OPINION: A word from the bench

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Workshop managers, CAD designers and tutors on manufacture today.

Workshop managers, goldsmiths and CAD designers talk to BenchPro about manufacturing in 2014, discussing how the industry has changed and the challenges currently impacting their daily routines.

S.J. Barnard, workshop manager, 77 Diamonds
Professional Jeweller: What are the biggest challenges you’re facing at the moment?
S.J. Barnard: As a mounter, the main issue is cost. People were once paid to sit for hours to work on an intricate and elaborate piece, but today we have to be fast and efficient as the focus is on crisp and modern lines. The rings we prepare today are all about having a nice stone, rather than an intricate design. Other manufacturing concerns for us include the casting process and porosity in metals, ensuring that there are no defects.

PJ: What has been the most exciting thing to pass through your hands during your time in the industry?
SJB: 20 years ago I was asked to make a mount for a pendant that would hold a diamond that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor. The history of the stone and being a fan of hers for such a long time made this incredibly special. In terms of modern-day pieces, I was asked to assist in some of the necklaces made by Garrard for Diana, Princess of Wales, which was very special. Also, when the Beckhams got married, Victoria wore an intricate diamond headpiece that I had worked on.

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PJ: What new invention, tool or piece of kit has had the greatest impact on how you work?
SJB: That has to be the laser [welding] machine. When I started I was a member of the FGA (Fellowship of the Gemmological Association) as there were more coloured stones and we had to learn the strength and the heat resistance of each stone for setting and mounting. The laser isolates the heat so the stones don’t get too hot. As platinum melts at 2,000 degrees it would be damaging to your eyes to look at the working metal. The laser has a guard so it isolates the heat and lets you work safely. For me, this has been the best thing in the past 10 years, without a doubt.

PJ: Working for a diamond jewellery company, do you think consumers’ tastes have changed based on the kind of jewellery you work with today?
SJB: Without a doubt jewellery design is less fussy and more modern now. Metal tastes have also changed; 20 years ago platinum was 20% of the work that we did and now it is 80%, which is great for me as platinum is my favourite metal. It’s harder, keeps its shape and has a better finish.


Kevin Harland, workshop manager, Maker Mends

PJ: In terms of precious metals, what’s happening that impacts your day-to-day routine?
Kevin Harland: For a long time palladium was not recognised as a precious metal. Previously a ring containing palladium, if sent to be hallmarked, would be returned with a rejection mark. Palladium is now a recognised hallmarked precious metal and we are seeing an increase in the amount of palladium rings coming to us for sizing. However, the only available solder as far as we are aware is classified as ‘medium’ melting range, but is actually a fairly low temperature melting solder. This alloy is too soft and when we attempt a polish the solder can drag out very easily which creates an indentation where the join has been soldered. In addition, the solder is much lighter in colour. We have found that platinum medium solder works best, but the joins still show due to the difference in colour of the two metals. If manufacturers could make a larger range of palladium solders this might solve the problem.

Also the 22ct gold metal alloy we use nowadays differs in colour to the older 22ct alloy used in jewellery manufacture in the past. We consequently have to issue a disclaimer on 22ct sizing jobs stating the colour of any added gold may differ in appearance from the original band. Normally it is significantly lighter in colour. We’d like to know what has changed in the alloys used to make up 22ct metal.

PJ: Have your diamond mounters experienced any issues recently?
KH: When rings are set with princess cut diamonds, on occasion the stones are not very secure [in four claw settings] and can easily fall out with the slightest knock from a customer or from immersing into an ultrasonic cleaner after polishing. This limits our ability to guarantee the product’s security after a repair has been carried out and our concerns are only growing. We have also seen an increase in the use of ‘new’ coloured gemstones. When they come in for repair we have to be very careful as we are not always certain how they’ve been manufactured. For example, some are glass filled to hide imperfections and some are intolerant to liquids or heat. In addition, if an item comes in with a stone missing they can be difficult to obtain and disproportionately expensive here in the UK. Neon apatites and Ethiopian wello opals are two that immediately spring to mind as these stones are very easily damaged.

Sarah Heulwen Lewis, bespoke CAD and RP designer, Weston Beamor
PJ: How did your career in CAD jewellery design come about?
Sarah Heulwen Lewis: From a young age I was always interested in design and technology. I studied for a BA in Applied Art: Jewellery in North Wales and followed this with an master’s degree in Fashion Artefacts at London College of Fashion. During my time at university, I saw a big transition in the way technology was being used in design and manufacture. CAD was used throughout my final collection for visualisation and for the manufacture of each component —laser cutting leather and metal. When I graduated I knew 3D CAD was the next step as 3D printing was becoming increasingly popular as a new way of making jewellery.

PJ: Methods of CAD and CAM are always growing and changing, have there been any developments in recent months that have changed the way you work?
SHL: CAD software has become more powerful in recent years but I think the biggest development is the new wave of affordable 3D printers. The technology is now far more accessible to everyone to help the design process. 3D scanning is also a very useful design tool — the ability to scan and manipulate a physical object opens up a whole load of design possibilities and opportunities.

PJ: Are designers becoming more adventurous with their design requests because they know they can use CAD?
SHL: Designers are always trying to break boundaries and this means using new technology to their advantage. At Weston Beamor we’re seeing more adventurous designs that really push the limits of 3D printing and casting. The best designs we see come from designers who really understand how to make and finish jewellery, not necessarily the best users of CAD.

Andrew Berry, goldsmith and founder of Atthebench.com
PJ: Focusing on new developments, have there been any changes to the tools you use at the bench?
Andrew Berry: The development of tools on the bench is slow, but off the bench the advances are huge. The majority of tools on a jeweller’s bench have not changed in centuries. You only have to look at the jewellery made a thousand years ago to see the quality and craftsmanship. We would be hard pressed to replicate this jewellery using the technology that we have today, even considering the limited tools that were available in the past.

For me, the tool that has increased speed on the bench has been the Lampert PUK pulse welder. It hasn’t replaced any tool, but we use it as another option to the torch. Any tool that helps reduce time at the bench or helps speed up the manufacturing process is important. To me, a tool that takes you away from the bench and takes time to learn is not a good development.

PJ: What’s concerning you in terms of manufacturing processes in 2014?
AB: The biggest challenges today seem to be the advancement of technology over the past 10 years. As a traditionally trained bench jeweller, I am hesitant to spend the thousands of pounds needed to keep up with this technology such as CAD, CAM and 3D printing. It is not just the cost either, it’s the time. If I could buy time then all well and good but to spend £5,000 on Matrix and Rhino Gold and then spend many weeks devoted to learning how to use them just isn’t possible for me. When reps and agents come round to see us, I immediately look at the back of the pieces of jewellery and can easily spot the CAD/CAM pieces. The jewellery looks pretty much the same as everyone else’s, mainly because all the big manufacturers have the same CAD/CAM program that has limited capabilities. The software is only as good as the person operating it. Designs made on the computer screen are limited by the operator’s ability to use the software. Give a designer a pen and paper and the designs are far more interesting and different because each human has different talents and ideas.

PJ: In terms of your online tutoring business, who do you find coming to you for advice and guidance?
AB: Recently, more professional jewellers have come to us for tuition, rather than new students. Being a jeweller these days is a solitary life, and with a large number of manufacturing companies disappearing oversees, the small designer jewellers work in isolation. This can be counterproductive in terms of education, as the solitary jeweller has no one to talk to, swap ideas with or learn traditional techniques from. The majority of jewellery books published today are written by authors with no experience in the trade and who simply regurgitate techniques and projects that they have been taught.While there is nothing normally wrong with this, the techniques are not necessarily the best or the quickest.

I am sure that I am not alone in saying that time spent at the bench has its merits. I can show you techniques that are not normally seen in adult education classes or universities that can achieve the same results in half the time. Every minute costs money, so if I can make a ring in half the time, I have the option to charge the same and put my feet up, make two and double my money, or charge less for the piece. The most popular subjects I teach are time saving tips and tricks and the more advanced jewellery repairs, so professional jewellers can undertake every single repair that comes their way without having to send out to trade workshops. This eventually keeps cost down, which is a bonus in today’s difficult economic climate.

 

This feature was taken from the first issue of BenchPro magazine. To reach BenchPro in full online, click here, heading to the back ot July’s Professional Jeweller.

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