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Articles from CAD / CAM EQUIPMENT (103 Articles), CAD / CAM SERVICES (65 Articles)

CAD/CAM: Designing a better future

The rise of CAD/CAM software enhances the product offerings for the consumer by giving jewellers greater control over the design and manufacture of their own jewellery. COLEBY NICHOLSON reports.

It’s generally recognised that the jewellery industry is a late adopter of the trends and changes that affect other industries. For example, the mass marketing of branded products is a relatively new phenomenon in jewellery yet has existed for decades in other retail categories.

Yes, some of the world’s most famous jewellery names such as Cartier, Bulgari and Tiffany & Co have been doing it for years but they are vertical operations – their products are sold only in company-owned stores. The arrival of branded jewellery for the masses only became entrenched in the past decade, much later than the dominance of branded goods in other retail categories.

Perhaps as a result, jewellers began noticing a significant change to their businesses over the same period as consumers shifted their preferences away from generic product and handcrafted jewellery and towards well-marketed and heavily-advertised jewellery brands.

This shift has impacted retail sales margins, which fell as suppliers began dictating retail pricing strategies. At around the same time that branded goods were gaining ground in the industry, computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) was also slowly making its move.

CAD/CAM transformed most industries decades ago to the extent that virtually none of the ‘old ways’ still exist today; however, it has been an entirely different story for the jewellery industry – CAD/CAM jewellery design has really only gained a major foothold in the last few years. In fact, the industry was still debating the benefits of the technology when Jeweller published its first CAD/CAM report in June 2012.

Back then, some saw the new technology as a major threat to their livelihood but there’s been a complete about-face that has ironically come about as a response to the branded jewellery revolution. When branded jewellery exploded, sales by volume increased but margins decreased. Retailers enjoyed the boom; however, quickly realised that it was difficult to differentiate their stores while stocking the same products as their competitors. Furthermore, they wondered how they could increase their margins back to the ‘good old days’ before suppliers dictated their prices.

Over time, consumers emerged who sought to separate themselves from the mass market with customisation. This trend prompted some jewellers to shift their focus back to bespoke jewellery where they could add value and build relationships with one-off designs rather than merely pushing sales of the latest fashion item.

Image courtesy: LST Group/James Ballas, Steven James Jewellers
Image courtesy: LST Group/James Ballas, Steven James Jewellers

Competitive advantages

Bespoke jewellery might increase exclusivity but it also increases manufacturing costs. Enter CAD/CAM software, which made it easier for jewellers to design and manufacture pieces and consequently regain control over not only their margins but their competitive advantage as well.Thus, the reason for the changing attitude towards new technology becomes clearer.

“Fewer jewellers still see CAD/CAM as a threat,” Chemgold director Larry Sher says. “Instead, they’re now embracing it as a tool; we are noticing an increasing number of Australia and New Zealand’s best jewellers advocating the benefits of CAD.”

Rapid Casting production manager Ben Farago echoes these views.

“There’s no doubt that jewellers are increasingly adopting CAD/CAM,” he comments. “They have been exposed to the technology due to its prevalence in the marketplace and they understand how the process works and how to use it effectively.”

One of the early exponents of jewellery CAD/CAM is Anthony Nowlan, director of Evolution Jewellers. He believes so much has changed in the past two to three years that the great majority of jewellers now see technology as another item in the toolbox.

“Two years ago, many of our newer clients may have shared the notion that CAD was a threat to their businesses. Fortunately, the stigma appears to be fading somewhat as more jewellers start accepting that technology can be a powerful tool,” Nowlan says. “I have found that, as more jewellers become exposed to CAD/CAM, they develop a more intimate understanding and respect for what the tool actually does.”

CAD/CAM still has its detractors, of course. “I don’t think CAD/CAM is a threat to handmade jewellers but many are still totally against the whole concept,” Cad Culture director Chris Winspear explains.

Winspear describes his Perth-based business, which is a recent entrant into the local market, as a “one-stop service for everything CAD, from training and buying to designing and creating”.

“On the other hand and to play devil’s advocate, you’ve got a lot of jewellers that are embracing the technology not as a replacement of handmade but as an addition to the tools of their workshop,” he continues. “It allows them to complement the essence of handmade with CAD.”

Retail jeweller Rachel Bird’s experience confirms Winspear’s views.

“We never felt that CAD/CAM was a threat; we always saw it as another tool to help our business,” she says. “Some jewellers are still unsure about it but I believe that’s because they don’t understand the different ways we can use the technology. At one conference I found myself speaking to a fellow ‘benchie’ and I explained I had been learning CAD. His reply was ‘Oh, you’re one of the bad guys.’”

Bird recognises that change can often be scary for some people. For example, her South Australian business, R&B Sutherland Jewellers by Design, has been in the industry for 23 years but only started CAD/CAM training in 2014. 

 Image courtesy: Evolution Jewellers/Louise Alan Jewellers
Image courtesy: Evolution Jewellers/Louise Alan Jewellers
Image courtesy: Palloys/Pallion
Image courtesy: Palloys/Pallion

Changing perceptions

Anecdotally, it seems there has been a major shift towards accepting new technology, something that LST Group 3D product manager Chris Hill attributes in part to necessity.

“Most jewellers these days will concede that they have to move with the times and modernise their production processes,” Hill says. “CAD/CAM is now seen as an essential tool for any modern jewellery enterprise.”

CAD Jewelry School director Rik Juod has similar observations: “I think many retailers now see how CAD can be used as a tool to help the sales process, and subsequently produce an accurate piece that can be set and hand-finished by a bench jeweller.

“We have seen many bench jewellers with 20 to 30 years’ experience introduce CAD into their business over the past two years. Many of them incorporate CAD and handmade elements into their work – typically, we see jewellers casting a ring setting and hand-making the ring shank.”

A significant drop in the cost of establishing CAD/CAM workshops in recent years has arguably helped adoption. However, as Andrew Cochineas, CEO of Pallion, parent company of Palloys, explains, not all jewellers have to invest in the equipment themselves, such has been the rise of services available.

“We have seen a general increase in jewellery manufacturing both in-house and also in respect of our manufacturing jeweller client base,” Cochineas says, noting that the move is indicative of consumer behaviour. “This [increase] evidences our belief that consumers are returning to items of true value, whether they are produced using CAD/CAM technology or traditional handmade techniques.”

Farago adds, “We notice more people are using CAD software because they want greater control over the design process but it can also be more productive to delegate CAD design drafting to a service when a jeweller’s time is at a premium.”

It’s an international trend and one that is borderless. While most jewellers prefer to use local services for CAD output and casting, the internet is offering other options. For example, Bermark Design has a 3D design database, printing and manufacturing facility in Bangkok, and promotes itself as a ‘special order expert’ with more than 11,000 files ready for 3D printing and manufacturing. 

“We trade worldwide, serving jewellers from many countries so yes, we see more and more jewellers adopting the technology,” Bermark Design managing director Charles Berman says.

Berman cites two reasons why he believes it’s now a necessity to adopt new technology: “The fear of losing customers to jewellers who are using CAD/CAM, and a higher comfort level with the equipment and services.”

The wide uptake of CAD/CAM technology exemplifies the importance for jewellers to offer specialised services rather than simply stocking branded product over which they have little to no control. Furthermore, the ability to increase local manufacturing capabilities while reducing costs also plays a significant role in re-establishing jewellery as a premium product.

It’s not unusual to hear stories of jewellers slashing the design and manufacture times of their hand-makes with CAD/CAM software or enjoying the ability to email customers realistic, renderings of designs. It’s advantages like these that can effectively close sales as jewellers are now able to eliminate any doubt in a customer’s mind about the appearance of a finished piece.

CAD/CAM supplement - More reading
Part 2: CAD design demystified
Part 3: CAD's end-game is the jewellery consumer
Part 4: Looking ahead to 2020

DOWNLOAD NOW: 24-page PDF CAD/CAM supplement 
A comprehensive analysis from all aspects of the jewellery industry


Coleby Nicholson

Former Publisher • Jeweller Magazine

Coleby Nicholson launched Jeweller in 1996 and was also publisher and managing editor from 2006 to 2019. He has covered the jewellery industry for more than 20 years and specialises in business-to-business aspects of the industry.

Ellendale Diamonds Australia

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