BRIDAL TRENDS: How tech is shaping bridal design

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Contemporary influences bridal jewels and the manufacturing process.

The growth of CAD technology and additive manufacturing among UK jewellery companies is making a mark on bridal collections. It is becoming an integral part of the design process, turning bespoke jewellery into an option for every couple.

The perfect ring. It is the holy grail of any bride and groom-to-be’s search for wedding bands; something that beautifully complements her engagement ring and a design that fits with his taste and personality.

This quest for perfection has led to a rise in technology and computer-aided (CAD) programs that allow retailers and manufacturers to design rings to customers’ requests, whether it is the addition of a few more stones here, or the shaving off of a few millimetres there. CAD and manufacturing technology equate to wider possibilities and are helping to increase the chances of creating each couple’s ideal rings.

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PRACTICALLY PERFECT
At Stubbs & Co., its annual collection of bridal ring suites feature perfectly-matching wedding bands that sit flush with its engagement rings, achieved by using CAD design programs. “[This] encourages repeat consumer visits as each solitaire mount is complemented with a matching eternity or wedding band,” explains Stubbs & Co. director David Shem-Tov. The company also provides its retail partners with a tablet-based app called ConfigureRing, which allows sales staff to show customers the potential range of matching wedding bands on screen, and how they fit each ring.

A similar service is provided by Charles Green, which uses 3D scanners to create CAD drawings of customers’ engagement rings, against which the company’s new product developer Pip Beale designs bespoke, shaped-to-fit wedding bands. Images of the ring designs are relayed to the customer who can suggest any tweaks or adjustments, in turn making them feel like part of the design process.

For Andrew Geoghegan, CAD has become the backbone of his design process. He produces bridal collections using CAD programs and outsourced casting technology, even creating his own platinum alloy that is 50% more hard-wearing than regular cast platinum. “I have been deeply immersed in CAD technology for a good few years and it has dramatically improved the design process,” Geoghegan explains. “The great benefits being the precision possible and that you can keep on tweaking and refining a design until it is perfect, without touching any metal.”

EMPOWERING MANUFACTURE
Each year brings with it advanced technology for use in the jewellery industry, increasing the scope of potential design and manufacturing capabilities, while also enabling manufacturers to create bridal and wedding rings that might not have been previously possible.

Investment in such equipment is helping a number of British jewellery manufacturers to adapt their offer. Laser cutting machines have arrived at Brown & Newirth, allowing it to produce a more varied number of wedding bands, followed by diamond-setting technology. “The majority of our setting is currently executed by hand, which is labour intensive but necessary in many instances,” notes Brown & Newirth sales director John Ball. “We always want to look at new technology that can enhance our business [so] our strategy is to continue investing in machine setting technology, which is cost effective in the long run but, more importantly, enables us to deliver the very best precision.”

Hockley Mint in Birmingham has developed its precision engineering process over the past 18 months, with investment in manufacturing kit including a five axis computer numerical control (CNC) machine, which ensures precision while producing more intricate designs. Hockley Mint new product development manager Poppy Stevens explains: “Because of the new CNC technology we have available, I can use more precise details when designing, which are then possible to produce on a large scale.”

Investment is also ongoing at WB the Creative Jewellery Group, parent company of Domino and Weston Beamor. It has placed a heavy focus on additive manufacturing and it is producing a number of 3D designs using its Viper rapid prototyping machine. The company also invested in a high-spec milling machine in 2013.

DESIGNS ON THE FUTURE
With a raft of technology being used to create daring, highly decorative or technically excellent bridal designs, it is no surprise that manufacturers are already thinking about what comes next.

“Every company that manufactures jewellery should be looking at 3D printing,” states Ball. “At the moment, Brown & Newirth have a program of research and development that includes 3D printing and we fully expect this technology to become an important part of our process in the future.”

At Hockley Mint, 3D printing is next on its menu of technology, with the company due to invest in a 3D printer in the coming year. Stevens believes 3D printing will greatly increase its production capacity while reducing lead times on bespoke items, however laser sintering has also caught her eye.

The sintering process involves the use of powdered precious metal – typically gold – and works by building the shape of a CAD design on a platform. An arm rubs a layer of the fine precious metal powder over the platform while a laser fires at it in the pattern of the design, building about 50 layers per millimetre and resulting in a clean finish that in most cases requires just a simple polish.

“Laser sintering will allow for pieces that would be impossible to make by hand and very difficult to cast from a wax,” Stevens states. “If it becomes more popular and the price comes down it will become more accessible and allow designers to push the boundaries.”

While Cookson Precious Metals was an early investor in laser sintering, more firms are observing the benefits of the technology as its use is refined for the delicate nature of jewellery.

“It would be great to be able to predict the next big thing but hopefully we will recognise it when it arrives,” states Weston Beamor’s Glen Day. “3D printing, CAD programs and laser sintering are changing rapidly and as they become more sophisticated they will undoubtedly bring further benefits to those producers who stay ahead of the curve and continue to invest in the latest developments.”

This Bridal Trends feature was taken from the Bridal Special in the February’s issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

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