The Digital Tool Debate Continues

In approaching this article, I found there are many avenues to pursue in the exciting and controversial subject of digital design. I felt it best to give an overview for those not yet informed about the technological waters nipping at the shores of the jewelry industry.

Many in this industry continue to turn a blind eye to this important phenomenon, In doing so, their businesses may be completely eclipsed by the size of this wave technology is bringing us. That said, many small jewelers are beginning to see the potential of digital design in their business. It is those curious and intrigued by this technology that I hope to hear from in the development of a dialogue on the subject.

Research and development in the field of technology have brought us from science fiction to reality in the form of new digital tools and approaches in the methodology of creating objects. Many debate the impact on the jeweler and the marketplace. Soon the effects will be undeniable, and the potential far reaching. It is now possible to develop the design of a piece without material waste, to re- produce quickly and accurately, and to maintain the conceptual integrity of the initial design, which is sometimes lost in offsite model development.

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For those not yet up to speed, I am referring to the technology commonly referred to as CAD/CAM, or Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Machinery. For many years, the computer has been used by other industries for the creation of prototypes and end products. The automotive, engineering, medical, and product design divisions have embraced it. The jewelry field has been slow to catch up. Though somewhat of a back alley approach has been taken, the big boys are slowly starting to acknowledge their usage of CAD in the development of jewelry lines. Smaller jewelers as well are beginning to integrate CAD into their process even if just as a development and presentation tool.

The transition from traditional model making to computer designing and output machinery has been a slow one, probably beginning about ten to fifteen years ago. One of the major hurdles has been the poor performance of output machinery. Detail and refinement are at the core of intricate piece making and perhaps have helped to hinder the integration of these processes into the market. In the new millennium however, this stumbling block is becoming a memory. Large scale jewelry manufacturers and design firms have now fully integrated to have several machines for output and a fleet of designers ready to create new and manipulate old design ideas for quick and easy reproduction. Smaller jewelers are beginning to see the possibilities as user-friendly software and equipment reaches affordable levels. Several have begun to integrate CAD to expedite production from doing just the design themselves through incorporation of CAD and CAM fully into their business.

Any piece can be easily scaled to create an array of available sizes in moments. It can then be sent to the appropriate machinery for output in wax for casting. It is just that simple. In addition, it can be modified digitally for viewing purposes to show a variety of metals and stone types or coloring. It can be included in promotional materials or on a website all without the creation of a single physical object. Client approval or modifications can be received and implemented before costly materials are purchased or utilized. The digital model can be analyzed for appropriate thickness, overall size, or mass properties. The list of potential benefits is long and includes exact symmetry, endless variations, and the ability to custom create in moments.

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Resisting the vital importance of these digital tools is futile. Progress continues to move with or without us. Does that mean we cease to use a hammer, torch, or mandrel? Digital design is just another tool in the arsenal much like the engraver, anodizer, or vulcanizer. Choosing the best tool for the job continues to be the trick.

Pam Zellers is a 2D and 3D artist as well as CAD Consultant residing in Bethel, Connecticut. Questions and comments can be sent to only@swervature.com

By Pam Zellers
© Bench Magazine 2001 Summer
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BENCH Magazine is devoted to the Bench Jeweler in retail jewelry stores and small trade shops.
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