Rocks and roll
Pieces of Stephen Webster jewellery have a bit of maverick rock and roll spirit within them, reflected in their popularity amongst movie stars and celebrities from LA to London.
This Juicy Bugs piece is typical of the bold shapes, often glistening with gems, that Stephen Webster produces. His unique style relies a lot on the use of innovative technology. Working primarily with Rhino for the design and planning, the London-based firm uses Lightwave to produce renderings.
“Rhino allows us to make accurate CAD models for both manufacturing and printing purposes and we use Lightwave for the animation and rendering of designs,” says designer Rudiger Leopald. “It [Rhino] allows us to easily review models and prototypes and it is also very simple to make changes; giving us the option to go a couple of steps back in the design process if you don’t like the final result.”
Stephen Webster also uses this data for physical output. “We link this to additive and subtractive systems for making 3D models, which we review and then put into production.”
With more jewellers experiencing the benefits of modern technologies, more are looking to evolve tools to fit their own needs. Rudiger would like to see a more art-based software, “that would allow you to sculpt models for production, something that combines both Rhino and ZBrush [a digital sculpting tool].”
David Marshall took the steps to integrate CAD into his company around four years ago when he took on 3Design software and an employee who had limited CAD experience. Now the company has its own crack CAD team.
“The 3Design software has the benefit of a parametric history tree, that allows you to easily tweak and make minor changes to your model,” says designer Simon Wolff, explaining its use when changing ring sizes without distorting parts.
But it’s the ability to rapid prototype that provides real results, using a Solidscape T66. “This gives us an all round better result, with less distortion and porosity from arch residue in our castings,” continues Simon, describing the profession’s preference to the all-wax content of the Solidscape models.
Another benefit is the ability to let the client see a realistic 3D design to make sure that they look and feel right before they commit to it, saving time and money by not having to make it up in a precious metal.
Jewels are trickier to work with and the team has been looking for a system that can accurately scan precious stones. “So that we could model our jewels around real stones and in that way always ensure the perfect fit,” explains Simon. “However, the problem is they are small, have highly reflective surfaces, and if that was not enough most gemstones are also translucent!”
Science, engineering and technology are key in the work produced at Rowan Davis Jewellery, this full-blown bling, left, is the ‘Dendritic’ ring, a favourite for movie starlets gracing red carpets.
Alex Mayron-Davis admits that the ability to put a piece together on screen is often a great alternative to hand drawing the complex shapes. The addition of stones – this particular piece contains 77 diamonds of varying sizes – is aided as the exact dimensions of the jewel can be inputted, making the process of placement much easier for the jeweller.
“The package I use mainly at the moment is Matrix, which is a jewellery-specific interface running on the Rhino platform,” says Alex. “Although a lot of our jewellery is still produced by hand, nearly all our pieces are visualised in Matrix before production.”
The CAD data is often carried over into rapid prototyping to give the designer something physical to assess. “Some items or constituent parts are produced in wax using rapid prototyping, usually outsourced to a SolidScape T66 machine, before subsequent investment casting in silver or gold.
The main collection is based on the branching patterns of molecules, however the technology has become a major part of Rowan Davis pieces with the new addition of the Iris cufflinks.
Made from sterling silver and carbon fibre, they have nine moving blades that close down like a camera aperture as the outer border of the cufflink is twisted. “Although largely made by hand, the opening and closing movement of these cufflinks was initially simulated in Rhino so that the design of the blades and surrounding assembly could be optimised,” said Alex, giving scope to the realms of complexity CAD allows the user to work to.
Gems of knowledge
The use of software and RP machines in jewellery design has exploded in recent years, with technology coming to the fore in what is traditionally an artisan’s domain.
At the School of Jewellery at Birmingham City University, Frank Cooper, the technical manager at the school and investigator of all potential new technology, is well placed to view the direction jewellery design is moving in.
“It is the movement towards 3D that is important, and the ability to create solids in jewellery,” says Frank. “Once you’ve got CAD data the only limit [to what you can create] is your imagination.”
Stringent on its emphasis to remain a neutral body in the field of jewellery design, the school has almost every type of RP machine imaginable and is keen to explore all benefits of the technology rather than circling one as the field leader, preferring to advise on individual circumstances.
“The most important piece of advice is to know and understand your manufacturing process,” extols Frank. “With CAD software what do you want to do with the output from it? Some people will want to drive small CNC desktop milling machines; some will buy their own prototyping machine like a Solidscape; and some will contract it out to a bureau. Those are the sorts of things they have to keep in mind when they are evaluating what software they want to use. Their evaluation should take in their own skills and abilities – what do they already know from school, college, or wherever – and what they can afford, highly important for small and starting out businesses.”
RP equipment is nothing without having the CAD software to drive it, but the adaptation to using software is not the big leap it once was. “There’s a difference in that we can see young people coming out of education not only computer literate, but CAD literate. The need to teach basic introductory, low-level stuff is falling off, and the need is at the more intermediate and advanced level.
“There are still some people who require introductory training, but it’s a shrinking group. What we’re finding is that those who didn’t have those skills and wanted to learn them now have.”
This is not to say that jewellery design has moved completely from its history of craftsmanship into a world of vectors and renderings – courses are still heavily design- and skill-based – but the School of Jewellery is aware of the importance new technology is playing, and has even introduced a unique top-up course entirely dedicated to the use of CAD and CAM design for industry.
The most widely used machine is still the Solidscape that prints in wax and feeds directly into the traditional jewellery manufacturing practice, known as lost wax investment casting – although the future is moving toward the office and desktop operable machines, as is it is across the design spectrum.
“The holy grail for what occurs in the other design industries applies to the jewellery design industry as well,” agrees Frank. “There’s still a place for handmade jewellery, and even the RP results have to be hand finished, but it takes some of the time and pain out of the traditional manufacturing.”
As a product as elegant as jewellery manoeuvres comfortably into the realm of engineering technology, it seems interesting to view how this uptake will continue to expand. Frank, firmly on the pulse of research groups and other industry experts, points to the ideal of CAD on demand.
“The big thing that’s really floating on the surface for all of us is when, how and if CAD is going to move to a ‘pay-as-you-go’ scheme,” admits Frank before moving into a bit of role-play. “If I’m Joe Bloggs the jeweller and I don’t want to pay £5,000 for a CAD programme, but I’ll happily pay £50 a month for online access to a CAD programme that’s stored in a remote server, updated remotely, and all I have to do is log in to get my CAD programme. I do my work, am able to save my work, and export files and send them to my contract RP bureau, then the job’s done.” A service like this, adding ‘bolt-on’ services like rendering for an extra cost, for example, would make the technology much more accessible to the small and medium sized enterprises. Sounds like a jewel of an idea.
The old artisan world of jewelley design gets technical with 3D design