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[Beginners' Corner] Jewelry manufacturing procedures

I have jewelry design ideas, but do know the steps needed to get the
pieces created. I have no jewelry manufacturing experience. I am
considering purchasing a CAD program? Which one would be best for a
person with advanced graphic design experience, but no jewelry
design experience? In other words I am experienced in using graphic
design software, but not 3d software. And then what do I do with the
drawing? How do I get the pieces made? I apologize in advance if the
answer to these questions are obvious. I am just not clear on how to
get from point A to point C.

-Thank You.

Sounds like the carpenter hunting for an anatomy book and razor
blades so he can learn to be a brain surgeon. Find a school or
evening classes and start learning how to work with metal and stones.
Once you learn how to solder, hammer, ding, color, and joyfully
manipulate your materials THEN start playing with the designs. What
with 362,000 plus “designers” out there who needs another one. (This
figure came up not to long ago in a similar discussion.) What we need
are skilled and talented people who understand their medium and work
to the highest standards they are capable of. Just because I think I
can run a cumpoter don’t meen I be learned…Spell check be damned.
Learn to spell first.

Obviously this hit a sore spot with me. I run a jewelry school. Most
of the would be designers eventually drop to the wayside once they
learn that there is more to this game than drawing pretty pictures.
Another diamond, Ho Hum.

You want to get from A to C. Seems to me that B is part of the path.
You did not mention B.

Bill Churlik

Hi Deirdre,

From what you have written it seems that you are venturing into
something positively new and exciting!!! it does not take too long
to understand the commands in jewelry design softwares… the next
step as you must be well aware from your graphic design experience is
the application. There are quite a few softwares, JewelCAD, Matrix
from Gemvision, Rhino, 3Design… etc. Most of these softwares are
user friendly with different features. You can get the pieces made by
a CAM operated rapid prototyping machine.

All the best!!!
Hema, from India


It’s possible that Deirdre would like to be the person who
formulates the designs and not necessarily the one who picks up the
hammer. Although I have quite a bit of respect for those who have
pursued a formal education, I would like to say that there are quite
a few professionals who have achieved varying levels of success
without the paper. The real guage of success would be, do the
designs sell, right? Rona Fisher (I have one of her designs myself)
is an accomplished designer who was primarily self-taught. Todd Reed
(winner 2nd place for beads in the 2004 Saul Bell Award) is also
doing quite well and is self-taught. Georg Jensen (1866-1935)
(apparently quite famous in his day), considered to be one of the
most influential jewelry designers of the 20th century, was
self-taught. I had a customer call me out of the blue the other day
to tell me how beautiful she felt when she wore my jewelry. For me,
that’s what it’s about. I am not one who will be able to achieve
what I would like without an instructor, but there are people out
there who can, and do.

Kim Starbard
Cove Beads
aka self-proclaimed jewelry designer

There was one rather bad-tempered reply to this, and even though I
share many of that writer’s feelings (Oh, boy another “Nartist”),
Ill try to be a little more gentle. A few bookmarks, first:

Well, there’s more, but that’s a start — Many people use Rhino for
jewelry - there’s one called jewelcad (ArtCam), someone I know has a
nice program I’m afraid I’m not sure of the name - I believe he uses
Matrix3d. As you may know, they all cost $500 or $5,000, so they’re
not things one buys casually. I us 3DsMax for more general graphics;
and animation, and some other “supportive” software (xfrog,
imagemodeler, Photoshop, etc.) Zbrush is not geared towards
mechanical drawing, but it is seriously cool. What you do after that
is different - you can send some designs - .3ds files, .dwg files
and the like, to rapid prototyping - they either cut away (CNC)
material, or build it up, depending on what is wanted - there are
various options. That presumes that your design is a castable one -
not everything should be cast, even it is possible. Finally - the
above paragraph is plenty of work for you for quite awhile - I will
stress what the other writer stressed: None of this will do you any
good if you don’t know how to make jewelry - jewelry is not just a
design, it is engineered. Stones have to be properly set, metals have
to have their working properties respected or they will bite you,
and. first and foremost, it is to be worn on the human body, and must
be comfortable, balanced, and pleasing to wear. Many galleries are
stocked with unwearable jewelry, and mostly they will remain stocked
with unwearable jewelry. You’re not going to get very far without
knowlege of how jewelry is made on the nuts and bolts level…

Hi Deirdre;

When you use 3d software, you’re making a model, not just a drawing.
It’s important to make the transition mentally, to start thinking in
three dimensions. The sort of software to get depends to a large
extent on the type of jewelry you wish to make. It’s perfectly
possible to use 2d software to design jewelry, of course - you can
produce vector graphics, for instance, and use them as masters for a
photo-etching process. But when you make the leap to 3d, a 2d drawing
is just a single view of the object you’re building; the model is
something you can look at it from any direction.

There are a few different approaches possible when designing jewelry
using a computer. There are programs that are specifically tailored
to jewelry design, that assume you’re going to be making one of
various standard sorts of things - rings, say, or Tiffany-style
heads. They usually have libraries of stone shapes, and range from
something that a salesperson can use to quickly match a customer
with a certain size stone in the right size setting, to powerful
programs that allow a skilled modeler to create nearly anything that
comes to mind. But jewelry-specific programs tend to be more
expensive (or a lot more expensive) than general-purpose programs
that can do the same basic things.

It is also possible to create jewelry in programs that were designed
for general-purpose modeling. There are many programs available that
can be used. The primary requirement is that they be able to generate
a STL file; this format was developed for data exchange into additive
Rapid Prototyping (RP) systems, which build up a part by depositing
successive layers of material. It’s also used by CAM (Computer Aided
Machining) programs, which translate models into toolpaths a
computer-controlled mill can execute, to carve the model from a block
of material. There are other output formats as well, but STL seems to
be the most generally accepted and least problematic.

Asked for my recommendation a few months ago, I would have had to
suggest you buy several separate programs, but just lately they have
been coalescing into a single offering. Rhinoceros is an extremely
powerful but simple-to-use 3d modeler which uses splines (aka NURBS)
as the basic structure for making surfaces that are lightweight (so
the computer doesn’t bog down) and infinitely scalable. It excels at
making smooth, dimensionally accurate compound-curved surface models,
but isn’t very well-suited for subtle sculpting of organic details.
The Omni arm and Claytools software from Sensable Technologies, on
the other hand, is perfect for that. This system includes an
articulated arm device with force-feedback, which allows a user to
actually feel a virtual 3d model as it’s being worked on, and a set
of software tools that enable carving, smudging, tugging, smoothing,
and embossing and stippling with 2d art, as well as a number of other
functions. Using it is as close as a digital modeler can come to
actually using a real tool on real material - with some advantages,
like Ctrl-Z undo, and the ability to work from the inside of a form,
that aren’t available in the real world. This has now been made
available as Claytools for Rhino, which gives one the benefit of both
types of modeling in a single reasonably-priced bundle.

Once you have a digital 3d model, you can choose from a range of
processes to generate an actual part. The RP system most jewelers
prefer is made by Solidscape; it’s an expensive and touchy machine
but gives excellent surface detail, part configurations can be just
about whatever one wishes (as long as the model is totally solid),
and it prints 3d parts in a waxy material that burns out well. There
are a number of service bureaus that use them, and the price per
model is generally competitive with hand-carving. The other
alternative is CNC (Computer Numeric Controlled) milling. This
involves using a 3, 4, or 5-axis milling machine fitted with stepper
or servo motors which can replicate a 3d model by removing material
using rotary cutting tools. This requires running the model through
a CAM program and making some choices about tool size, feeds and
speeds, fineness of cut, etc. Part configurations are more
restricted, since the tool has to be able to reach the surfaces, or
they won’t be cut. But CNC machines are much less expensive than
additive RP machines, and a great variety of materials (wax,
plastic, wood, bone, stone, metals) can be cut, given the correct
machine and tooling. If you wanted to go this route, VisualMill, a
very powerful CAM program, has just been incorporated into Rhinoceros
as a plug-in (RhinoCAM Pro), and it’s being offered at a special
introductory price, so you could get all the software you need in a
single bundle.

Andrew Werby
Scanning, Modeling, and Milling Products at Discount Prices