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

CAD’s end-game is the jewellery consumer

As CAD/CAM software improves, the market edges closer to a day where consumers may start designing their own jewellery. CHRIS BOTHA examines CAD software developments and their repercussions.

In the past two years, there haven’t been too many significant advancements in CAD software. New competitors have entered the market but the offering from software developers remains largely unchanged.

Sure, there’s been plenty of tweaking but the packages have for the most part remained the same for the entire industry, whether they be for single-designer manufacturing, high-end manufacturing or mass manufacturing.

The only change of note is that the software is moving toward parametric CAD. Parametric modelling allows the operator to use what is referred to as ‘design intent’, which means the objects and features created are modifiable and,
as such, any future modifications can be made by changing how the original part was created.

Overall, the jewellery industry is simply following the way almost all other industries have adopted technology, albeit it might be happening a little later. For example, the first desktop publishing systems were complicated to use yet it wasn’t long before everyone could get on a computer and do some desktop publishing or design. Today, small businesses easily produce their own brochures, leaflets and store promotional material.

What is happening now in the jewellery industry is that parametric modelling is becoming much easier. This opens up an interesting observation, one that has become clearer as jewellers increasingly accept CAD/CAM.

Repeat designs

In the case of local jewellery retailers with small stores who use CAD, almost all customers are purchasing designs that are the same as or at least similar to existing designs. That is, if 100 customers visit a jewellery store then 99 of those want a design that already exists.

Sure, there’s possibly one person in every hundred who is going to ask for something that’s not the usual thing but the vast majority of shoppers want designs that are popular or styles with which they are familiar.

In reality, this allows the assumption that there are maybe only a few hundred jewellery designs in circulation around the world at this moment and these designs are used over and over and over.

It’s become clear that CAD software is now used predominately for presenting these designs to the end-user and then allowing them to tweak the design. This might be to change basic parameters like the width of a ring, the height of a stone, the colour of a metal, the overall size or countless other parameters.

By placing the power of design change in the hands of the consumers, retailers are using CAD differently to how it was originally intended and CAD software developers are shifting their focus to match, devolving their software away from highly skilled technicians to create platforms where salespeople with limited training can easily use CAD as a sales tool in real-world scenarios.

In this way, CAD software is merely imitating market trends. In other words, as much as jewellery can be personalised to someone’s exact needs or style, the great majority of people are simply buying the most popular designs over and over, so CAD/CAM is now being developed in a way that focuses on making it easier for jewellers to modify those top 100 designs in response to a customer’s specific requirements.

That’s where the parametric modelling comes in. With parametric modelling, jewellers can take existing designs and easily refine and rework them to suit the requests of their customers.

Image courtesy: CAD Jewelry School
Image courtesy: CAD Jewelry School
Image courtesy: Chemgold
Image courtesy: Chemgold

Power shift

Now, this is where it gets interesting and, in some cases, maybe a little frightening for jewellers. If one assumes that CAD software improvement has reached its peak – that new developments are really just tweaks to make the software more accessible for the end-user – then it’s only going to become easier for people to use CAD software. It’s a short step to therefore predict that consumers will be using CAD jewellery applications within the next five years.

This means consumers will have the ability to design their rings at home and then send the design files to a jeweller for manufacture. In theory, one might easily forecast that consumers will be able to skip the design stage altogether and just go to websites where they can download Java or HTML5 applets that allow them to parametrically change existing ring designs any way they want.

Now think about the effect this may have upon traditional manufacturing jewellers everywhere. It’s no secret that traditional ‘benchies’ have felt under threat from the growing CAD-sphere. There is already a strong voice of protest emerging that this type of technology is not fair, not real jewellery manufacturing, and one would expect this voice to grow even louder in this new, digital world.

Those who oppose CAD developments will never change their views; they are akin to those who declared consumers would never shop online!

Having said that, many of those original CAD detractors are now CAD converts. As much as any new technology frightens some people, the majority will eventually accept that it’s not going away and instead find ways to make it work in their favour.

Missing link

There is one missing link in this whole process that has yet to be developed into the software: manufacturing specifications and parameters. Design programs like CAD are designed not to limit the user; they’ll attempt to do what the user wants them to, enticing and enhancing the creative process with all sorts of weird and wonderful concepts. The real question is whether concepts by the untrained consumer-user will even be manufacturable.

People who aren’t skilled in manufacturing jewellery are likely to design creations that simply aren’t physically possible in the manufacturing process. For example, CAD software should be equipped with different categories of manufacturing, each containing their own specification criteria. Selecting a category when a designer starts a job will ensure the designer remains within the parameters of what is achievable. The software might even issue a warning to advise designers if they’ve drawn a prong that will be too heavy or too light, for example.

Casting houses complain that they receive files from designers and sometimes even from trained jewellers that cannot be cast, so a warning functionality appears to be missing from just about all CAD packages at the moment. It seems clear that any major development in CAD software should focus on addressing this limitation.

CAD/CAM jewellery design is not going to be for everyone and it’s definitely not going to kill bespoke jewellery. There’s still no mob with pitchforks running through the streets declaring the end of days for the jewellery industry.

For the large part, there’s been a massive paradigm shift in the industry towards CAD, especially involving complex customised designs that would be near impossible to achieve from scratch at a reasonable margin.

Image courtesy: CAD Culture
Image courtesy: CAD Culture
Image courtesy: Palloys/Pallion
Image courtesy: Palloys/Pallion


The CAD software industry is definitely moving towards a future where consumers control or at least commence the design process from home, all from inside their browser. From there, consumers will be able to save their designs, receive quotes and, once they accept the price, submit their designs to jewellery manufacturers for production.

This service will come from businesses that have rows of printers and can set up a bed of prints for 100 customers a day, all requesting custom goods. These days, that’s a fairly simple thing to do.

If there is an end-game for CAD right now, then that’s it, and I fully expect this to be ‘live’ within the next three or four years.

The trade can view these industry advances in one of two ways. Firstly, the ability for anyone to design his or her own jewellery at home will not suit everyone. The kind of people using it are not really going to have a large effect upon the turnover of local, bespoke jewellery stores – those whose main clientele comprises gift-giving men who walk through the door wanting a handmade or personalised experience with a local jeweller but don’t know where to start. That service will always be in demand.

Conversely, there will be some consumers who will enjoy and be proud of the opportunity to be involved in the design and manufacture of their own jewellery. The process will give them more to talk about, regardless of whether their design is ideal or not, and they may not be that fussy that their pieces weren’t designed by a skilled jeweller.

In a nutshell, it stands to reason that CAD technology has levelled out to a standard where it is pretty much achieving everything that is required of it. From here, developers will focus on making small improvements to the software and its processes, but essentially, the main improvement will be in its ease of use compared to five years ago. This will help bring CAD design to those jewellers who aren’t necessarily so computer-literate, opening the market to new entrants.

Revitalised industry

Interestingly, this also means young start-up companies with very little training in the nuances of jewellery design and manufacture will be able to produce jewellery ranges of their own, a trend set to continue as the ability of jewellery designers to produce designs and send them to manufacturers for refinement continues to progress.

There are already tales of designers arriving at jewellery fairs with thumb drives, saying, “Here, we’ve got these 10 designs. Can you give me a quote for their manufacture?” Sure, the files may not always be great or even 100 per cent valid but they’re usually close enough to be patched up and for quotes to be issued within three or four hours. This is simply how designers seem to be doing business nowadays.

The advent of parametric modelling is therefore not only helping consumers understand CAD and create their own designs but also helping to revitalise the design process for a younger generation of jewellery designers, some of whom may not be traditionally trained.

These people may not have the understanding and high-level manufacturing skills of their senior counterparts but perhaps that’s the point. Surely the only thing that matters if jewellery is to continue competing with other sectors for a share of consumers’ discretionary income is that it remains a modern, vibrant and consumer-centric industry.

CAD/CAM supplement - More reading
Part 1: Designing a better future
Part 2: CAD design demystified
Part 4: Looking ahead to 2020

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


Chris Botha

Contributor • CAD/CAM Expert

Chris Botha is a manufacturing bench jeweller with more than 20 years experience in handmade, luxury platinum and diamond goods. He has used CAD in every possible tier of the industry as well as providing design services and training.

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