Technology & Design

Hi friends,

First, thank you all so much for the great response to my pearl
question. Your responses were very helpful!

Now, on to my next project. I am now working on an article for
AJM magazine on how technology is expanding the boundaries of jewelry
design. In other words, how are jewelry designers doing things they
wouldn’t or couldn’t have done before the introduction of such tools
as laser welders, CAD/CAM, new alloys, PMC, etc.? Has your work been
influenced by the tools now available to you?

I’m looking forward to your insights!

Suzanne Wade
Phone: (508) 339-7366
Fax: (928) 563-8255

Hi Suzanne;

As enamoured as I am with all the new technologies and materials,
intrigued with the idea that these solutions might make my everyday
work easier and more productive, when it comes to creativity, these
elements are not very relevant for me. I actually find that what
gets my creative juices flowing is work that requires techniques and
tools that require years to master. Hand engraving, forging,
enameling, hand carving wax. Have you ever seen a really fine Belle
Epoch casting that has been chased all over with tiny polished tools
for finishing? It’s taken decades to get to the point where these
things intensify my relationship to materials instead of only
frustrating me. But the rich history of accomplishment by those who
built the legacy of jewelry making is where I find inspiration. A
fine example of Art Nouveau or Art Deco or Edwardian jewelry is is
lyrical, elegant and gracefull, as if it carries the very sould of
it’s maker with it. With all due respect to those here who work with
the new machines, materials and methods, these things have potential,
but I believe one must have a lifetime of relationship with one’s
tools and materials to breath life into what can be created with

David L. Huffman

HI Suzane I am in full agreement with David on the subject of
technology, it helps large manufacturers alot but as for makeing one
of a kind pieces it is way to time consuming and it removes the
maker from the material I have a friend who uses a cnc wax carving
machine to do work on and the pieces are impressive but they are
almost soleless in that they do not show any handwork. I have no
aspirations of competeing with the mass marketers I make one of a
kind pieces by hand one at a time using centuries old techniques.
Alot of people think that tools and technology can make up for years
of learned skill but it just is not the case. My wife likes to call
my shop a technology free zone, It has only been a couple of months
now that I have owned a computer and I would still be with out one
were it not for my son who is going to need one for school, however
I really enjoy reading and replying on this sight. Last night I was
hand forging a baby spoon for a friends new baby and he was watching
me do it, he works for a large computer firm and his job is to make
stuff go as fast as possible and as efficiently as possible after
three hours of pounding and planishing we finally had a hand made
spoon and he was completely amazed and concerned at the same time,
he informed me that there was no way I could ever produce these
things profitably and make any money doing it unless I figured out
how to do it faster with some machines, then I explained to him that
if I used a machine it would be like all other spoons that are made
today and it would not contain all the hammer blows that he and I
had forged into it it would just be one of a million spoons that
were punched out of a press by a machine operator that day not one
made specialy by hand for his son.

Sincerely Kevin Potter

 I am in full agreement with David on the subject of technology, it
helps large manufacturers alot but as for makeing one of a kind
pieces it is way to time consuming and it removes the maker from
the material I have a friend who uses a cnc wax carving machine to
do work on and the pieces are impressive but they are almost
soleless in that they do not show any handwork Snip

Oh my goodness. Technology such as CAD just another tool! Like any
other tool, it takes time to learn well enough to use as an artistic
medium (think YEARS).

Every piece I make is a one-of-a-kind, and I would be extremely hard
pressed to achieve the level of accuracy and refinement of detail by
hand that is possible with my milling machine. I use CAD, milling and
rapid prototyping for almost every single piece now and produce far
nicer pieces before my entry into the world of CAD.

While we’re on the subject, casting is a tool that forever changed
jewelry and the way mainstream jewelers work. I have to say that
general jewelry making skills plummeted after the introduction of
casting! The flex shaft is just another tool, as is the saw or file,
and so on…

Jeffrey Everett

33 years of hand making fine jewelry 14 years of using computers to
create beautiful jewelry with plenty of ‘soul’.

Dear David, what a relief to read your comments on technology and
design. After fifty years as a jeweller and the last twenty as a
teacher, I was beginning to wonder if all that cant from the colleges
about technique being a dead end was true. I was seeing so little
evidence of the skills I was taught as an apprentice. Yet when I
organise master classes in advanced technique they always fill, so I
guess there are still many jewellers who see the bigger picture and
recognise the vocational advantages of experience and training.

One of the better aspects of being an older jeweller today is not
just the experience and knowledge gained over the years, but the
excitement of using these new tools and technologies and discovering
a much broader spectrum of usage than some who may have known nothing

The only thing I haven’t been able to accept is sloppy, poorly-made
pieces masquerading as “art”. Some fine arts faculties seem to spend
more time on boosting immature egos when they should be giving
their students real-world vocational skills that will ensure their
survival - and their integrity - as jewellers. Oh well, I guess I’ll
die an idealist. Kind regards from Australia, Rex Steele Merten

Dear Suzanne, I have been very atttracted to the technology
available every year and could remain in debt the the very end of my
career if I chased it. I found that after a certain point the
technology no longer built revenue but ate it up. I feel that the
purchase of any new equipment must only be done after a cost/benefit
study is done for any purchaser. I could make more revenue
,quicker,with a bent nail stuck in a piece of wood than a CAD/CAM
system for my busines. I also feel that the retro-technologies such
as the Bonny Doon press hold more interest and immediate revenue
production than any computer based metalsmithing tool. I qualify
that because I am gambling that the internet will sell my jewelry at
a lower cost than a retail physical store. If you look around the
world at any country most of the North American 'smiths accuse of
killing our business you will not see, historically, much high tech
’smithing tools, but a willingness to sit at the bench and WORK.
Lord have mercy when the owners of outside the US companies decide
to purchase the tech tools.


Amen, Kevin. I agree with you completely. This subject comes up
periodically with my students, some of whom worry about learning all
these ‘hand techniques’ only to be surpassed by some cad system
somewhere. I point out that when items are made by machine all the
’mistakes’ or human aspects are removed (unless the design calls for
it) and the originality seems, as you say “lifeless”. Not that
machines don’t produce some nice things too, but I am perfectly
willing to leave that kind of what they call “fine jewelry” to the
big department stores and high class jewelry stores that have to
triple or quadrupple the price of something just so they can pay
their overhead. When I charge a higher price for something it is
because I did an especially good job on it and they are paying me
for my crafting skill, originality and artistic abilities, not my
intangible overhead.

I recently had a client that, when told the price of a piece, did a
double take and suggested the price was a pretty steep. I pointed
out that ALL the stones were slected and cut by me and ALL were
signed. The piece was an original design and is (and will continue
to be) one of a kind that is ALSO signed by me. I suggested that, if
he wanted a piece of nice expensive jewelry, copy 2031 of 50,000, he
should visit his local jewelry counter and purchase one. I reminded
him that IF he should find a piece even similar to mine, he will pay
at least double…probably triple. He purchased my piece.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS FINE jewelry. @coralnut2

Jeffrey, I second your thoughts!! It is a tool.

I also have been designing and creating one of a kind pieces for the
past 30 years. The past 2 years I have been using a Roland MDX-15 as
a tool to enhance the creation of some of my designs. I think that
my creative abilities have been heighten with the introduction to
CAD- CAM. I plan on continuing to learn programs like Rhino and get
into 4 axis milling and sending some designs out for rapid prototype
modeling to produce even more complicated models that are unable to
be milled.

The CAD-CAM system has also increased production on my general
jewelry work. The ability to design and create logo jewelry with the
precision of the specialty companies, custom bezels for standard and
unique shaped stones, prong settings for pendants, earrings and rings
has been invaluable to my studio sales and bottom line. The 1st
year I had the mill my studio sales increase 40% strictly due to
having the mill.

With the MDX-15 I can also 3d scan and record my original wax
sculpture to then recreate it,make it smaller, larger, invert or
make a mirror duplicate.

There can still be a lot of “soul” and “one off” creativity
instilled in a design enhanced by CAD-CAM technology. I still carve
and hand make many of my designs. I also still love to learn the old
ways of making jewelry and object. Next tools I am going to purchase
is a Miniature forming stake set and a German Anvil set.

I am sure that same argument was made when jewelers started using a
drop press and then carving wax and casting pieces that were before
hand wrought from metal.

Keep an open mind.

Jeff Dunnington

When I’m making a pair of earrings, the first one is art and craft,
the second earring is craft only. The next duplicate pair of
earrings is just plain work. Technology in mass production allows
the metalsmith to duplicate well-designed work in numbers that would
otherwise be far beyond the time on earth available to any given
person. How wonderful that we can all have an affordable Orchid
pin, for example, because the technology of casting allows the
artist to duplicate a wonderful design. The same technology allows
the poorly designed/crafted work to be reproduced. I’ve sometimes
wanted a hot-line number to the “art police” who could go out and
stop some people, maybe order rehab in an art design program before
they reproduce again.


Amen Sam I couldn’t agree more everyone today is concerned with
saving time and being more efficient so that they can earn more
money so they can buy a faster computer so it will save them time to
earn more money. I hope everyone can see where this is going, just
sit at your bench and like it you could be working at wallmart {I
don’t use capitiols letters for them they don’t deserve them} not
much could be worse than that. I enjoy every minute of working at
the bench I don’t keep track of the time or look for short cuts I
embrace the tedium of the task and revel in the joy of being part of
such a nobel tradition.

Sincerely Kevin Potter

I am sorry I did not mean to offend but my definition of hand made
is just different than yours using a cad program to design a piece
of jewelry and then programming g code into a computer to have a
model generated by a rapid prototyping machine is not hand made, at
least not by my definition. You could then take the wax and cast the
stones in place so you wouldn’t actually have to set them then you
could throw the piece in a tumbler to polish it or better yet a
magnetic disc finisher and have the whole piece done in less than
fifteen minutes. One of a kind means one of a kind as in each one
being different from the other a rapid prototyping machine can spit
out identical parts one after the other all day or better yet get
several running on one program and make thousands of them
simultainesly. I think these machines have their place but not in my
shop. Some may call me a tool snob but I like tools that assist me
not replace me I would rather spend years perfecting my craft with
my hands than years teaching a machine to do it for me. I own a
whole shop full of milling machines and lathes but they are all
conventional type machines in fact all were made before the 1950’s I
use them to make tools like forming stakes hammers ingot molds and
anvils. Craftsmen have been replaced by machines I must add-mitt the
first time I saw waxes that came off a rapid prototyping machine I
was scared. I thought that why would anyone make stuff by hand when
this machine can do a better job faster and cheaper. I can best
explain myself by using this analogy would you rather have the
painting Stary Stary night by Van Gohs or a photo of the painting
both look the same but only one was touched by his hands.

Sincerely Kevin Potter

Is this going to turn into another long winded argument on the
definitions of ‘hand made’? As far as the use of technology, I think
that throughout history we have seen new technologies introduced in
every walk of life. Writing in stone, then on to pencil and paper,
eventually to printing presses, then typewriters, now computers at
home and business. Same in the jewelry trade, and every other. Some
embrace new technologies immediately, some don’t, some never do. It
is all about our own personal comfort zones. If I could afford a CAD
package right now, I would. But I have no interest in rapid
prototyping. Doesn’t mean its bad, just that I would rather take the
designs I create in CAD and hand carve the waxes, or fabricate. My
thinking is that CAD can help me compensate for lousy drawing skills
in communicating a photo realistic image to my customers when
designing custom work. The only time any technology is “bad” is when
it is abused to hoodwink a customer. If you write on a computer,
using a type face that resembles handwriting, don’t pretend that you
wrote it out longhand. If you create a piece by using CAD to design
and some type of CAM to carve a wax, don’t tell people you hand
carved it. Simple. Jim

Hi Kevin You didn’t offend me, nor I am sure anyone else. I admire
your dedication to hand crafting. Please don’t get me wrong. I spent
my first 25 years or so in the trade highly specialized in hand
making fine jewelry. Not milling, not wax carving, but melting and
pouring gold into ingot molds, rolling into a usable form, sawing
into the shapes I needed and soldering them together with wax and
plaster support methods and so on. I azured the backs of my settings,
created fine chenier work, hand made thousands of fancy heads, hand
made wired platinum bracelets, etc.

What happened in my case is that I desired to transcend the limited
capabilities of my own handwork in creating ultra fine detail, near
perfect symmetry and if nothing else, to simply explore the
possibilities of any new tool however cerebral it may be. What I do
now is incorporate elements I create using the mill or rapid
prototyping with fabrication technique, and I also create many pieces
from wax or metal molds solely using my computer and milling machine
or rapid prototyping service bureaus. I also still hand fabricate
from rolled metal where it is more appropriate.

I don’t think anyone is ever going to produce anti-clastic raising
using a computer, replicate the artistic subtleties of fine hand
engraving nor any other types of pieces where this technology is
inappropriate. On the other hand, now that am exciting new tool is
available, I avail myself of it, as do many other craftsmen. The idea
is not to replace the craftsman or his skills, but to extend the tool
set available so he or she can produce whatever design is desired.

I add that I hope I did not offend your sensibilities in any way in
my earlier post, or in this one. I have ultimate respect for all
craftsmen, and especially jewelers that create such beautiful items
by hand. I count myself among fine handworkers as well as adapters of
new tools.

Jeffrey Everett

I have to say that general jewelry making skills plummeted after
the introduction of casting! 

Umm, I may be wrong on this but I kind of thought the process of
casting has been around for about 4000 years. If you’re talking
about the process of making rubber molds, that’s another story but
I’d be hard pressed to say that the Etruscan’s jewelry making skills
plummeted after the Egyptians tried some casting.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G. Spirer Somes Jewelers 1794 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140 617-491-6000

Jim, Your commentary may in and of itself bring those very replies
you disdain. Your last two sentences are very dismissive to my eyes.

It is the fact a letter is written, not the method which may enrich
the heart of the recipient.

It is also the fine execution of ones design which is far more
important than nit picking over the method used. IMHO.


A jeweller who is capable of making a hand made piece from scratch,
is trully a skilled artisan, and should be regarded as a great
asset to any entity that provides that individual with a living.
Whether as a business owner, or an employee, neither could function
to the best of it’s ability without that indivual.

In the same token, and taking into consideration, that Cad/Cam does
not only encompass the jewellery industry. It has very important
influences on industries that are apparrent in our daily lives, and
some which may not be so obvious. Cad/Cam is an invaluable tool to
say the least. Therefore, a skilled Cad/Cam operator is also a
great asset to have on board.

Now the key to this in the jewellery industry, is the ability of an
individual to create the perfect balance between Cad/Cam and old
school ability. Granted, and I would agree, that the work that most
jewellers have seen, promoting Cad/Cam, would give many the wrong
impression. The ones who succeed, are the ones that have the old
world skills and are adapt at utilizing Cad/Cam to enhance their work
and not detract from it. Therefore the important thing to acknowlegde
is that balance is the key. Just as a Cad/Cam operator using the
technology straight out of the box will never become a power house
until he or she starts to get creative and fully understand where
Cad/Cam begins, and Cad/Cam ends, and more importantly, knowing when
to bring the old school ability into the fold to now make a trully
remarkable piece.

Conclusion:- an individual who is a skilled artisan, and a
skilled Cad/Cam operator becomes a phenominal entity.

Jeffrey Everett, is one of those individuals that in my opinion has
the perfect balance. Another is Phil Poirier, who utilizes the Bonny
Doon Press with Cad/Cam, goldsmithing and silversmithing skills to
make perfectly balanced pieces of art and jewellery. His pieces are
not inexpensive, and the work reflects that. He is a skilled artisan
that has put all of the tools at his dispossal to create pieces that
are very difficult to beat. Abrasha, is another one. His work is not
my cup of tea, but I really do respect how he utilizes a mill, a
lathe and a drill press in many of his pieces. He is another skilled
artisan, that has the comprehension of how to make a balanced piece
and fully understands where the technology starts and ends.

A simple example of a balanced piece using a full eternity with
prongs. Jeweller:-

1) Make the ring blank
2) Layout the stones, drill and azure the back.
3) Cut the seats for the prongs in a form of a groove.
4) Lap and pre-polish the ring.
5) Solder on the prongs and trim to size and finish off the inside.
6) Set Stones.
7) Final Polish.


Jeweller and Cad/Cam operator:-

1) Make the ring blank using either RP or a 4th axis and cast.
2) Layout of stones, already done but still needs the hand azuring on the
back to give it a hand made look.
3) Seats for the prongs in a form of a groove are already in the blank.
4) Lap and pre-polish the ring.
5) Solder on the prongs and trim to size and finish off the inside.
6) Set Stones.
7) Final Polish.


The finished piece still involves the skilled bench work, but the
indo-synchroses have been eliminated. The finished piece will stand
side by side with the one done by hand and will command the same
price points. I have seen many make the whole eternity ring via 4th
axis and RP, and this is why they never look the way they should.
Cad/Cam will never give you prongs that look nice and drawn,
therefore, the importance of putting into the piece the right
combination of artistry utiziling a combination of skills is of the
utmost importance. Starting with a Cad/Cam blank, and soldering on
drawn wire for the prongs, will have that hand made look and feel,
but not necesserily be, a 100% hand made item. At the end of the day,
the customer is looking for price and quality, and the individual
utilizing all of the skills and tools to manufacture a balanced well
made piece will be the winner, regardless of the fact that it was
complety made by hand, or a combination of mentioned skills. That’s
all for now.

Best Regards.
Neil George

Hello Suzanne, Technology has given me the ability to cut engineered
designs that accurately fit together with miniature nuts and bolts to
pressure set a pearl or stone . I have a contractor that water jet
cuts stainless steel components from my original designs created in
CAD. Water jet cutting is high pressured water (55,000 psi) and a
mixture of fine garnet abrasives that pass through cutting heads at
speeds of up to 1000 feet per second. This technique is often used in
cutting aeronautic engine components. I work through the hand
techniques first to achieve the design and proportions. First I
draft the original design from my hand drawing, then I cut and shape
a prototype from metal. Next I send the drawing to an expert that
creates the CAD drawing for the final cutting in stainless steel
sheet with the water jet process. I use these steel components or I
cast them in sterling silver or gold. The stainless steel would be
impossible to cut through by hand and the precise casted pieces are
wonderful for this application.

My degree is in architectural design and not in the traditional
techniques of jewelry making. I never thought twice about using
technology to achieve my needs. I was more concerned that a large
contractor would turn their nose at working with a small-time
designer. Ironically, I took a course with Arline Fisch my last
semester at SDSU, and she is the one who directed me towards this

Cheers, Reba

I have to say that general jewelry making skills plummeted after
the introduction of casting!
Umm, I may be wrong on this but I kind of thought the process of
casting has been around for about 4000 years.  If you're talking
about the process of making rubber molds, that's another story but
I'd be hard pressed to say that the Etruscan's jewelry making
skills plummeted after the Egyptians tried some casting. 

IIRC, centrifugal casting was introduced in the 30s, invented by a
dentist, and this is what I was referring to. I’m not trying to get
into an argument here. I wasn’t talking about rubber molds, although
that’s a very good point. I really don’t know when the quality of
rubber required for jewelry production was introduced… However, the
difference between hand worked metal and cast jewelry is obvious. One
just can’t do in wax what can be fabricated in metal, and visa versa
I suppose… More to the point, the training a jeweler goes through
to develop fine metal working skills is not as common as it used to
be. Wax carving, and now digital skills as well, have come to the
forefront. I guess it’s the economics today. People would rather buy
heirloom jewelry for a fraction of what it costs to make today. In
working for several different shops over the past 33 years, I met
rather few jewelers who had devoted the years necessary to develop
the skills more common to jewelers before casting became popular.
That was my point. For example, I had the great fortune to meet and
work with some really great old time jewelers, and personally know of
almost no one now, including me, who even comes close to knowledge
and skills these gentlemen had. I’m speaking about people like
Charles (Jack) deLong, one of the finest platinum workers and
diamonds setters from Granat Bros in SF, who I met in the early 70’s
when he was in his 90s. I’d go over to his house sometimes and he’d
pull out hand wired bracelets that he’d made from rolled out nickels
and bead-set with rhinestones that were models for the platinum
pieces he made in the 20’s. He even had me bright cutting rhinestones
into rolled out nickels. Now that’s a task only for the brave! I just
hope you consider my post in the intended spirit.

Jeffrey Everett

I have to say that general jewelry making skills plummeted after
the introduction of casting!

I agree since the Macedonians first cast pieces in the Chalcolithic
period roughly 3500 BC. things have gotten worse, look at all that
shoddily done work found in the great Pyramid, of course this was
1000 years after the first castings were done which were several
crowns a few cups and a bunch of mace heads, Now when compared to
older works such as the Shandair pendant which is dated 9500 BC and
was hand crafted, (a pendant made from a piece of native copper
pounded by hand with rocks) of course there have been earlier cast
objects found such as a copper mace head that was cast in a mold
found in Anatolia (Turkey) it dates about 5000 BC. I’ll bet the
Egyptian goldsmiths whined and cried foul when they saw some of the
ornamentation worn by the Roman Legions, I think they were whining
because they had not developed the same level of technology, I will
grant that over the past 30 years I have been involved in the trade I
have seen an amazing technology advancement, and I try and embrace
it as any new tool that makes my work easier, faster and better,
Remember; the ancient craftsman had no Fordom, no ready made
planishing hammers, no easily replaceable files, no polishing lathes,
and I can see all of you now sitting in front of your oil lamp with a
blow pipe , (NOT) These are all technological advances but the
naysayer’s don’t seem to be too much against any of those marvels of
technology, Folks it’s just another tool, that’s all CAD-CAM is just
another tool. I’ll bet a lot of you don’t even like your computers,
and had to nearly be dragged kicking and screaming into the computer
store, I think that if you haven’t tried it you shouldn’t condemn it.
By the way I’m not quite ready to toss out all my primitive hand
tools just yet either; they are still quality tools and get used

Kenneth Ferrell

In reference my to comment that general metal working skill
plummeted after the introduction of casting, I realize I should have
said, since the introduction of mass production using rubber molds.
On the other hand, since jewelry quality is now better than any time
in history, I probably shouldn’t have said it at all and I’ll be much
more careful in how I word my thoughts in future posts.

Jeffrey Everett