From gold-growing to printing and polishing, these tools and software systems can do it all.
Retailers looking to update their in-store tools and technology flocked to the Equipment, Technology & Supplies show at JCK Las Vegas in early June, where 135 exhibitors showcased their latest products—from software designed to streamline retail operations to a lasering machine that turns gold powder into fully fashioned jewelry (yes, really). Here are our picks for the most notable new products on the market.
Best in Show at ETS
Leica’s hands-free bench microscope ($1,744; kassoy.com)
The advent of 3-D printing has given rise to a sci-fi reality called additive manufacturing, in which objects are built by adding material layer by layer (as opposed to the old “subtractive” method of cutting and drilling metal). Pioneered by the medical, automotive, and dental industries to build prosthetic parts and aircraft doors, the technology surfaced at the ETS pavilion in a startling demonstration of how futuristic techniques are helping reinvent the trade’s understanding of production.
“Unlike a Solidscape printer, which grows wax, this grows metal,” says Bob Romanoff, president of Amityville, N.Y.–based Romanoff International Supply Corp., referring to the MLAB machine ($289,000; romanoff.com) produced by Concept Laser, a division of the Hofmann Innovation Group in Lichtenfels, Germany. In April, Romanoff acquired the distribution rights to sell the machine in the Americas.
The process starts with an atomized powder alloy made by Italy’s Legor Group, which recently began selling powders for silver, bronze, stainless steel, and 18k yellow gold in 1-kilo vacuum-sealed cans resembling coffee containers. (The 18k white gold, 14k yellow gold, and platinum powders are nearing completion.) When the powder is placed inside the MLAB machine, it is bombarded—very precisely—with a laser beam that melts it, “growing” the alloy into a 3-D design according to instructions imported into the machine in a CAD file. Romanoff says each 90 mm x 90 mm plate of powder can accommodate 15–20 ladies’ rings, which require about 24 hours to grow from scratch. The best part, he says, is that the process—which allows for designs to be grown directly in metal—is more than 99 percent porosity-free.
|(Right) Just a sample of work done with the (left) Best-Built Computerized Multi-Function Engraver ($7,995; kassoy.com)|
What’s more, the process produces virtually no waste. “Several watch companies are using this to ‘grow’ their watch cases, as opposed to milling the precious metal, which incurs a lot of waste,” says vice president Brian Romanoff. “By growing the watch cases, they achieve the same volume in size, but with an inside honeycomb or scaffolding structure to reduce the weight. This reduces metal costs dramatically.”
Romanoff is targeting jewelry firms specializing in custom orders and one-off pieces, companies that want to produce samples directly in bronze for evaluation and sales purposes, and larger manufacturers that may require larger versions of the machine to build items such as belt buckles. But it’s not difficult to imagine a day when even independent retailers own an MLAB machine.
“They’d have to be wealthy because of the price, and they’d have to be stores that create unique, complicated styles that sell for a lot of money,” Bob says. But he’s a believer: “We saw this last year in Basel, and we knew right away—this is the future.”
New Equipment Introduced at ETS
The newest version of Leica’s bench microscope ($1,744; kassoy.com) is a hands-free investigator that promises to provide deeper insights into your gems. Available in a flex-arm version for mounting on a bench and a swing-arm version mounted on a base, it features a 5x-30x magnification field, a 120 mm working distance, a 46 mm object field, and a 13.6 mm depth of field. The microscope also comes with a dimmable LED ring light and removable diffuser for serious light manipulation.
|(Left) For your photo needs: the ImageDome Micro Box with Camera ($1,595; stuller.com); (right) for your grinding/sanding/polishing needs: the JoolTool Finishing System ($279.99; stuller.com)|
The ImageDome Micro Box with Camera ($1,595; stuller.com) is designed to be a one-stop imaging platform for taking pristine jewelry photos. A flat stage attachment allows you to lay out pieces of any size; LED lights eradicate any “yellowing” in images; and five axis positioning enables multiple-angle shots.
LaserStar Technologies introduced two new machines, the Fiber Cube Laser Marking System ($35,500; laserstar.net)—featuring a more compact design, new autofocus options, and removable chuck designs—and the iWeld Professional ($19,500; laserstar.net), a more powerful pedestal version of the original iWeld.
The Best-Built Computerized Multi-Function Engraver ($7,995; kassoy.com) can engrave on flat or curved surfaces (e.g., inside rings, on pendants, even on lighters, pens, and keys). The multitasking tool can cut out names—think Sex and the City’s “Carrie” necklace—without the use of saw blades or drills. It makes its mark on virtually any metal, from platinum and tungsten to silver and brass.
The JoolTool Finishing System ($279.99; stuller.com) is a well-priced, compact tool made for grinding, sharpening, sanding, deburring, and polishing fine jewelry. According to the company, in most instances, the über-sander can eliminate the need for conventional bench grinders, belt sanders, and sharpeners.
CadBlu debuted the ProJet CPX 3500 Plus production wax printer ($80,000–$90,000; cadblu.com), which prints more than 100 different pieces in a single run. Operating at 16 microns, “the resolution of the print is extremely high,” says Melika Mason, director of service excellence for the company, which touts the new machine as the quickest on the market.
The Dazor speckFINDER HD microscope ($7,995; kassoy.com) boasts advanced imaging technology initially used in forensics that allows jewelers to see deep into the diamond, then digitally capture imagery, upload it to a website, and email it to potential buyers. The system features a Windows 7 interface, 40x max magnification, and an optional vacuum pump system ($1,435) for picking up loose stones. Bonus: image overlays to combat pesky stone-swapping accusations.
A more compact version of the Orion Pulse 150i Welder, the Orion 100c Pulse Arc Welder ($3,700; stuller.com) features laserlike qualities, a simple interface, advanced settings, and a space-saving design.
New Technology Introduced at ETS
MPI Systems debuted two new updates to its most popular software systems. Designed for retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers, GEMINI and GEMINI Pro, now both in version 5 (prices vary; mpisystems.com), boast nearly 70 new features, including an employee time clock, a sell-by-weight system, and an enhanced diamond price management component. ShopControlPro, version 15 (prices vary; mpisystems.com), is for large-scale manufacturers packing enhanced enterprise resource planning functionality and scheduling and GANTT charting.
Logic Mate International’s Jewel Mate Enterprise (price on request; logicmate.com)—customizable, iPad-compatible software using an SQL/.NET platform—boasts features such as dashboard reports and key performance indicators.
Business Computing debuted its role-tailored version of Microsoft Dynamics e-Jewelry and iPad integration (price on request), which “eliminates waste and inefficiency” in companies by ensuring that all employees stay on tasks related to their positions, says president-CEO Mike Joukhajian. He adds that the firm’s longtime affiliation with Microsoft means the software comes with built-in financials, is highly customizable with an open database, and can be modified by anyone.
New Supplies Introduced at ETS
Lighting 4 Diamonds unveiled the Titan showcase fixture ($89 per foot; thejewelrylightingexperts.com), a strip of LED lights designed to sparkle “from the minute they leave the top of the light,” says general manager Vijay Paul. Available in 1- to 8-foot lengths, output is 2100 lux at a 24-inch distance (that’s very bright).
O.C. White Co. showcased super-bright, energy-efficient LED magnifier lights ($399; ocwhite.com) in an array of candy colors, including orange, red, and yellow. The output of the 8-watt LED array is comparable to a 150-watt halogen.
(Additional reporting by Victoria Gomelsky)