This paper looks at the impact computer technology, specifically CAD/CAM
(Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacture), has had on jewellery
fabrication during the 20th century. This is a topic not covered in the existing
course outline, one that is controversial within the industry and one that has had
a significant impact on how jewellery can be designed, produced and how it is
perceived. In the broader picture CAD/CAM is being introduced across other
artistic disciplines so the implications for a class can be seen in a broader context
than jewellery alone.
Through my research on of this topic I've selected three readings that show
the progression of jewellery through to the 20th century. The first article reviews
the history of jewellery to set the stage; the second looks at CAD/CAM in the
jewellery field from the perspective of the early 1990s and the third looks at craft
at a crossroads, summarizing views of jewelers from both the traditional practice
and those using CAD/CAM.
These readings, coupled with my other research, highlighted many of the
same discussion issues raised throughout the semester: craft versus industry,
the separation of the maker from the object, is the hand required in the making to
call it handmade and finally is it art or is it craft.
First lets look at jewellery design and its significance to those who wore it.
Body ornamentation has been around for as long as we can trace history but
styles, types and the construction are a progression in time depending on
circumstances, politics and materials available. Historically changes in
fabrication techniques have happened very slowly.
In the Stone Age the initial human focus was on survival and simple items
were worn as a talisman rather than as jewellery per se. It wasn't until Neolithic
times that trades appeared, including jewellery.
By the days of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt almost everyone wore jewellery
from simplistic to highly ornate depending on their status. Jewellery of the time
was made from all kinds of materials - traditional metals, organic gems,
manmade items and precious stones. However, like the Stone Age, much of it
was an amuletic and used 'to protect the dead on their journey into the afterlife. i
The Industrial Revolution, in the 18th century, revolutionized the production of
goods but created angst for the traditional crafts when artisans no longer made a
complete product but only a single piece of the total work. The Arts and Crafts
Movement was a reaction to this new world; they advocated the reunification of
art and labour to bring the hand of the maker and the work back together. The
Industrial Revolution 'had a tremendous influence on the evolution of jewelry
design, the applied arts, and industrial design throughout the 20th century.ii
Art Nouveau was born of the ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement and was
popular in the 1890's using stylized natural forms and flowing lines as its
signature style. This was the first time jewellery was also seen as art with
'design, creativity and imagination' being more valuable than the materials
Various movements and styles followed culminating in Art Deco signified by
geometric designs and bold colours and outlines (themes that reappeared in the
World War II interrupted any further evolution until the 1950s when jewellery
found its own way forward independent of other disciplines; when jewellery
became art as well as adornment.
The 1970s saw a 'redefinition of the social function of jewelry.'iv Historically
apprenticeship was the training ground for new jewelers but this was now being
transferred to the more open minded and less traditional art school. With all of
this came the introduction of contemporary jewellery and with this 'good design
was not [seen to be] in conflict with industrial production or economic
In the 1980s and 1990s jewellery returned to its roots – made with gold,
precious stones and simply designed and by the end of the 20th century there
were two jewellery streams: the first, market driven production pieces and the
second, non-commercial artistic jewellery.
Going back to ancient Egypt how were those fabulous pieces of jewellery
fabricated 3,000 or 4,000 years ago? Here is a comparison between then and
the 20th century to put it all in perspective.
Ancient Egyptian jewelers used available materials to make tools – stones for
hammers, copper or bronze for chisels, bow drills made holes, abrasive stones
for sanding and charcoal fires and reed blowpipes to heat metal. Contrast this
with our fully equipped studios in the 20th century, although we have the same
basic tools our hammers are now metal, plastic or hide and job specific, we have
saws and shears and many of our tools are motorized.
Working conditions were diametrically opposed as well. We mostly work
indoors in well-appointed, clean and comfortable studios with torches that are
easily lit and offer a consistent and reliable heat source. In ancient Egypt
jewelers were outside exposed to the elements, sitting on stone, amid open fires,
and the noise of others at work.
But some things remain the same, like today jewelers in ancient Egypt 'had to
know the meanings of colors, how symbols worked together, [and] how to make
each piece exactly right.'vi And many of the techniques are still in use today –
forging and fabrication, repousse and chasing, as well as granulation and
Then with the advent of computers the world changed again. CAD is a
relatively new technology with the initial thrust 'developed by Ivan Sutherland as
part of his PhD thesis at MIT in the early 1960s.vii
Although first used mostly for research and commercial applications CAD was
mostly a replacement for drafting. 'Twenty-five years ago, nearly every drawing
produced in the world was done with pencil or ink on paper.'viii In this system
changes could mean completely redoing the drawings or maybe just an eraser
and a few new lines. The major concern was if the changes had implications for
other drawings these would all have to be manually identified and changed as
well. With CAD the change is made once and is applicable to the entire set of
drawings. So CAD 'fundamentally changed the way design is done.ix
As the technology improved and computers reduced in price CAD moved
from specialist functions at large manufacturing operations to a day-to-day tool
for smaller businesses.
To look at the impact of CAD on jewellery, I've selected excerpts from four
writings that provide a prospective over the last part of the 20th Century. These
are presented in chronological order to document the progression of the
The first is by Charles Lewton-Brain and was authored in the early 1990s.
Although CAD has been used in large jewellery manufacturing for some time, it is
now making inroads into some smaller operations.
However designing in CAD for CAM is significantly different than for
traditional fabrication and the technology can change design decisions because
of what is now possible.
Another upshot of this new technology is that it is now possible for someone
without any fabrication experience to create jewellery. This could then create
new opportunities for CAM specialists in the jewellery industry. But having said
that, the specialist must still have some knowledge of the jewelers ultimate needs
to ensure the finished object comes together smoothly. Therefore in an ideal
world the jeweler would be a CAM specialist with a formal jewellery education.
This hybrid person would be much in demand in the near future.
Lewton-Brain sees the widespread use of CAD/CAM in jewellery stores in the
future, allowing them to show prospective clients photo realistic samples of
jewellery. Through 'virtual reality' the client can handle the jewellery to see how it
looks. If all goes well, the order is taken, the prototyping gives a finished wax
and the object is completed.
The second article is by Steven and Nancy Attaway and was written in 2001.
They wonder if the Internet will become the vehicle to design and produce custom jewellery? Where maybe even the stone setting is incorporated into the
They challenge us to imagine that with a few mouse clicks we could select a
stone and a ring design, merge them, create a rendered image, then twist and
turn it to view the result. If the client approves, a wax would be printed ready for
casting. Maybe we will be able to even print the piece in metal with the stones
already set. They point out that this is not all in the future, much of it happens
The biggest advantage and conversely the biggest disadvantage of this new
technology is that it is so easy to make changes we sometimes do more work
than is necessary.
The Attaway's caution that just because software is designed for jewellery
does not mean it will be easy to use and that there is no one program that will do
everything you want, each tends to specialize in one or two areas.
However, they do not believe the technology will eliminate the need for the
craftsman. In fact they conclude that although CAD and CAM are powerful tools,
'jewelry design still needs an artist's touch to make it special.x
In the third article, from 2004, Suzanne Wade writes, 'The jewelry industry
has seen a veritable flood of new technologies in recent years … and after a
tentative start, jewelry designers have begun to embrace them.xi
These new technologies create unique opportunities for both the veteran and
the new talent alike; the boundary of possibilities is on the move, limited only by
the designer's imagination. The bottom line is that 'it isn't the technologies that
will create those new designs - it's the people who use them.xii
The fourth and final article, written in 2007, by John Shanahan states
CAD/CAM 'maximizes … both creativity and time … [as the technology
becomes] more user-friendly and artisan-intuitive.'xiii
For those who create
designs 'CAD/CAM can make it easier, faster, and more efficient.xiv
But like others, he cautions that without a firm footing in traditional jewellery
fabrication and production 'CAD software users simply have a very detailed
program that lets them draw on their computers.'xv
Part of the Lewton-Brain article addresses education in this new environment,
noting that it would 'seem to offer a unique opportunity for art and industry
training schools to educate their students in CAD systems.'xvi
At the time of writing this article he noted that the Tyler School of Art in
Philadelphia was the primary jewellery educator integrating technology into their
traditional jewellery program. This becomes an ideal situation because with
cross training art schools would 'not be churning out computer operators but
rather placing computers as a tool for expression in the art school
environment.'xvii In the end computers are not for everyone but they are a viable
option for some.
It was interesting in light of the Lewton-Brain discussion of the Tyler Institute
of Art that Rebecca Annand, a recent MFA graduate and a current teacher at
Tyler, visited NSCAD on 26 November 2010.
During her presentation Annand said she was originally trained as a
traditional jeweler and felt that this was an important component of her ability to
integrate CAD/CAM into her work. Without her traditional fabrication background
she wouldn't be making the work she is today in CAD.
Annand says the hand remains an important part of her work, even in the
technological environment. This comes in her sketches, traditional fabrication,
using the mouse, or finishing the final object. Sketching, testing and creating
samples are just as important in CAD/CAM as in traditional fabrication to ensure
your concepts are what you want. Not everything will work and it is important to
It is also important to rethink connections and attachments when working in
CAD. For instance adding a metal pin to a CAD/CAM broach didn't seem right
so Annand used an integral 'paper clip' style design instead.
When commenting on whether or not her work was craft oriented, Annand
commented there is now a 'CAD Craft' and it is very real.
Tyler School of Art was ahead of the curve in adopting CAD/CAM bringing the
program into the school in the late 1980s. Today jewellery students are
constantly exposed to both technology and traditional crafts with the CAD
computers and CAM printers located in the same area as jewellery workbenches.
In fact a degree from Tyler is called Metals/Jewelry/CAD-CAM giving equal
weight to the old and the new. xviii
CAD/CAM arrived at NSCAD over a decade later and sort of slide in the back
door with Pamela Richie as its champion. Her first exposure to CAD was when
she was on sabbatical in England. When she returned in the late 1990s NSCAD
was not receptive to this new technology but Richie satisfied individual students
curiosity with personal demonstrations and tutorials. Ultimately with the arrival of
Paul Greenhalgh as President in 2001 the CAD program was placed on the
jewellery curriculum at NSCAD.xix
With all of this is craft at a crossroads? In a 2006 article, Sharon Elaine
Thompson wonders if the hand doesn't touch an object or it is made from
industrial materials can it still be handmade? What about objects made using
To look at the impact CAD/CAM has had on the traditional jewellery industry
Thompson talked to jewelers and although the responses were varied, there
were a lot of similarities as well.
There seems to be general agreement in two areas: that the hand is still in
the work even if it was created in CAD and printed in CAM and that having
experience as a traditional jeweler is a definite asset when working in the CAD
environment although there may be some who could master CAD without this
In the digital age, your studio can be your laptop and you can work from
anywhere. But when making craft, regardless of the medium, the important
considerations continue to be - ideas rather than the materials, well made objects
that push the limits of what has been done before, and one-of-a-kind objects
rather than designs for mass production.
Many artists today simply use whatever technology is needed to bring their
designs to fruition, acknowledging that some materials cannot be accessed but
through CAM and some pieces could not be produced using traditional
One interesting view states that it is the skill of the maker that is important in
the finished object rather than the method of making.
Thompson concludes that although things are different, members of today's
and tomorrows jewellery industry are no different from those of the past – they are proud of the history of their chosen profession but want to do things there
own way. They are proud of the objects created with their hands, 'whether they
wield a hammer, a wax pen, or a mouse.xx Craft is continuing to change as it
always has since time immemorial.
What do I think? After reading 'Craft at a Crossroad' in 2006 I was so
intrigued with the possibilities of what could be I registered for the CAD/CAM
course in the fall of 2007. Like anything new, I spent a lot to time learning the
fundamentals; being frustrated and finding the breakthrough that allowed me to
apply these new techniques to uniquely designed objects.
After studying traditional techniques at the bench and then learning
CAD/CAM on the computer I'm convinced that it is not all or nothing; it is not one
or the other; it is both. Each has its own strengths and limitations and each will
inform the discipline in a different way, which is as it should be.
I found it interesting as I reviewed my class notes, readings and did further
research for this paper how new technology has impacted the production and
perception of craft over time.
For instance, the Industrial Revolution saw William Morris declaring war on
the machine because it was doing the work people should do and this ultimately
spawned the Arts and Crafts Movement. Ironically the Movement failed because
the public could not tell the difference between well-crafted inexpensive items
and those that were mass-produced. By contrast the Bauhaus embraced
industrial collaboration and one student Marianne Brandt even produced
handcrafted items to look like machine made.
Another departure from the Arts and Crafts ideals was Frank Lloyd Wright
who believed that the machine supported creative endeavours rather than tore
them apart. Hermann Muthesius also felt that man and the machine should work
together and there was no conflict between the artist and mass production.
The academic community continues to add to the art-craft-industry debate but
is now factoring in the digital age. Malcolm McCullough proposes that new
computer technologies gives us another avenue for craft expression that requires
using the hand or 'direct manipulation' by the operator. While Rafael Cardoso
makes a case that because the digital environment now allows for 'flexible
production' permitting one-of-kind or limited production items rather than massproduced
ones, we've reverted to a craft scenario.
As a postscript to this paper the December 2010 Jewelry Arts & Lapidary
Journal printed a list of the 10 changes in the last decade that have had the
'greatest impact on jewelry making today.' xxi Number one on the list was
CAD/CAM. Noting that 10 years ago the question was 'how would [CAD/CAM]
become 'a game changer' [the answer, based on this article, is that today] they're
an integral part of the industry.xxii
Based on all of these factors, I believe that the topic 'The Impact of
CAD/CAM on Traditional Jewellery Fabrication' would fit perfectly into the
existing syllabus for 20th Century Craft and be a compliment to the existing topics
- Rebecca Annand, 'Artist Presentation: CAD-CAM Jewellery,' NSCAD
University, Halifax, 26 Nov. 2010
- Attaway, Steven and Nancy. 'CAD-CAM For the Studio Jewelry Artist.' Lapidary
Journal Jewelry Artist July 2001. 14 Nov. 2010
- CAD software - history of CAD CAM. CADAZZ 6 November 2010
- Cardoso, Rafael. 'Craft Versus Design: Moving Beyond A Tired Dichotomy.'
The Craft Reader. Ed. Glenn Adamson. Oxford: Berg Publishing, 2010.
- Codina, Carles. The Complete Book of Jewelry Making. Ed. Maria Fermanda
Canal. Trans. Laurie C. Jones. New York: Lark Books, 2000. Trans. of La
- 'The History of CAD.', MB Solutions 3 June 2003. 14 November 2010
- Lewton-Brain, Charles. 'Some thoughts on computer use in the Metals/jewelry
Field (1996).' Ganoksin. 16 Nov. 2010
- Morris, William. 'The Socialist Ideal.' The New Review. 1891. 11 Sept. 2010
- Muthesius, Hermann. 'Art and the Machine.' The Craft Reader. Ed. Glenn
Adamson. Oxford: Berg Publishing, 2010. 111-119
- McCullough, Malcolm. 'Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand.' The Craft
- Reader. Ed. Glenn Adamson. Oxford: Berg Publishing, 2010. 310-316
- Richie, Pam. Personal interview. 26 Nov. 2010
- Shanahan, John. 'Taking a Practical Approach to CAD/CAM.' MJSA Journal
2007. Ganoksin. 16 Nov. 2010
- Thompson, Sharon Elaine. 'Craft at a Crossroads.' Jewelry Arts & Lapidary
Journal Dec. 2006 30-36
- Thompson, Sharon Elaine. 'Tut, Tut: Jewelry making in the days of the
pharaohs.' Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Oct. 2010 20-25
- Thompson, Sharon Elaine. '10 Most Influential Developments.' Jewelry Arts &
Lapidary Journal Dec. 2010 60-67
- Wade , Suzanne. 'Creative Freedom - Technology has opened doors for jewelry
designers.' MJSA Journal. Ganoksin. 2004. 15 Nov. 2010
- Wright, Frank Lloyd. 'In the Cause of Architecture: The Architect and the
Machine.' The Craft Reader. Ed. Glenn Adamson. Oxford: Berg Publishing,
- i Sharon Elaine Thompson , 'Tut, Tut: Jewelry making in the days of the pharaohs,'
Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist October 2010
- ii Carles Codina, The Complete Book of Jewelry Making, trans. Laurie C. Jones (New
York: Lark Books, 2000) 9.
- iii Codina 9.
iv Codina 10.
- v Codina 10.
- vi Thompson, Tut 22.
- vii 'CAD Software - History of CAD CAM.' CADAZZ 6 Nov. 2010
- viii 'The History of CAD.' MB Solutions 3 June 2003. 14 Nov. 2010
- ix History of CAD
- x Steven and Nancy Attaway, 'CAD-CAM For the Studio Jewelry Artist.' Lapidary Journal
Jewelry Artist July 2001. 14 Nov. 2010
- xi Suzanne Wade, 'Creative Freedom - Technology has opened doors for jewelry
designers.' MJSA Journal. Ganoksin. 2004. 15 Nov. 2010
- xii Wade
- xiii John Shanahan, 'Taking a Practical Approach to CAD/CAM.' MJSA Journal 2007.Ganoksin. 16 Nov. 2010
- xv Shanahan
- xvi Charles Lewton-Brain, 'Some thoughts on computer use in the Metals/jewelry Field
- (1996).' Ganoksin. 16 Nov. 2010 <http://www.ganoksin.com/borisat/nenam/jmcom.htm>
- xviii Rebecca Annand, 'Artist Presentation: CAD-CAM Jewellery,' NSCAD University,
Halifax, 26 Nov. 2010
- xix Pamela Richie, personal interview, 26 Nov.2010
- xx Sharon Elaine Thompson, 'Craft at a Crossroads.' Jewelry Arts & Lapidary Journal
Dec. 2006 36.
- xxi Sharon Elaine Thompson, '10 Most Influential Developments.' Jewelry Arts &
Lapidary Journal Dec. 2010 60
- xxii Thompson, 10 60.