Economic crisis or not, Italy remains a leading global manufacturing hub for jewellery. Vicenza, in the Northern Italian region of Veneto, is among the areas with the highest density of artisans and designers specialized in working with gold and precious metals to create both industrial and high-end jewels. Vicenza is also home to Digital Was Systems (DWS), the largest Italian producer of laser based stereolithography (SLA) 3D Printers.
Every year more than 1500 jewellery brands meet at VicenzaOro, one of the most important fairs for the global jewellery market. This number includes jewellers, goldsmiths and producers of machines for creating jewels. All the machines are exhibited in the T-Gold area of the event and amongst them, along with foundries, laser cutters and laser engraving machines, are the 3D printing companies.
Along with DWS, who was present directly and “playing at home”, this year’s edition, which took place from January 18th to the 23rd, saw a growing numbers of exhibitors tied directly to 3D printing technologies. Among them were Robotfactory (a small DLP based Italian 3D printer producer), 3D modelling software specialists Smart3D (who also offer a DLP stereolithography 3D printer called Tucano 1000dpi), Prototek (distributors for 3D Systems), Luigi dal Trozzo (distributors for the Asiga Systems) and PCube (distributors for EvisionTEC). All of them told me about the incredible boom of interests and demand they are experiencing, both in Italy and globally.
With the support of DWS’ marketing team, the VicenzaOro fair hosted for the first time a 3D printed jewels exhibition along with a practical 3D printing demonstration. I visited the Around the Future: 3D Printing for Jewels exhibit, organized in collaboration with Alba Cappellieri, president of the Fashion Design Course at Milan’s Politecnico University, thinking I’d find just a small number of basic designs but I was so, incredibly, wrong. I mean, these were no amateur projects but some seriously professional works of art.
The exhibit included the work of many designers and 3D printing studios. The most noticeable among them were probably N-E-R-V-O-U-S System, known for its kinematics “4D printing parametric software” (3D printed creations that can take different forms), and .bijouets, a young Italian company that is pioneering 3D printing technologies for its end use production.
Techniques employed included everything from FDM to laser sintering (of both plastic and metal) and materials included 3D printed metals, lost wax castings, polyamide, irix (digital stone), photopolymers and gold or silver plated ABS.
I am no expert but I have to say that the designs by the likes of Michela Nosè for Eurocoating, Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louis Rosenberg for Nervous Systems, Selvaggia Armani for .bijouets, Tomek Ogrodowski for 3DWydruki and Francesca Gabrielli for DWS, were extremely impressive. What I witnessed was an incredible fusion between the finest artisan jewellery and the most advanced technologies available, at the hands of very capable and creative designers. Judging but what has been achieved so far in the world of precious jewels, the future of 3D printing is shiny and golden.
In fact the standardization of artisan processes possible through 3D printing has captured the attention of many traditional jewellers as well, who have traditionally been very reluctant to “admit” to using technology in their high end production. But that is one of the promises of 3D printing: to allow artisan jewellers to do what has been impossible to achieve until now and create with no limitations.