3D printing finds its way in just about every aspect of jewelry manufacturing, due to the widespread adoption of CAD software among jewelry designers. Even in traditional manufacturing, with vulcanized silicon molds, the initial model is often 3D printed using high-temperature resistant photopolymer resins. Jewelry prototyping for size and shape verification is complemented by the use of directly 3D printed wax and resin patterns for direct casting and serial manufacturing. The next evolutionary step is direct metal 3D printing, although further down in our timeline.
Wax for 3D printed direct casting has been used for almost two decades with Solidscape material jetting technology. Over the past decade, jewelry manufacturers and jewelry 3D printing service providers have been introducing castable resins with both material jetting and vat photopolymerization technologies. Today those technologies are evolving with the introduction of low-cost systems (sub-$5,000) and high-productivity (layerless DLP) systems, opening the door to a new phase of growth and more widespread adoption for serial production of more complex and customized products. Directly 3D printed precious metal jewelry is the next step, however the complexity of the technology and the high-initial investments required mean this will remain an opportunity limited to a few highly experienced companies for the near term future.
Relevant sectors for jewelry 3D printing include hardware (photopolymerization and metal powder bed fusion), materials (photopolymers and precious metal powders), jewelry-specific 3D printing service bureaus, jewelry-specific CAD software and 3D printed jewelry applications.
Stakeholders in jewelry additive manufacturing range from manufacturers of AM systems (with a specific competency for castable materials), to suppliers of gold, platinum, silver and other precious metal alloy metal powders optimized for AM systems, to adopters of AM focusing on the many applications for the jewelry sector. Leading providers of technologies and materials for jewelry AM include Stratasys, Solidscape (now part of Prodways), 3D Systems, EnvisionTEC, EOS, Concept Laser, Sisma, ReaLizer (DMG Mori) as well as precious metal powder providers such as Cooksongold, Legor, Progold, Hildebrand and Heraeus, among others.