumers never even have to come into the store. Is this going to be a game changer or a gimmick? You've been able to browse online inventory for years now, but making a copy of a piece of jewelry for yourself is entirely different. American Pearl CEO Eddie Bakhash says, "What we love about 3D printing is that consumers save a lot of money and a lot of time having something 3D printed."

It's all about the money (of course) and time (which is even more precious); but are the conveniences worth it, especially to consumers who are used to getting to see, feel, and touch the product at their jewelers of choice?

A Split Decision

Bakhash also notes, "We never knew how much consumers wanted to change the products they were buying until we offered the option." For tech lovers out there, this just might be better than online shopping, but others may regard it as too impersonal. Bakhash is expecting the change to be "very disruptive" to competitors, but so far his predictions haven't played out. It's not possible to copy diamonds and other precious stones -- yet -- which also limits the market.

The key appeal of 3D jewelry, however, is that it gives customers the ability to create without releasing the technology behind it. This might make the process seem more personal, but jewelry customization in itself is nothing new.

Many celebrities such as Brad Pitt have been known to get their hands deep into the design of jewelry for their loved ones, and this is something that just about any jeweler can offer. Bakhash simply offers shoppers the ability to choose from current designs, pick their gems and metals, the fittings and then "send to print."

At American Pearl, a Solidscape T76 printer is used to create wax models, which are turned into a thermoplastic sculpture, mold, and finally the end result.

Grand Design

Going into 2014, more intricate options are expected to be offered, along with the use of additive manufacturing. A laser will be used to add another layer to the primary form of a piece. This process can be repeated indefinitely until the desired outcome is achieved. Another plus for the company is that it can work with any budget -- another tactic adopted by many competitors. Bakhash went straight for the "gold" when he opted to hire his own team of engineers out of Silicon Valley to build the 3D platform.

The end result was a machine that takes care of everything from printing to a customized engine that's wholly user-friendly. Offered a choice of anything from rings to bracelets, the customer can examine many views of a product before hitting enter, and thus Bakhash has sliced out a solid niche for his firm.

He reports that sales doubled in the past year, and attributes all the growth to 3D printing. However, there's one potential flaw in his plan: There are no flaws. Three dimensional printing guarantees exact symmetry, whereas "in the old way, jewelers had to spend a lot of hours carving by hand. It would take me two weeks to create that piece. We can do it in a day now - there's no way we could have all of these pieces if it weren't for technology; the jeweler has been replaced by software."

Perhaps therein lies a problem, because for some of us, flaws are what make jewels beautiful. Perfection may appeal to many, but others might not prefer to replace the warm personality of tradition with cool technology.




Edited by Cassandra Tucker


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