For the traditional jewellery industry in India that has long prided itself for the skills of its karigars, technology is proving to be a disruptor of sorts. 3D printing, also known as desktop fabrication, or additive manufacturing (AM)—the process of building three-dimensional solid objects from digital design using additive methods—has proved to be a game changer in the past 15 years.
Traditionally, a piece of jewellery was custom-made and designed as per the specifications and preferences of a buyer that involved several processes and many man-hours. The piece would then be painstakingly hand-carved and welded together. The original parts were sculpted by the karigars. However, with the advent of ComputerAided Designing (CAD), manufacturers can now render a 3D digital piece of the jewellery. The 3D printer produces a thermoplastic wax mould of the jewellery. Metal is then poured into the mould and the design comes alive. A piece that would go through a long production cycle spanning many days now takes just 12 to 14 hours.
With CAD and 3D printing, the buyers can be a part of the entire process too, not to mention the level of customisation that can be offered to them. “Many jewellers now use the technology to disrupt the way things were done for hundreds of years,” says Abhishek Kajaria, Founder of Avama Jewellers. “3D printing is now used to create patterns for investment casting and to print jewellery directly. The traditional method of wax moulds is being replaced by 3D printing and designing,” he adds.
According to jewellery connoisseur Tanya Rastogi of Lala Jugal Kishore Jewellers, 3D printing makes the mould creation process much faster. “Jewellery designers can use 3D printing to create mockups of their creations before initiating the actual process. This helps designers achieve more accuracy and waste less of the precious materials,” adds Rastogi.
Ishu Datwani, Founder, Anmol seconds this, “One can now make amazing and complicated designs in less time and money. 3D printing has helped India leapfrog and catch up with Italian workmanship,” she adds.
Besides helping build prototypes faster, 3D technology is also cost-effective once the economies of scale are achieved, points out Rohan Sharma, Managing Director of RK Jewellers, South Extension-2.
“3D printing has revolutionalised the product development process. Things have become much faster. We can see exact replocas of our products, identify the problems and address them immediately”
Rohan Sharma, Managing Director, RK Jewellers, South Extension-2
Making exclusive pieces have also become easier as creating a mould now is a lot simpler than it was when one used wax moulds. Most customers want unique pieces and this technology enables jewellers to create more designs. “Moreover, the technology gives a jeweller the freedom to create different moulds quickly and thus customise the jewellery for his/her clients,” adds Sharma
With rapid innovation, technology has also become significantly affordable in the past few years. Initially, the models were manufactured or printed using machines that were expensive, almost to the tune of Rs50 lakh or more per machine, points out Gaurav Loyalka, Co-Founder, Novabeans, a Delhi-based 3D printing service provider. “Today, cheaper machines like Formlabs are available in the market, which reducw the capital expenditure and running cost, allowing craftsmen in this segment to become entrepreneurs. This is a huge shift in the paradigm. Today, single women, craftsmen and hobbyists can make commercial jewellery,” he says, adding that social media marketing is another huge factor in this AM revolution.
The 3D printing technology is going to have a massive influence in the jewellery industry in the next few years. 3D printing is finding its way into just about every aspect of jewellery manufacturing, thanks to the widespread adoption of CAD software among jewellery designers. “Annual revenues from 3D-printed hardware, materials, services and software used in the jewellery industry is expected to rise,” says Kajaria.
“In the jewellery sector, we estimate almost 90 per cent use of AM. Machine sales-wise, we see an upward trend of almost 30 per cent year-on-year sales,” says Loyalka.
3D printing is changing and influencing consumers’ taste too. They have a lot more to choose from. The bar has been raised in the areas of design and creativity as more designs can be created at a lesser cost, point out jewellers.
The other side
On the flip side, the growing influence of 3D printing technology is likely to make the labour force redundant. “India is known for its intricate handmade craftsmanship. Many generations of craftsmen have been in the profession of designing jewellery. This technological advancement affects their livelihood,” says Datwani.
While it cannot be overlooked that 3D printing technology is effective, hasslefree and gives scope for customisation, it creates designs that lack a personal touch that each artisan is known to impart to every piece through their craftsmanship. “I have seldom seen a design produced in Rhino Gold or Matrix or any of the CAD programmes that really breathes. So much of it carries the cold resonance of mechanical and impersonal construction.
“I feel that CAD programmes are too clumsy to replace the fine intuition of a sensitive artist,”