The internet has put the world at our fingertips. In minutes or less you can start a video chat with a friend in Hong Kong, download a recipe and ingredient list for Pad Thai to your smartphone, or buy a new HDTV. So why shouldn’t you expect the same immediate gratification when shopping for an engagement ring?
Unique Settings of New York in Long Island City, New York, has centered its business model around the modern consumer’s need for speed when making a fine jewelry purchase. The company is dedicated to delivering any item in its product line, in any metal and with any quality of diamonds, in three to five business days. Unique will also customize any existing product to meet a client’s needs in that time frame. For example, if a consumer wants to remount their diamond in one of the company’s popular halo engagement rings but the stone size doesn’t fit, Unique will customize the design to suit. And if the consumer requires a new design from scratch, Unique promises to move from sketch to finished product in seven to 10 business days upon approval.
To meet those quick turnarounds, Unique has found a way to speed up the burnout process for its rapid prototype (RP) material. “One of our biggest challenges as a company that manufactures 1,200 to 1,300 special orders every week is speed,” says Matthew Ego, director of operations for Unique. “All of our pieces can be customized, so when we get an order that requires tweaks to an existing design, we don’t have time to grow a new RP model, mold it, and shoot a wax. We go straight from RP to casting — and we need to do so as quickly as possible.”
After growing the model on the 3D Systems ProJet CP 3000, which uses VisiJet material for 3-D printing, Unique goes straight to investing with Doc Robinson’s Miracle Casting Plaster from Precious Metals West/Fine Gold. “This investment features a unique property that actually starts the burnout process before the flask is even placed into the oven,” says Ego. As Doc’s investment cures, the binding agent heats up, eventually reaching a temperature of 120°F/49°C in open air.
“The investment actually starts to steam,” says Ego. “After pouring the flasks and vacuuming for two minutes, we let them sit out for one hour elevated from the surface, and in that time most of the RP material [is evacuated]. We put the flasks into the oven at 1,250°F/677°C for 30 to 45 minutes, then leave them in the oven until it cools to 600°F/316°C to complete our burnout procedure. The total process from pouring the investment to casting the flasks takes three hours max as opposed to about eight hours using the traditional lost-wax investing and burnout schedule we used to follow.”
This is a critical process improvement that helps Unique manufacture a high volume of bridal jewelry to order and ship it off to its customers in five business days or less. “To be this versatile, we have to use a system like this,” says Ego. “Speed, combined with a quality product, is what sets us apart.”