Singapore: Amidst a shrinking global jewellery market, growth will be fuelled by new product developments, with companies likely to launch more customisable jewellery for consumers to express their individual styles. According to Euromonitor’s recent report, this is set to increase interest among consumers looking for unique and innovative designs. At the same time, traditional jewellery producers are facing new challenges, especially in marketing to millennials, who are breaking away from jewellery-buying traditions.
Ginkgo3D made some enquiries regarding 3D printed offerings at the websites of the most established local jewellers. These included chains like Taka, Citigems, Aspial-Lee Hwa, Goldheart and D’Meyson and Soo Kee. At press time, answers have not yet come in. Turning to individual designers, we found a greater response to this new technology.
Why designers use 3D printing
For these designers, some of the key attractions of 3D printed jewellery are greater cost savings and easier customisation. This is especially attractive to independent designers, who are often frustrated with high production costs and a slow production cycle. They now pay less to produce their jewellery, often without needing to keep inventory as designs can be created on demand.
Mong Soon Ping of Tinkerwerx believes that jewellery is a very promising and important market for 3D printing application. “Jewellery manufacturers are already incorporating 3D printing into their production process. This is becoming a prerequisite in designing and making intricate jewellery with higher precision and faster turnaround time. I choose to use 3D printing for jewellery because it gives me the freedom to create designs that I can edit and customise easily using 3D software. 3D printing services are also available to either print the mould or final product fairly quickly.”
The particular beauty of 3D printing is that it can be used to produce both one-off pieces as well as large-scale outputs, eliminating many process steps and tooling costs that we see today in traditional methods of jewellery production. 3D printing enables shapes with undercuts, complex structures, and even directly functional parts, giving the designer a whole new avenue to explore. Also, with the help of this technology, the designers can directly react to current developments and micro-trends without having to plan months beforehand. There is no longer a need to shell out huge amounts of capital on accumulating in-house inventory, which often becomes obsolete as trends come and go.
Companies like CW Jewels find 3D printing very useful as it allows them to be much more productive. Caroline Wihono, Creative Conceptor of CW Jewels says: “It (3D printing) helps us to produce a quick visualisation easily for our clients, speeds up our production process and allows us to create very intricate details.” Their signature handcrafted and bespoke jewellery collections are planned out and strategised with the customer’s requirements in mind, which makes 3D printing a useful tool for customisation.
Wang Khek Yin of B.P de Silva adds, “We have been using this technique for more than 6 years ago to aid R&D and jewellery manufacturing process. Most of our current collection like “Enchanted Garden”, “Bespoke”, “Embrace” etc were created by CAD.”
According to Hong Kong Designer Desmond Chan of Vulcan Jewellery, “Most of the jewellers and jewellery chain in Hong Kong are also using 3D printing to make wax models. You can easily find a service provider to help you to print your jewellery 3D file in wax, then pass it to silversmiths to cast it in silver.”
He is still learning how to use 3D printing to make some special and unique jewellery that is difficult to find in the market. “I think young designers who hope to design and produce jewellery by using 3D printing should also need to learn traditional casting, polishing and gem-setting techniques. 3D printing is still too expensive to directly print jewellery, it is not possible in a competitive market.”
Desmond started designing with this additive technology in 2013 and have designed almost iconic pieces, such as the Kinetic Ring and the tree-in-a-cross pendant, inspired by Dali paintings.
New generations and changing tastes
While younger designers find niches to fuel their individual success, the jewellery business as a whole is not as shiny as it could be. The US$6 billion American jewellery market shrank some 6% last year. Combined with falling marriage rates, synthetic ‘ethical’ gemstones and indifferent millennials, the industry’s long-term may be at stake.
Millennials (those born in the 1980s to 2000s) are not only not getting married anywhere near the rate of the three preceding generations, but also not buying the diamond engagement ring tradition. In Singapore, there is growing demand for non-diamond engagement rings, with home-grown label Carrie K witnessing a 15% boost in sales for gemstones like ruby and sapphire rings. Likewise, brands such as Tiffany & Co and Citigems saw more couples requesting non-traditional engagement rings.
Diamond company De Beers has identified new opportunities in innovative designs and branding to reach out to millennials. Their drive for self-expression often translates into a distaste for doing what the older generation always have done. Choosing coloured stones over diamonds for engagement rings reflects this deeply ingrained, conscientious-consumption mindset that millennials possess, and 3D printing is able to meet this demand of self-expression.
Despite its advantages, 3D printing is currently more widely supported by institutes of higher learning and by individual designers, hobbyists and enthusiasts. Raffles Design Institute (RDI) and Jewellery Design and Management International School (JDMIS) encourage the use of 3D printing to explore new ways of creating jewellery.
Sandra Fie, a lecturer at RDI, believes that 3D printing is beneficial for students as it allows the students to explore more materials other than silver and spend less on material to create their jewellery. “3D printing is more efficient and cost-effective as we do not need to depend on craftsmen to do the final work. This is also more advantageous for students with weaker crafting skills but good visualisation. Technology gives them more leeway to make more intricate pieces,” says Sandra.
3D printing is being embraced as the to-go tool for jewellery customisation, although its growth is in spurts. Soon Ping says, “Jewellery manufacturers are already embracing 3D printing technology to print the wax moulds so ultimately consumers may not tell which pieces uses 3D printing or not. There is a lot of room to grow in terms of getting people to design their own jewellery and being able to wear them.”
Caroline remains hopeful. “Handcrafting is still very essential in the making of jewellery pieces, but 3D printing will always be here to complement the traditional manufacturing methods in many ways.”