A lot of work goes into the creation of custom jewelry. A number of techniques for jewelry creation have been developed over the years, with some methods for making custom pieces dating back thousands of years. Images Jewelers uses cutting-edge techniques, mixing ancient methods with modern technology to create custom jewelry that’s unmatched in its beauty and customization options.
Designing the Jewelry
To allow maximum customization of our jewelry, we utilize the best of modern technology. Beginning with a specialized graphics computer program, our skilled artisans first create a 3D image of the ring or other piece being crafted, sculpting it digitally in fine detail. This allows our designer to customize each piece with exacting precision, previewing it as a 3D render to ensure that every detail is precisely as desired. The beauty of this sort of design process is that several alterations and improvements can be implemented before the physical creation of the piece is begun.
Creating a 3D Print
After all the details of the piece are verified and the digital design has been perfected, a specialized 3D printer is used to create a resin model of the piece. To avoid the stratification lines that appear in the 3D printing that many people are familiar with, these prints aren’t made with plastic. Instead, the prints are made using a liquid resin printer. A laser congeals the resin in minute, precision layers, ensuring that the print comes out perfect, with all of its fine details intact.
After the print is complete, the printed pieces are cleaned in an alcohol bath and dried using an air gun to remove any residue or other excess material from the print. The cleaned pieces are inspected to ensure they’re perfect, trimming them slightly if necessary. But because the resin model is very pliable, it isn’t yet ready for the casting process. First, it must be hardened by bombardment with an intense ultraviolet strobe light, curing the resin to a more rigid state. Once hardened, the printed pieces can be used to create a mold for the final jewelry piece.
Making a Mold
The resin print will serve as the core of a casting mold, similar to how wax and other materials were used in centuries past. The print is secured to a mold blank by a small resin sprue and plaster is poured in to fill the mold blank. This plaster is then allowed to cure, hardening around the resin until it can be safely handled without risking damage.
Once the plaster has dried sufficiently, the whole piece is cured by baking it overnight at a high temperature, which evacuates the melted resin from the plaster mold. The baking process takes several hours, finalizing with a slight temperature drop, so that the plaster remains preheated for the casting process. Then the mold is taken and placed into a special casting machine where the actual investment of the metal will occur.
With the mold in place, the actual casting can begin. The mold is still at around 1000 degrees Fahrenheit when it’s placed in the casting machine, ensuring that the metal won’t damage it when it’s poured. The metal had previously been heated to ensure that it’s perfectly homogenized, and it is heated again under a vacuum once the mold is in place. The actual casting is quick; the machine is turned, pouring the liquid metal into the top of the mold. With the resin already evacuated, the entire cavity left by the 3D print is filled with metal.
Finishing the Piece
Once the metal is poured, all that’s left is to let it cool and to finish the piece. The mold is swirled in a bath to speed cooling and to clean the casting, with the mold plaster being broken away during this phase. After a bit more cleaning of the cast metal piece, it’s ready for its final finishing.
The finishing process depends on the intended design of the jewelry piece. It’s during this phase that holes are drilled for stone settings, any external decorations are added and the piece is polished for its final presentation. Any platings, coatings or other modifications are also applied as part of the finishing stage, as at the end of this phase, it will be ready for the customer.
While the process of creating rings and other custom jewelry using 3D printing may seem highly technical, it’s more than worth it when you consider how much flexibility it delivers in regard to creating custom work. Details that once may have required dozens of hours by an engraver with a steady hand can now be designed in from the outset. And customers ordering custom pieces can see what their jewelry will look like as a 3D render before the piece is actually cast. The use of 3D printing may make the whole process seem futuristic, but in this case the future is now.
To see the process in its entirety, here’s a video that walks you through the entire process.
Indiana University Alumni : GIA Graduate Gemologist Student