Technology Inspires a New Generation

This design was sponsored by Gemvison Corp., Davenport, Iowa. For information about Gemvision products and services, visit www.gemvision.com, call (800) 357-6272, or e-mail: info@gemvision.com. For information about Carter’s Jewel Chest, visit www.cartersjewelchest.com.

The airy physical surroundings of the recently remodeled Carter’s Jewel Chest, in Mountain Home, Ark., along with the upbeat attitude of the jewelry professionals who run the store, convey an old-fashioned warmth and friendliness. Now that warm atmosphere is accompanied by cool technology in the form of computer-aided jewelry design and manufacturing—and it’s all on display for customers to see.

Local customers of Carter’s Jewel Chest, Mountain Home, Ark., have long recognized the store and its owners, T.C. and Beth Carter, for their integrity and their tradition of carrying fine designer brands and creating stunning custom jewelry. Now they’ve added something new.

Customers can view a continuous loop of Carter’s Jewel Chest’s inventory from virtually anywhere in the store on poster-size flat-screen monitors. They can even watch designs being created before their eyes. Clearly visible from the entrance is the featured-custom-design center, where 21-year-old Christopher Carter—who represents the next generation and future of the business—spends most of his day designing jewelry on a computer. His projects may be seen in progress on a large flat-screen monitor mounted above his workstation.

Christopher has been working at the store full-time for over a year, learning all aspects of the company while sharing his own visions for the future. Shortly after he and his wife, Nicole, earned their Graduate Gemologist diplomas at the Gemological Institute of America, in Carlsbad, Calif., he discussed the introduction of CAD/CAM to the family business. Prompted by the retirement of a full-time bench jeweler who also did wax carving, Christopher arranged for training from Gemvision on their Matrix software for computer-aided design. He also learned to operate their Revo540 mill to produce wax models for custom-order requests. Christopher says of the new tools, “I became interested in working in the family business as this technology developed. Our store is well known for custom jewelry design and fine jewelry manufacturing, and CAD/CAM technology is a perfect fit. I began making significant contributions to the store’s bottom line immediately after learning the processes.”

The custom-design process at Carter’s Jewel Chest begins when one of the store’s 10 sales associates interviews a client to determine the specific jewelry piece she wants as well as her design preferences and lifestyle. The sales associate offers suggestions to help lay the groundwork for a personal piece of jewelry.

After that initial interview is recorded, Christopher quotes an estimated starting price of $1,500, which includes the CAD layout and computer-generated renderings of design ideas, the wax model, and the casting. Variable factors like type and karat of alloy and the addition of gemstones add to the price. Metal weight for a model in a designated alloy is determined in the Matrix software, and the cost is calculated based on the daily market price. Gemstones and setting labor are tallied separately using the store’s pricing book as a guide. A 10 percent deposit is required to begin the design process.

All presentations to customers begin with renderings of Christopher’s interpretation of their design ideas. He uses three presentation formats to review designs:

  1. Manipulating the design on the flat-panel monitor with his laptop. “I like this one when I have a design that is a bit more complicated than average to show in the printed format,” Christopher says. “I’ll do renderings and show those on the large screen first, then switch to the 3-D format so I can show the customer certain details in active views.”

  2. Printed renderings. “I like this format on 4-by-6-inch cards. The size of these images is more relatable to some customers as opposed to the huge size of images on the flat-panel monitor. I put two views with our company logo on each card (see Fig. 3). This size format works well for the customer to take with them to get opinions from others prior to the final commitment.”

  3. Sending digital images to customers by e-mail. “This venue has been the most surprising. At first I thought the loss of personal contact might present obstacles for closing the sale, but actually the opposite has been true. This option simplifies the shopping experience and gives customers the ability to review ideas over time.”

After a customer selects a design, Christopher begins the manufacturing process for the piece by converting the CAD file to a format that will give the computer-controlled machine the information to cut the wax model automatically. The mill can produce waxes in as little as 30 minutes or as much as several hours. Because the machine is controlled by numeric code, all detail is precise, and the resulting model is a 3-D version of the original design file. Christopher modified a heavy-duty toolbox for his mill stand, which occupies a designated space in the jewelers’ shop.

After the wax model is cut, T.J. Persenaire, the store’s master jeweler, casts the wax and begins the finishing and setting process. He confers with Christopher about the various mechanical details of each custom piece, and, once they’ve been worked out, adjustments to the design file are made and the final model is cut for customer review and casting. Christopher says having a Revo mill in the store offers many benefits. “For this project we were able to work out minor assembly details with the full drilled cultured Tahitian pearls,” he explains. “For our customer pieces, it gives us a wax to show during the process to confirm their likes and dislikes. Final changes, if any, can be made at a nominal cost prior to casting, finishing, and setting, with a major savings in time.”

Persenaire adds, “The manufacturing and setting were simple compared with using traditional methods such as having to drill the holes and raise the beads by hand. Having the beads in place and the bearings precut made the overall process go quickly, allowing me to maintain high quality through the process.”

Christopher notes another benefit of using CAD/CAM: “I design more than one option for most customers’ special-order pieces. The options are typically very different. The pieces customers don’t select are often produced and put into our store’s inventory. We are known for our individual brand of jewelry, so having a constant flow of our own pieces into our inventory is a plus.”

Christopher has done the design layout for more than 50 custom jobs since starting with CAD/CAM and has made several pieces for the store’s inventory. He says this technology has enabled him to do symmetrical and geometric precision pieces that would have taken much more time to produce by hand. That’s especially true when a piece includes gemstones.

Beth Carter also has caught the CAD/CAM bug. For years she had conceptualized a collection of jewelry components that could be purchased individually and interchanged to create different wardrobe-appropriate options. Now she can pursue the idea through CAD/CAM.

Christopher says the technology has enhanced his closing ratio and drawn new customers. “People are really impressed with my ability to show them the ring in a 3-D format from all directions, and having the large-screen monitor helps this immensely. Customers will watch as I prepare design layouts and renderings, which leads to questions and eventual orders from the most intrigued.”