We've all heard that diamonds are a girl's best friend, but who is the best friend of the artist and craftsman who design and cast the jewelry that bedazzles a woman's eye? In this digital age, that honor would have to go to CAD/CAM programs such as 3Design and Gemvision, which offer tools for master jewelers to create some of the finest, precious wearable works of art.
At Diamond Cutters International, a Houston-based jewelry designer and retailer, owner Fred Cuellar (also known as "The Diamond Guy") and his team of master jewelers use Type3's 3Design and Matrix's Gemvision together. This is because the designers found that each program provides fine tools and features that complemented each other, such as 3Design V8's dynamic measurement tool in the solid module that provides precise measurements for point to point, point to curve, or point to surface, or any combination, as well as offer a host of pave methodologies.
"We use both programs because we did not want to make any compromises," notes Cuellar.
All the work begins in 3Design and is finished with Gemvision. "3Design gives us a working skeleton. It allows us to add the detailed features. It is functional but not sexy," says Cuellar. "We go to Gemvision to make it sexy and to check our work. We use one program to check the other one and to ensure that we can make in the real world what we had made in the digital world." He offers this analogy: "Gemvision says I am a doctor. 3Design says I am heart surgeon."
Cuellar realized he first needed to switch to a CAD/ CAM solution for this delicate business when his company won the commission to design and produce the 1997 championship rings for the Denver Broncos. Because each ring had to have an individual player's name on it, if the company had tried to produce the casting by hand, it would have been prohibitively time-consuming and, thus, expensive. Instead, by using CAD/ CAM, Cuellar was able to design one master ring and then each player's name separately, which were all later precisely positioned in the CAD program.
"As this technology became available, it became obvious to me it was the new toy we had to buy," says Cuellar.
In Cuellar's opinion, the only choice for the CAM equipment was the Solidscape high-precision 3D printer.
The greatest benefit of adding CAD/CAM to Cuellar's business is the ability to be able to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "We draw during the day, and while we sleep, the machines make the wax. From an efficiency standpoint, it is fantastic, and productivity could not be higher. The time we would have spent carving the wax, we now spend drawing. So, it increases productivity but not necessarily labor."
If there is a downside to using CAD/CAM in his business, Cuellar says it is the steep learning curve. He notes that just because someone knows the software does not mean the person can design jewelry. A person must be a master jeweler first and then be taught how to use the tools. "Most people quit before mastering it. It is so difficult, it is like P90X [the extreme home fitness regime] on steroids."
Using cad/cam to create jewelry is more efficient, leaving more time for the creative design work.
Alas, Cuellar notes that while the digital tools for making jewelry certainly make the tasks easier and faster, much of the jewelry being designed with them today can be rather dull compared to the days before CAD/CAM infiltrated this market. The reason, he says, is due to the fact that unscrupulous manufactures are able to use the technology to make a quick buck by designing and manufacturing jewelry that is "pure crap" in terms of quality, since less metal is being used (yet the savings are not being passed on to customers).
As with any technology, there is that double-edge sword: While it can be used to enhance the process and make it better, there are those who find a way to cheat the system - in this case, cheating the amount of metal used in the jewelry.
"You have a devise now where you can design a piece that is one-thousandth of a millimeter thinner. Before you know it, you are holding a piece of jewelry that may look like something you had five years ago, but structurally it is nowhere near the quality or strength," says Cuellar. "Two percent of what you see today is actually of good quality compared to what was created when master jewelers treated their work as art."
However, Cuellar notes that CAD/CAM can be used to make a product even better. While there is always room in computers for human error (the old principle of "garbage in, garbage out"), it is far easier for a computer to replicate an item with minute, exact measurements than it is for even the best master jeweler and his fallible human eyes. "Using CAD/CAM gives me the ability to deliver an incredibly precise piece of jewelry to the customer that is exactly what they are paying for," he says.
Cuellar believes the next step for this technology will be the transition to metal 3D printing, eliminating the wax molds and casting process altogether. "The ability to pour in a near-perfect vacuum for our purposes so we can create a non-porous piece of jewelry will be like finding the Holy Grail for the industry," he says.
The buy-in for this new machine is substantial (first reports put the machines at $250,000), though Cuellar says the machine will pay for itself in other cost savings. After all, many contend that jewelry is a wise investment.
Douglas King is a freelance writer and producer based in Dallas. He has worked in the entertainment industry for more than 20 years, including time spent as a creative director for a game developer, product development manager, and writer/director for film and television.