The UK is getting increasingly innovative with its jewellery manufacturing and technology, from 3D scanners to digital diamond jewellery. Kathryn Bishop gets a snapshot of what is available now and an insight into what lies ahead in the near future.
The jewellery industry is a traditional trade to say the least, but a growing number of British companies are shaking up how the industry works, with a new era of manufacturing and technological development very much upon us.
As the industry faces the speedy onslaught of rapidly evolving technology and the increasing contest to stay one step ahead, those who shy away from high-tech computer software or want to bury their head in the sand when it comes to fresh retailing techniques might want to look away now. But if you’re game to give the future a go, then read on and find out how British companies are changing – and challenging – the ways of our industry.
Rise of the Machines
The advent of computers to aid manufacture gave rise to the phrase CAD/CAM. Today’s buzz term is 3D scanner; equipment that can scan a piece of jewellery and produce a 3D image of it, which can then be rendered, flipped to mirror itself or scaled up or down. Thereafter, the item can, essentially, be printed in metal or wax, layer by layer; a technique dubbed additive manufacturing. At Cookson Precious Metals the investment into a 3D scanner has allowed it to produce items so intricate they would be impossible to make by hand.
Cookson Precious Metals European product manager David Fletcher says the technology is already bringing in custom. “We are receiving a wide range of designs and products from jewellers and watchmakers alike for us to assess and produce from this process,” he explains. “The production process enables [the making of] parts that previously were not possible to be produced in a very fast time frame. Concept to part in a day is possible.”
Cookson Precious Metals’ direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) machine is a second piece of leading kit that is enabling British jewellers to explore manufacturing technologies never before tried. “The machine removes the need for tooling or moulds and it has the ability remove weight from products without compromising the aesthetics of the part,” explains Fletcher. “This is seen as a key area in an ever-increasing price sensitive market. Its gives designers the real freedom of design, the ability to produce designs that until now were not possible, and enables easy customisation, giving a fast bespoke service.”
The 3D scanning equipment is also used at metal casters Weston Beamor. Its business manager Glen Day explains that the technology is used, in the main, to produce both renderings and finished bespoke fitted wedding bands in far speedier timeframes than ever before, with few limitations.
“We can scan any object [up to] the size of a large orange," Day explains. "We can then replicate, scale it in size and mirror if needed. This opens up a whole world of jewellery manufacturing opportunities – so far we’ve scanned twigs, seeds, bones, hand carved waxes and chimpanzees,” Day explains. “We offer a complete jewellery solution [package] as long as a retailer, designer or student has a concept or a design, we can do all the rest. We can help at any point in the manufacturing process.”
Other items in Weston Beamor’s kit bag include precious metal casting, CAD design, on-site hallmarking and rapid prototyping.
The rise of slick, high-tech machines has also spread to wholesale volume jewellery manufacturers, and jewellery repair and manufacture company Maker Mends is now eyeing 3D scanners as a future investment. Its bespoke department – which counts UK multiples among those using the service – is exploring various types of 3D scanning and printing equipment. Maker Mends head of bespoke Michael Scott explains the benefit of such tools: “The idea that we can create jewellery which we can scan and keep on file opens up many possibilities for us. If an item was lost or stolen we have an exact record of the piece for insurance purposes. This technology will bring many new exciting possibilities.”
Clicks to Diamond Glitz
The companies behind the CAD manufacturing technology have also been hard at work to produce equipment that will keep British jewellery designers at the forefront. Only this year did designer Alexander Davis win a competition through GemVision for his work using its Rhino technology, and the technology has become an integral part of many emerging designers’ daily work. Davis has also recently been exploring laser sintering to create letter pendants in stainless steel and brass, which he sells in his retail store.
GemVision UK manager Graham Dicks explains that its latest launch – Rhino 5, which fully integrates with design software Matrix – will be a game changer in terms of its ability to speed up the CAD design process for retailers and designers. “It has better functionality, ease of use and much more sophisticated tools,” he explains.
GemVision is also creator of CounterSketch, an in-store system that allows retailers to modify more than 2,500 ring designs with customers to create their own design of ring, giving them control of shank width, stone sizes and gem and metal types, with a chance to see renderings, 3D images, virtual on-the-finger previews and finally have the item made for them. “It allows the client to be part of the design process," Dicks states. "Where else can you go shopping and design your own item of jewellery, or any other product short of buying a box of Lego? Retail has become about brands and bespoke; now every jeweller can offer live bespoke services without increasing stock value. We are investing in bringing the industry greater control and flexibility of their design and manufacturing processes.”
Bringing Jewels to Life
Several years ago Holts began a venture to create technology that would show clients how bespoke rings would look on the hand prior to them being made. This project evolved into Holition, a leading producer of cutting-edge augmented reality and virtual product visualisation that has since worked with jewellery brands and retailers including Georg Jensen, Hannah Martin and Boucheron.
Its brand director Lynne Murray describes its most pioneering campaign as working with De Beers and Forevermark diamonds. “The project was a ground-breaking experience which allowed consumers to try on jewellery online in real time throughout USA and Asia,” Murray explains. “The unique aspect of this application enabled Holition to push digital diamonds to the next level. It was translated into multiple languages, and had multiple product categories.”
With its original focus tailored to the jewellery industry, Holition continues to work closely with developing programs and customer experiences for jewellery companies, and says that while the technology can be challenging for brands to identify with at first – as it is often unlike anything they might have worked with before – benefits exist through creating unique marketing concepts that grab and maintain customers’ attention.
The challenge now, says Murray, is getting British companies on board with its technology, overseas clients are already coming in their droves. “We now find the majority of our clients approach us from Asia, Europe and USA," she says. "We operate globally from our Hatton Garden location, and would really love to work with more UK brands. The ambitious UK brands we do work with value our team for their creativity, insight, knowledge and expertise in bringing amazing digital experiences to a public who not only use digital every day, but expect it from brands. It is this shift which we hope will encourage more UK brands to try augmented reality and digital experiences – the best projects start small and build.”
So while the British jewellery industry might have its traditions, a small but innovative uprising is taking place with companies and manufacturers doing their utmost to build our confidence in what they do. After all, being today’s groundbreakers means being one step ahead at all times.
This article was taken from the January issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the digital issue online, click here.