High-Tech Tools and Internet Innovations

Technology continues to transform the jewelry industry. Industries as diverse as medicine, aeronautics, automobiles, and printing have contributed to the most recent spate of technological advancements in the design and manufacture of jewelry. These advancements are fueling the continued growth and acceptance of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing in the jewelry industry.

While CAD/CAM is making inroads into the mainstream, the Internet is already part of the retail world. The question is: How can retailers and others in the jewelry industry take advantage of the online medium?

The Equipment, Technology, Services and Supplies (ETS) Pavilion of The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas 2005 provided some answers for those looking to upgrade their technology or develop ways to take advantage of innovations.

VIRTUAL CLAY

CAD/CAM systems have become more flexible and intuitive than their predecessors. That’s especially important for people who are fearful of technology. The systems are also becoming more affordable and more efficient.

One product that drew a lot of attention at The JCK Show is the ClayTools system from SensAble Technologies in Woburn, Mass. As the name suggests, the product simulates clay modeling in a computerized format.

The package was first used to simulate surgical procedures for medical students. It’s also used in animation. SensAble Technologies introduced a version of the product that’s compatible with Rhinoceros—perhaps the most widely used 3-D modeling software in the jewelry industry. The product comes with a “writing tool” that looks like a pen attached to a two-jointed lever fixed to a round device, allowing the pen to move in almost any direction.

Designers can create models in Rhino and then import the models into the ClayTools software. With the penlike tool, designers can use their sense of touch to virtually mold and sculpt the automated jewelry designs. It even simulates the consistency of clay. “You can feel the resistance of an object,” says Steven Adler, president of Automated 3d Modeling, Rye, N.H.

The software contains a virtual toolbox that allows designers to use the same tools that they would use on their bench. So with the writing tool, designers can smooth, carve, tug, bend, and texture their 3-D models.

The software produces CAM system files. The cost for the writing tool and software is about $2,800.

DESIGN BY NUMBERS

One problem with CAD is that every time a design is changed or updated, the previous design is lost unless every step is saved. If a designer wants to change the size of a model, for example, he or she has to start a new model from scratch.

Vision numeric, a company based in Lyon, France, says it has solved this problem by creating “the first parametric solids modeler designed for the jewelry industry,” according to Skip Nusbaum of Vision numeric’s North American sales and operations office in Atlanta. It’s called 3Design.

Parametric design is based on geometric relationships. If a designer changes one part of a piece of jewelry, such as a ring, the remaining design relationships will conform to the same shape.

Nusbaum says this type of design application has a direct benefit for jewelers who do their own design work. For example, if a customer likes an originally designed wedding ring, but in a different size, the jeweler can open the design file and change the size—something he can’t do with current CAD software packages unless every step is saved, Nusbaum says.

Some jewelry designers use generic parametric modeling packages, but Nusbaum says they’re not designed specifically for the jewelry industry. By contrast, 3Design comes with a catalog of jewelry models, including rings, stones, settings, and gems. In addition, stones can be positioned at proper locations and duplicated automatically. And it has a toolbox made for the design of jewelry.

The technology is derived from the automobile and aircraft industries, Nusbaum says. It’s also used in building architecture.

The complete package costs $4,900.

PRINTING JEWELRY MODELS

On the CAM side of the industry, a company called InVision has created a product that produces full-scale 3-D jewelry models from CAD files. It’s called an HR 3-D Printer. As the name suggests, it uses printing technology to build full-scale models.

A movable build platform passes under a fixed bank of jets that sprays material in a predetermined pattern. The platform moves back and forth as the material is sprayed. Instead of ink, the jets spray two polymer materials: one for build and one for support. A UV light partially cures the polymer. The plasticlike material is sprayed layer by layer until a full three-dimensional model is formed. Once printing of the model is finished, the platform positions the model under a heated rolling device, which melts excess material. The platform is then removed and placed into a paraffin-wax bath, which dissolves the support material.

The technology isn’t new. It has been used in other industries, including aeronautics and toys. It can print multiple models at the same time. Turnaround time is quick, and the machine can print models 24 hours a day.

AN ONLINE COMMUNITY

A product launched at The JCK Show attempts to create both an online marketplace and a community for people who work in all facets of the jewelry industry. It’s called the JCKmarketplace.

“Anybody in the jewelry industry can jump on board,” said Jim Mataich, JCKmarketplace president. “We are bringing the whole jewelry industry onto our Web site for all their needs.”

JCKmarketplace is a Web portal with two major components. (A Web portal is a Web site that serves as a “gateway” or starting point for users connected to the World Wide Web, providing information as well as links to related sites and services.)

First, JCKmarketplace is a message board that the worldwide jewelry industry can use to share information and conduct discussions on various topics, including diamonds, gemstones, jewelry, and technology. It’s a way to create a virtual community for the jewelry industry. This portion of the site requires a user to register—which is free—and provide proof that he or she is part of the industry.

Second, JCKmarketplace is a marketplace: Retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and trade shops can buy and sell their products and services. The site contains inventories of diamonds, gemstones, jewelry, and watches, and users can download inventory lists. A “virtual loupe” tool allows users to view a magnified image of a product, which can be viewed from any angle. This service costs $75 per month for industry professionals.

Consumers also can use the site under the guidance of a retailer. Retailers can dedicate a space in a store for a computer, which customers can use as a virtual design tool to view how different diamonds, gemstones, and mountings will look together. Consumers will never be able to view the cost of the products, and price lists are set with encrypted code so they can’t be cut and pasted onto other documents.

COMPETING WITH DIAMOND WHOLESALERS

Another product introduced at The JCK Show, eDiamondselect, is designed to help retailers use the Internet to compete with the online diamond industry.

The software, as explained by David Norman, eDiamondselect’s industry consultant, will consist of two platforms. The first is a password-protected site between the retailer and suppliers; the second is a retail window that allows consumers to view a retail jeweler’s diamond supply at the store. This supply includes diamonds available from the jeweler’s suppliers as well as suppliers who are part of the eDiamondselect network. The retailers control which products they want consumers to see. The diamond supply can either be viewed by customers with a laptop or a PC at the retailer’s store, or through a customized kiosk at the store. “Basically what we’re trying to do is fight the Internet with the Internet,” Norman says.

Avrille Friedman Aronson, company founder and president, adds, “We have designed a virtual marketplace at the store level for consumers and suppliers. This first-of-its-kind solution is going to change the way retailers do business, increasing sales for retailers, providing consumers with access to a huge inventory of diamonds, and offering suppliers an opportunity to expand their customer base.”

Participating retailers and suppliers will be charged structured fees for the use of the service, Norman says. “Basically what we’re selling [retailers] is a software application and touchtone kiosk, and a program where they can buy it or lease it.”