The right tool: 3D printing jewelry

Kevin Caron's 3D printed BackFlip earrings in red resin - jewelry

My BackFlip earrings, in red resin

I’ve always liked jewelry.

Not for me, but for my wife. She loves to tell people that I had her favorite jewelry store on speed dial (That’s true. Too bad they went out of business.)

But let’s face it: good jewelry is really just tiny sculpture, so the form and look is as much interesting to me as any sculpture.

So when I got into 3D printing, I began thinking, “Why not take some of my favorite sculpture designs and shrink them to make jewelry myself?”

 Little did I know what I was getting into.

Jewelry is an entirely different business than the art world. Fortunately, I have a good team that is doing a fantastic job getting my line of jewelry into art galleries.

I also figured out very quickly that I couldn’t print the jewelry myself.

The biggest reason is scale – my 3D printers are great at printing larger format items, but when it comes to tiny, delicate items, they’re not the best choice.

So even though I own three 3D printers,  I outsource the printing of my 3D printed jewelry.

In addition to scale and detail, I wanted to have some of my jewelry available in silver and brass. (I’d like to offer gold, but the cost is astronomical.)

Accordingly, Shapeways, the largest 3D printing service bureau, has been printing my jewelry since we developed the line last year. It allows me to offer each of my current five designs in different colors of resin as well as brass and silver, when appropriate – sometimes a design, such as my Torus, would be too heavy in anything but resin.

Although there are 3D printers that print in metal, Shapeways actually prints the pieces that will end up in metal the old-fashioned way, combining one of the most modern technologies with one of the oldest processes.

People have been doing lost wax casting for more than 5,000 years, and that is exactly what Shapeways is doing, although, rather than carving or otherwise creating the original by hand, they 3D print the original in wax. You can now even buy the wax version if you’d rather to do the casting yourself.

I let them create the metal jewelry for me, though, as well as the resin.

It’s really just a matter of choosing the right tool for the job, and in this case, it’s someone else’s tool.

It’s allowed me to create a whole new side of my business, and, even more important, a new way to share my designs with others.

The jewelry has been a big hit. I’m already hitting my budget projections for the year, and I have two new designs coming out this fall. It could never have happened without 3D printing, and in this case, without having a company that can print precisely enough to fulfill my vision.

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