I've spent the last few months trying to relearn CAD. If you're unfamiliar, CAD stands for computer aided design. CAD software is used in countless industries- architecture, automotive, furniture, medical, and more. CAD technology has a lot of wonderful applications for jewelry.
I love working with my hands. There's very little that satisfies me as much as making something from scratch and seeing an idea come to life. That being said though, designing and fabricating jewelry can be a very delicate and tedious process. It requires a lot of precision and a very careful touch. You'd be amazed at how much time can go into creating such tiny little objects and ornamentations. I get a lot of enjoyment from the styles that I do make by hand, but many times I'll come up with concepts or sketches that I know I personally can't (or don't want to) fabricate in metal. I think its good to know your limits.. and I'm telling you now that I do not have the patience or the vision to plot out the settings for a bunch of stones smaller than pin-heads on my jewelry! I'm glad that I know how to in the event that I absolutely had to, but technology decided to spare me from the dirty work and I am gladly going to take it up on the offer.
CAD software allows me to work precisely down to thousandths of a millimeter. Measuring tiny details on a computer with zoom capabilities is a WHOLE lot easier than trying to measure and mark these things on metal with the naked eye. Plus, when I make a mistake, I can always command+Z like it never happened! Since it's an engineering program, it enables me to base my designs off math to ensure that my designs are suited for the strengths and tolerances of specific metals. It is efficient, eliminates cost and labor, and is much more forgiving than carving jewelry waxes by hand. The other wonderful thing is that it allows me to create both one-of-a-kind and larger volume production pieces equally, because the design exists simply as a file on my computer. I could print 1 piece or I could print 1000 pieces.
Ah, that brings me to 3D printing! Anything I design on the computer using this software can be printed out... in three dimensions! If you've ever seen a wax carving of a ring prior to being cast in metal- that is exactly what I'm able to hold after printing out one of my designs. When I design on CAD, my jewelry is created on a grid and I use math to plot the exact locations of every surface, edge, prong, opening, etc. The design on the CAD file is communicated to a printer as a series of coordinates that represent the form of the design. The printer uses an additive method to create a three dimensional object. Extremely thin layers of a material (usually some form of plastic) are built up one on top of the other to eventually form an object. The finished piece is a result of stacking up hundreds of cross sections of the design. Basically, its like making a crepe cake. Enough thin layers stacked on top of each other will eventually create something with visible volume and form. Forgive me, I'm hungry and it was the first example that came to mind.
Back on topic though, crafting intricate jewelry designs in wax is an exercise in patience and gentleness. Waxes are easy to break, and often the casting process can go wrong! If the metal isn't the right temperature or the wax had air bubbles attached to it, the finished casting can be damaged or even unusable. If you used a one-of-a-kind, hand-carved wax and the casting fails... you have lost a lot of valuable time/craftsmanship and would have to start your carving all over from a new block of wax. In CAD, if the metal casting doesn't come out the first time, you can just print another plastic model of your jewelry to cast again. It is also easy to manipulate the design- because there is always an un-do button and the 3D file can be reworked over and over again for adjustments or a total redesign.
Even before printing out a model of the design, the software can render the design as an extraordinarily lifelike jpeg. I'm a very visual person- so this has been wonderful for me! It's also a great feature for customers- because it allows them to see a photo-realistic image of a custom design before they spend the money to have it made. I'll attach some images below of some of the designs I generated while learning the software!
While learning the software, I familiarized myself with how to make countless setting styles on the computer- from a basic bezel setting through pave, channel, and micro-prong setting. I'm so eager to bring this new technology to Sea+Stone. Its going to be a wonderful supplement to the jewelry that I have been making, and it really opens up a world of possibilities for designs that I wouldn't have been able to create without the technology. Now that I see how limitless the software is, I'm eager to grab my sketchbook and brainstorm new ideas to bring to life!