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Declining demand for hand carved wax


#1

Hi Orchid members.

How many of you are experiencing a sharp decline in the demand for
hand carved wax models ? I’ve been barely keeping myself going for
three months due to CAD taking my place with many of my customers.

Yes, I’ve called them and asked how things were going. CAD is the
godsend now. Are we hand carvers a disappearing artist ? Is anyone
else in fear of becoming obsolete ?

Margie - quietly wondering in Minneapolis.
www.mmwaxmodels.com


#2

Hi Margie,

I think there will always be a place for hand carvers, but the
volume and range of work will surely decrease. Anything that is
traditional jewelry -

wedding ring sets, gallery rings, pave settings, ballerina rings,
etc., can be done in CAD. Where the hand carver has a niche is in
artfully crafted, subtle, sculptural items. For instance, I think the
amount of time to do a CAD model of a highly sculpted animal,
complete with fur, etc. will be quite substantial and the resulting
CAD model may still lack a lot of subtlety and grace.

Many designers come up with their designs by working with materials
in their hands though some can design completely in 2D via sketching.
Things take shape and evolve as the work progresses and beautiful
designs come into being. The trouble is that the resulting hand
carved piece can easily be knocked off in CAD once it is realized. A
skilled CAD designer, with enough time and motivation, can copy most
things except, as previously mentioned, the very subtle, detailed,
idiosyncratic modeling that only skilled hands can create.

I just bought Rhino and Flamingo. They arrived yesterday, but I’ve
been too busy to load it and begin playing since I’m trying to get
organized before I leave for Tucson. I procrastinated making the
commitment to buy them because I guess I saw them as taking me away
from the bench, which I love. But the more I thought about it, it
just became more and more obvious that CAD is another powerful tool
and to ignore it is to be at a disadvantage.

Donna Shimazu


#3

Margie-

I agree that CAD Cam technology is enabling many jewelers to bypass
the custom carving services that we offer. But think of the bright
side…we’re free from so much of the drudgery and repetition! Now
we can concentrate on those areas that are unique to the jewelry
sculptor…namely 3-dimensional work.

There are limits to CAD Cam technology and that’s where we can
excel.

Besides…we can carve most (but not all) models quicker and more
efficiently than CAD Cam providers anyway.

Don’t despair.

Peace. Kim.


#4

Margie, I’m surmising most of your clients are retailers or similar.
If indeed they are choosing CAD over hand carved there is a reason
for it. Its a business decision they consciously make for their own
benefit based on their perceptions.

So your task is to discover that reason (there may be several) and
devise a plan to counter it.

Just guessing here but I’d say its some combination of speed, price,
and techno wowism. (“Wow, a computer did THAT?”) The first two you
have some control over, Work faster for less money. Disagreeable for
sure. So you have to Wow them. Have a trunk show of sorts at a
cooperative retailer. Have a lot of visual aids for the consumers.
Have a carving bench set up and ready to go. Go beyond ‘Meet the
artist’…step it up to “Work intimately with the artist”. Sell your
skill as more desirable and humanistic. Offer to start a sculpture of
a favorite pet for example, while they watch and you make comments.
Tie the whole thing to charity somehow.

Have the retailer do a mailing, not to everyone on their list but
only to those clients who might have some affinity for the art. This
needs to feel exclusive. The mailing should reflect this is something
special. When these clients dine out they don’t go to The Outback,
they go to the better restaurants in town. They are not concerned
with price but a quality dining experience. You offer them a quality
experience in jewelry making. They are not buying a chunk of gold,
they are enjoying the special process you offer.

Well, just an idea anyway.


#5

Ahh yes, remember when all we were worried about was getting our
designs ripped off by someone with rubber molds and a vulcanizer.
Those were the good old days!

Larry


#6

Margie,

Yes, demand for custom wax carving has fallen to near zero. Here in
small-town mid-Michigan, it’s more of a loss of discretionary
spending rather than turning to cad. All orders for casting have
taken as large of a hit as well.

Jon Michael Fuja


#7

I sub out figure work when it comes my way, animals, faces, just
can’t get them right, and won’t give them to a customer unless they
do look right. Hand carved, by a skilled wax carver.

I just got the winter 2007 edition of Bench Magazine, and I am
looking at the CAD/CAM wax on the cover. There are 6 different ways I
could duplicate that piece, almost my last choice would be with CAD.
I have 8 years of experience with ArtCAM. Lets See:

  1. fabricate it directly in the target metal.

  2. make a silver model and cast from a mold.

  3. carve a wax model by hand.

  4. make a white metal model (haven’t done that since 1973 but I do
    have the pewter on hand)

  5. do the model in ArtCAM. Export it to a CNC mill or 3D printer

  6. make the model in Fimo, never done that before…

I just pick the best option, according to if it is a single
commission piece or something I am adding to my wholesale line. Then
again, maybe it would be fun to do it in white metal. See if I still
have that skill.

There is a big ramp up to CAD. For me it is second nature- part of my
model making toolbox. Sometimes it is the only way to get the job
done, sometimes it is a last resort.

Rick Hamilton


#8

Margie,

With your incredible talent I doubt you will ever become obsolete. In
the 1800’s when the machine age came, most people that made things
by hand must have had a drop in business but here we are almost 200
years later and people still make things by hand. Hand carving wax is
no different. There will always be people that want something made by
hand. They like the fact that the artist ( dare I say Artist on
Orchid ) created this item and even if another one was carved it
would not be exactly like the first.

Play this uniqueness up with the people you work with and explain
the difference between what you create and what a machine makes.

Greg DeMark
www.demarkjewelry.com


#9
There is a big ramp up to CAD. For me it is second nature- part of
my model making toolbox. Sometimes it is the only way to get the
job done, sometimes it is a last resort. 

I just grabbed one quote out of many posts, above. Cad has been
around for 30 years or more - it’s just recently hit jewelry.
Occassionally I look at galleries of people’s cad work. Here’s
Gemvision’s (Matrix 3d):

http://www.gemvision.com/html/resources/gallery/gallery.html

Where Cad shines is in mechanical work - lettering, laying out
geometric patterns. Why not use it for that? Most of the attempts at
a more fluid design are pretty awful, to my eye, though. They’re
robotic looking. Not to mention that it’s clear to the experienced
eye that many of the people learned CAD before they learned how to
design jewelry. No, as Rick says above - it’s another tool in the
arsenal, and that’s all. I think the problem is with “touters” - “CAD
is the future, sell your workbench, you’re going to be plowed under”.
That’s just not true. While anything CAN be made, a whole lot of the
time it’s the worst possible way to do it - why jump through all of
the hoops to make a leaf earring when you can just cut out a piece of
sheet metal in 60 seconds? For example. On the plus side, if you
want to have a line of eternity rings (boring, yes, but a lucrative
commodity), in the old days you’d have to make 100 models and molds -
.02ct. sz 4,5,6,7,8,9, .03ct. sz 4,5, etc. Channel, four prong,
fishtail, shared prong and more. And they would come out warped,
too. Now you can have that whole line in one USB flash drive. What’s
not to like about that?

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#10

Margie,

There must be something else happening here for you. As someone who
has used your services I can’t imagine anyone using CAD equaling your
work and competing with your prices. I would challenge any one using
CAD to equal the leopard ring that you did for me, with all it’s
subtleties and nuance, at the price that you charged me. I don’t have
an answer for you as to why you are experiencing the drop off in
work. As others have suggested, maybe it’s time to examine your
marketing and make some changes. All the best, Joel

Joel Schwalb
www.schwalbstudio.com


#11

I don’t know if one can extrapolate from one’s personal eperience to
such a broad generalization as Ms Mersky did. I’ll make my own broad
generalization: There will always be demand for exceptional work in
every medium.

K Kelly


#12

Hi Donna,

Many designers come up with their designs by working with
materials in their hands though some can design completely in 2D
via sketching. Things take shape and evolve as the work progresses
and beautiful designs come into being. The trouble is that the
resulting hand carved piece can easily be knocked off in CAD once
it is realized. 
A skilled CAD designer, with enough time and motivation, can copy
most things except, as previously mentioned, the very subtle,
detailed, idiosyncratic modeling that only skilled hands can
create. 

You’ve raised some good points regarding the differences between
hand-carved wax models and waxes created with a CAD system. I tend
to agree there’s a certain element of personal style that’s
impossible to duplicate in CAD.

However, I disagree with you on one thing. I don’t think it’s all
that easy to knock off a design in CAD. It’s easier for me to create
something from scratch from my own imagination than it is to sit
there with a loupe, millimeter gauge and someone’s half thought out
instructions and try to duplicate an existing piece of jewelry, which
is what I’m often called upon to do . The customer expects me to
"make it look just like the model I sent you, only better". :wink:

What they really mean is they want the stone settings to be more
precise, the symmetry to be exact, the wall thicknesses consistent
and lighter, etc.

It’s true that a jeweler who works only with CAD misses out on the
intuitive feeling about design that comes with handling traditional
materials during the design process, but the process itself can as
unique and individualized as you want it to be. Ideas can evolve and
take shape much the same as they would if you were sketching by
hand…maybe even more spontaneously…by moving a few control
points, you can dramatically change a shape, getting a completely
different look with just a few clicks of the mouse or strokes with a
pen on a tablet and then do ten different variations in a few
moments,while seeing the changes in full 3D…

I’ve read comments (not from you) that discount the validity of
CAD’s artistic value because the “operator” is supposedly just
clicking on shapes from a menu or choosing parts from a library. Even
if they do use a program that has automated jewelry builders and
menus, they can still work freehand in it, And if they want to make
jewelry that looks like it was created from a menu. :wink: or copied
from the Stuller catalog, there’s nothing wrong with it if that’s
what they know how to do to make their customers happy,

However, designing with stock profile curves and so forth is only
the beginning of what can be accomplished.

A talented jewelry designer with an expertise in CAD, can realize
more of their creative potential and discover new design ideas
because they’re working with a different, (and some would say, more
sophisticated) tool.

Where the hand carver has a niche is in artfully crafted, subtle,
sculptural items. 

But what’s often overlooked is that there’s no reason why you can’t
start out a wax as a CAD model and then be detailed by hand. I have a
friend who does custom design and model-making for the trade. He
cranks out an enormous amount of work for just a one person
operation. He’s proficient in ArtCAM and CNC milling and he’s also a
skilled wax carver.

Strictly from a cost-effective perspective, when he gets a project
that he used to carve by hand but didn’t like to do because it took
so long, he now prefers to build the base structure and some of the
detail in ArtCAM Jewelsmith, creating a very precise model in terms
of the overall form, (and doing the parts that CAD excels in, perfect
symmetry intricate Celtic weaves, micro pave’ settings, etc), leaving
enough extra material in the specific areas where he intends to
carve by hand. He takes on jobs that would be too time consuming or
difficult to do sole by hand or solely with a CAD program…because
he has both skill sets, he’s got the best of both worlds and uses
them to his advantage, accordingly. Maybe that’s why his work is in
such high demand.

And from a non-mercenary artistic perspective, combining CAD and
hand carved technique opens up creative possibilities that many
jewelers may not have even considered. Wax components can be created
in CAD and detailed or textured by hand or combined with hand carved
elements resulting in production jewelry that retains the makers
personality and style while overcoming whatever hand-carving skills
they may lack or can’t do in a timely fashion

Of course, it helps to have your own CNC machine if you’re using that
method. because if you’re hand carving detail on a CNC milled wax and
something goes completely wrong, you can just put a fresh piece of
wax on the mill, run the same toolpath again and then go about your
other business, coming back a half hour or so later, to start over.

I just bought Rhino and Flamingo. They arrived yesterday, but I've
been too busy to load it and begin playing since I'm trying to get
organized before I leave for Tucson. I procrastinated making the
commitment to buy them because I guess I saw them as taking me
away from the bench, which I love. But the more I thought about it,
it just became more and more obvious that CAD is another powerful
tool and to ignore it is to be at a disadvantage. 

It’s great that you’ve taken the initiative to get Rhino. You’re
getting into it at a good time because Rhino 4 has some powerful new
tools which are going to simplify the process and change the way even
the most seasoned CAD jewelers work.

I have a feeling many jewelry designers have a curiosity about CAD
but can’t justify the cost or think the learning curve will be too
formidable. I’ve mentioned this before on Orchid, but I think MoI is
a great program to begin making jewelry with CAD.

http://www.moi3d.com/

Michael Gibson,who invented and developed Rhino is developing MoI
(Moment of Inspiration) this tme,with the artist and designer in
mind…it has tools that an artist can easily manipulate with a pen
and tablet and the interface is very cool, very user friendly and
easy to get around in…does this sound like a bit of an
exaggeration? It really isn’t, but I guess I’m just very enthusiastic
about MoI! I’ve posted a few video tutorials on the MoI forum and
intend to do more when I have time. It’s not a full blown CAD package
yet, but what it it does so far, it does very intelligently and
efficiently. I’ve been urging my jeweler friends to give it a try.
It’s free to use while it’s in Beta and when Version 1 comes ,its
going to be priced lower than most other programs in it’s class.

Regards

Jesse Kaufman
CAD/CAM Technology
Hancrafted Originality
www.jdkjewelry.com


#13

Joel have you seen what some of the cad packages can do these days,
specifically jewelsmith? You can make a 3d relief from a photograph.
The detail is pretty high.

Craig
www.creativecutgems.com


#14

Hi Jesse,

However, I disagree with you on one thing. I don't think it's all
that easy to knock off a design in CAD. It's easier for me to
create something from scratch from my own imagination than it is to
sit there with a loupe, millimeter gauge and someone's half thought
out instructions and try to duplicate an existing piece of jewelry,
which is what I'm often called upon to do. The customer expects me
to "make it look just like the model I sent you, only better". ;-) 

I agree that it’s less tedious to come up with something new than be
constrained to copy something else unless, of course, a truly
accurate 3d scanner becomes available that can do this reasonably.
What I was trying to say is that once an actual piece exists, its
design can be appropriated by someone else easily. “Easily” was
referring to the misappropriation of the actualized design. From
there, “time and motivation” come into play. Is the design thief
willing to put in the effort to copy the piece? In many cases, they
are willing to copy and market the counterfeits. Sometimes the
knock-off is accurate enough to fool people. Sometimes it’s a
facsimile that buyers are willing to settle for. There is a whole
underbelly of counterfeit Rolexes, Tiffany jewelry, etc.

What they really mean is they want the stone settings to be more
precise, the symmetry to be exact, the wall thicknesses consistent
and lighter, etc. 

This is a good example of how CAD can be very useful. For now, since
I haven’t become CAD proficient, I know I can come up with designs
through direct fabricating or wax carving. If my prototype model is
successful in a test market, it might sometimes be worthwhile to redo
the model in CAD to attain more consistent wall thickness, symmetry,
stone seats, etc. That would help with cost control and allow for
calibrated stones which would in turn make for easier and more
consistent manufacturing.

It's true that a jeweler who works only with CAD misses out on the
intuitive feeling about design that comes with handling
traditional materials during the design process, but the process
itself can as unique and individualized as you want it to be. Ideas
can evolve and take shape much the same as they would if you were
sketching by hand...maybe even more spontaneously....by moving a
few control points, you can dramatically change a shape, getting a
completely different look with just a few clicks of the mouse or
strokes with a pen on a tablet and then do ten different variations
in a few moments,while seeing the changes in full 3D.. 

I agree. I’m interested in CAD because of the freedom to modify on
the fly. To scale up and down, flip left and right, cut and paste,
stretch or compress, etc.

Strictly from a cost-effective perspective, when he gets a project
that he used to carve by hand but didn't like to do because it
took so long, he now prefers to build the base structure and some
of the detail in ArtCAM Jewelsmith, creating a very precise model
in terms of the overall form, (and doing the parts that CAD excels
in, perfect symmetry intricate Celtic weaves, micro pave' settings,
etc), leaving enough extra material in the specific areas where he
intends to carve by hand. He takes on jobs that would be too time
consuming or difficult to do sole by hand or solely with a CAD
program...because he has both skill sets, he's got the best of both
worlds and uses them to his advantage, accordingly. Maybe that's
why his work is in such high demand. 

This is exactly one of the reasons I want to learn CAD. I want to
design a whole series of what I would refer to as “blanks”. I would
bypass the work of blocking out the blanks and could go straight to
hand carving to detail these blanks. In some cases, instead of
blanks, I would design “trims”, be they setting strips, ribbons,
etc., that could be cast, finished and fabricated to other items.

Doing Celtic weaves by hand now seems almost masochistic when one
can do it better in CAD. This is especially true for rings that have
to be manufactured in different sizes. Same goes for eternity bands
that require different ring sizes and/or stone sizes.

 Wax components can be created in CAD and detailed or textured
by hand or combined with hand carved elements resulting in production
jewelry that retains the makers personality and style while
overcoming whatever hand-carving skills they may lack or can't do
in a timely fashion 

Again, I heartily agree in keeping the maker’s “touch” alive by
integrating hand-carving skills with CAD applications. But I also
think “timely fashion” is the operative concept here. We can make
lovely things, but if they’re not cost efficient to make, it would be
a self-defeating endeavor for a profit seaking enterprise.

I have a feeling many jewelry designers have a curiosity about CAD
but can't justify the cost or think the learning curve will be too
formidable. I've mentioned this before on Orchid, but I think MoI
is a great program to begin making jewelry with CAD. 

The learning curve is very daunting to me which is why I’ve put it
off for so long. I have a lot of balls in the air at any given time
and my fear is that for every step forward I take learning Rhino,
I’ll take a few back when I can’t put in the time to learn on a
continuous and consistent basis. I asked others about jumping
directly into Matrix versus learning Rhino first. I was told to learn
Rhino because it is the base for Matrix and it is so much more
affordable, something like $800 versus $7000+.

Michael Gibson,who invented and developed Rhino is developing MoI
(Moment of Inspiration) this tme,with the artist and designer in
mind..it has tools that an artist can easily manipulate with a pen
and tablet and the interface is very cool, very user friendly and
easy to get around in... 

I’ll keep an eye on the MoI developments, but first things first,
baby steps and all for me with Rhino.

Jesse, thanks for your insights. I think we are very like-minded in
our view of CAD applications and integrations.

In closing, something else I’ve observed first hand, is that the CAD
people who were accomplished bench people first, create manufacturing
models that are superior to the people who went to CAD as an
alternative to honing bench skills. The bench/CAD designers’ feel for
design is better because they know how wire and sheet should look and
behave. They know how to design for easy clean up and they understand
where and how to break designs into modules for better assembly in
different colored golds, for instance. They understand what relative
thicknesses of prongs, galleries, shanks, cross sections, etc.,
should be.They know what a setter needs to set stones more
efficiently and aesthetically. They also know what the inside or
back of a piece should look like because they’ve made actual pieces.

Donna Shimazu


#15

Greetings everyone!

When I was at the Clasp Conference in Nashville this past fall alot
of people were talking about CAD and if a piece still had “soul” when
designed that way. A presenter for the CAD workshop was doing a
design on the screen that looked interesting but Could not be
fabricated the way he was designing it. It would have been far easier
to fabricate straight in metal. So I think when you work at the bench
and have the practical skills to add to design skills the
possibilites expand expotentially. I have been working with my studio
partner Rick Hamilton for years now with him taking my drawings and
interpreting them into CAD/CAM. I determined that instead of my
taking the time to learn the system which was not a comfortable way
for my brain to think this partnership worked better. My work is
very “soulful” and powerful and the process of using CAD has not
taken any of that away in fact it has added to what I can envision
now. Alot of times I use parts and patterns that we CAD/CAM and then
build and fabricate with them in the casted metal forms or by fusing
waxes so that the pieces are a combination of technologies. Currently
I am working on some completely three D designs that I am not sure
will interpret well in CAD but giving it a shot and if it does not
work will go back to having them hand carved. The ability to have a
piece very quickly and to make changes or adjust scales easily isan
added benefit to CAD. I truly admire those who can carve amazing
objects and if I had access to those skills here I would try to
utiluze them more as I do appreciate the “hand” skills and want to
support those parts of the craft where I am not capable enough.

This question in a way ties into the other thread about overseas
manufacturing. If there were more of a concentrated marketing program
that focused around “AMerican Made” or Made by Hand we would be able
to build more demand. We cannot compete with the costs or services
provided by these countries employing tens of thousands of people at
dollars a day to do labor. Where we can compete is innovation,
design, marketing building consumer recognition and demand. With the
current “Nationalism” post 9/11 there is an opportunity to tie into
the emotional aspects of the jewelry purchase to the artist producing
the pieces. This is different from “branding " a designer. We want to
do for jewelry what the cotton industry did in clothing a while back
"Made in America” does still sell if it provides quality & value
outside of the base materials. After much consideration of going
overseas with my new collection to prepare to launch nationally this
spring I have decided that supporting the industry here and local
people as much as possible ties in with my spiritual beliefs and my
sense of community and therefore for now even with it costing me
DOUBLE to have my work cast and finished in Rhode Island I am staying
local and will use that concept in my marketing while feeding the
souls who help me create in my own community.

Sorry this turned out so long but I have been thinking about it alot
and hope I have been lucid.

Thanks,
Beth McElhiney
Martha’s Vineyard, MA


#16

I’ve seen them Craig. The latest issue of MJSA has a good two page
article on CAD-CAM… very informative. I am not stepping up to
compete with a machine that can run circles around me in a fourth of
the time. CAD is today, I am yesterday… therefore I seek other
employment. It was nice to have my “day in the sun” as they say.

All The Best.
M. Mersky


#17

I don’t know about the cad not being able to hold detail. 3d cad has
come a long way at first real buggy but now they’ve got it down. As
a cnc programmer by trade, I have made heart valves and all kinds of
other medical devices. Not to mention I worked on the space station.
I have 2 decades into cnc programming and the software is getting
easier and much more detailed. The more fluent you are the more
fluent the designs you can get.

Bob


#18

Craig,

I just took a look at the jewelsmith web site and didn’t see
anything that has any of the subtleties that one finds in the
representation of an organic form such as an animal. Margie
specializes in carving waxes of animals, etc. Many of the examples
that jewelsmith displays on their web site have a great deal of
detail but, for the most part, they tend to have a mechanical look.

Joel
Joel Schwalb
www.schwalbstudio.com


#19

Hi Margie, don’t get me wrong I think your work is phenomenal I was
just pointing out that CAD/CAM has come a long way.

Craig
www.creativecutgems.com


#20

Margie,

Don’t quit just yet. I do a lot of cadcam model work for a domestic
white metal manufacturer trying to keep ahead of his off shore
competition.

(skills acquired through self learning, but that is another thread)
I usually have enough design freedom that I can design to fit my
tools and time constraints, but when asked to even attempt something
looking like your 3D animal carvings I fall far, far short, and also
end up working for maybe $2 an hour ;-). While I am not running the
really high end software I just can’t believe some of the advertised
capabilities of producing good models from regular photographs. Maybe
with careful photography and probable major photoshop adjustments
it’s sort of workable, but then the cost and skills required make you
competitive

I’m catering to a completely different market than you (no
competition), and really respect your work. Maybe a different
marketing angle and you would not have to do as many of those mundane
jobs where dumb machines excel.

Jeff
Demand Designs
http://www.gmavt.net/~jdemand