To most people, designing jewelry and jewelry technology are purely artistic endeavors, with finished pieces standing as a testament to the designer’s skill. What role does modern technology play here? Without a doubt, both design and technology are utilized during the jewelry production process.
How do ideas of aesthetics and technical capability interact? In this talk, I’ll attempt to probe this connection from the perspective of jewelry production, focusing on how technology inspires fresh ideas for ornamentation. I want to demonstrate that technological advancements are not unrelated to innovative design and that the two complement one another.
According to studies of consumer preferences, modern women, when shopping for jewelry, prioritize new designs and high-quality materials. As a given, it should be well-made and durable, and the design must be novel.
It might even show “new” effects that are cool. Its production also needs to be safe for workers and the planet. We in the jewelry trade are all in agreement about one thing: jewelry technology plays a critical role in cutting-edge design. A company and its edge over the competition are at risk if creative design stagnates.
What It Takes to Connect Art and Jewelry Technology
If a painter wants to convey their ideas accurately, they must thoroughly understand the canvas, the paints, and how these factors interact. We’re talking about color combinations, perspective, light, etc.
The same holds for a sculptor or a ceramicist. Therefore, I hope it goes without saying that if you want your jewelry to be of high quality, you need to work with a technically competent designer on the materials, tools, and procedures required to create it. The execution of a design idea depends on technology to become a reality, and this is the earliest and most visible connection between design and technology.
Jewelry designers would benefit from learning about the possibilities and constraints presented by diverse jewelry technology. Many goldsmiths and jewelry factories have seen intriguing “paper” creations from designers that cannot be made affordably. Similarly, many investment casters have seen pieces meant for investment casting that was impossible to cast.
At this juncture, I’d like to add that the success of any jewelry design hinges on the product’s physical quality, which means that producers must achieve a high standard of craft and a high-quality finish.
Currently, the World Gold Council offers several programs, including technical handbooks. They also organize technical seminars all over about jewelry technology.
It’s important to remember the two sides of design when discussing jewelry. Most CAD systems for jewelry design start from an artistic perspective, reflecting how most of us think about jewelry design.
One example of this strong connection to jewelry technology is the popularity of computer-aided design (CAD) software among designers. Rapid prototyping is a helpful tool for getting products to market quickly.
However, the technical aspect of jewelry technology should not be overlooked. Jewellery, like automobiles, airplanes, and other technological products, must be reliable and suitable for the wearer’s demands.
Engineering and jewelry technology are required for competitively designed jewelry. Modern jewelry has to be tough enough to endure the constant use and abuse it will get. The ability to bend without breaking is essential for jewelry like herringbone chains. The best spring catches will last a long time and work without fail. John Wright presented on this topic at the Santa Fe Symposium in 1997 for those interested in learning more. Making jewelry production simple is a related topic. That’s why engineering design is also a bridge between the two disciplines.
Cutting-Edge Engineering and Construction
Allow me to elaborate on the connection between jewelry technology and engineering. Consider the jewelry technology involved in making innovative design a reality and the demand for items with pleasing aesthetics. We need to recognize technology’s potential role in helping us achieve breakthroughs in aesthetics.
Some years ago, Neissing of Germany introduced a revolutionary new take on the traditional tension ring, which has been widely imitated. To make one, one must have a firm grasp on the mechanical properties of gold and be able to manipulate them so that an unmounted stone is securely held in place by the compressive force imposed by the ends of the ring. This cutting-edge layout is hence highly reliant on modern technological means.
Innovation in Design Made Possible by New Jewelry Technology
Here, I’ll examine several cutting-edge (and not-so-cutting-edge) materials and their corresponding jewelry technology to demonstrate the design possibilities they present. I’ll use a few of them to show how they can be utilized to make color patterns similar to mokume gane.
Let me begin with jewelry technology used in production: electroforming. Although this technology has been available for some time, it has significantly developed in recent decades. Electroforming should be seen as its process, distinct from and complementary to more traditional methods like stamping and lost-wax casting. From a purely aesthetic perspective, each method has its advantages.
Some jewelry producers, like Charles Garnier of Paris, France, have made a name for themselves thanks to the excellence of their jewelry technology, and electroforming presents unique potential for imaginative designers. Electroforming is the best method for creating thin, hollow, lightweight, voluminous, and complex three-dimensional forms. It can potentially make previously unattainable designs a reality at a low cost.
Jewelry technology also facilitates the creation of one-of-a-kind jewelry by the independent craft designer. Leaves, flowers, shells, nuts, and cobwebs are just a few examples of natural forms that can be imitated or reimagined using synthetic materials. Electroformed jewelry is commonly used to make adornments such as earrings, pendants, brooches, chains, necklaces, charms, clasps, bangles, and statues.
From the designer’s perspective, electroforming can be combined with other processes such as stamping, lost wax casting of sterling silver charms, enameling, and using precious stones, corals, and pearls. Electroforming allows for the setting of gemstones directly into the wax mandrel or in a two-stage process. The electroformed could be electroplated in certain sections with metals to incorporate color as a design element. Using the red and white gold clays in conjunction with electroforming also opens up intriguing possibilities since it may make it possible to create gold in various attractive color combinations. Electroforming technology offers a one-of-a-kind and virtually limitless canvas for imaginative design.
Cable-making, which entails spinning several wires together in a spiral form, is a relatively recent jewelry technology in the jewelry industry. Gold cables have recently replaced chains as the preferred material for supporting pendants on necklaces. This is a chance for designers to abandon the traditional aesthetic of chain necklaces.
The electrical cable industry’s methods of cable production have been modified to meet the specifications of the jewelry business. Consider the unique design possibilities of using gold wires of varying carats to construct cables. Perhaps a novel surface texture could be achieved by incorporating wires into Spangold shape memory material.
Weaving and Knitting
Knitting precious metal wires to make knitted metal fabrics is another cutting-edge technique recently introduced to the jewelry industry. Fabrics that seem like chain mail are also possible using chain-making technologies. Knitting with colored gold or other precious metal wire combinations could be accomplished using these techniques, much like wool knitting. Making wedding bands from finely ground precious metals is a relatively new industry.  Reduced scrap is a major benefit for the precious metals sector when using powder metallurgy processing to make net-shaped components.
Nonetheless, I hope to stress that this technology also has intriguing prospects for design. For instance, you may create novel design effects by layering different colored carat gold powders or combining them with platinum powders. Perhaps using this method, you might create patterns reminiscent of mokume gane.
There is a need to broaden this technology’s application to include non-symmetrical shapes. It’s possible that metal injection molding (MIM) is the best technological path to take. Perhaps this is an instance in which design requirements prompted better technology development. Other fascinating “composite” items may be conceived by adding traditionally made components and finds to the die before adding the powder.
The Use of Lasers
Jewelry manufacturers are increasingly turning to laser technology for cutting, welding, and laser engraving for decorative purposes. Figure 7 is one of the technological award winners from the most recent Gold Virtuosi design competition, and it is a great example of how lasers and CAD/CAM can provide novel and exciting design outcomes.
This technology allows for exciting new possibilities in mass manufacturing and one-of-a-kind design.
Laser welding has been demonstrated6 as a viable method for mass-making jewelry with a granulation design, but the technology has not yet been commercialized. This jewelry technology has been brought into the modern era. I’d want to bring up the idea of using multiple colors in a granulation pattern again.
Shape Memory Alloys
This article will examine a recent innovation that enables a new surface texture effect called “Spangold.” These alloys, available in 18 and 23-karat gold, provide a specific shape memory effect and, upon being heated, reveal a dazzling array of colors. Large, smooth, flat, or curved surfaces are where it shines. Spangold has deeper origins than just a superficial surface ruffling due to a shift in the crystal structure. This effect is widespread in the bulk of the alloy and can be reversed.
It comes in yellow and pink tones and can be wrought or cast for a unique look that can’t be achieved with more traditional methods of treating jewelry. Figure 8 on the following slide provides an enlarged view of the effect, which consists of a scattering of needle-shaped surface rumples responsible for the spangle effect. Once again, designers and manufacturers are only just beginning to make restricted use of this material. Remember that the possibilities for jewelry design can be expanded by strategically removing the spangle.
Theoretically, the shape-memory phenomenon can also be used to create jewelry. Perhaps for “dynamic” contemporary shapes that change shape in response to temperature variations or for simple gem-setting (and disassembly)? One winning design for the Gold Virtuosi award used to form memory gold wire, which is fascinating but whose utility I cannot discern.
Mitsubishi Materials Corporation’s breakthrough development of gold and other precious metal clays is up-and-coming. This material, which consists of metal particles in a binder, can be shaped like potter’s clay. It may be shaped creatively, and simple, inexpensive molds could be used to mass-produce jewelry parts and accessories.
Despite the unusual surface it creates, it may be polished to a standard high gloss. The slides give an idea of the material’s potential for allowing for novel design possibilities that would be impossible with traditional goldsmithing. The beads are hollow to be textured individually with minimal equipment.
The clays come in various colors and metals, including platinum, silver, 24k gold, white gold, yellow gold, and 18K red gold.
You can see how, with some creativity, the gold clays can be used to make “composite” objects by combining different colors and including fabricated components like castings or wire pins into the clay before sintering. Its connection to powder metallurgy is made clear by this analogy. The potential layouts are practically limitless.
24k Micro-Alloyed Golds
Forgetting that technological constraints must be considered when designing jewelry. One such limitation is the softness and weakness of pure 24-carat gold, which prevents it from being used in producing products like Venetian box chains and lobster claws. The “S” hook is the standard clasp on 24K necklaces and bracelets. However, many of these limitations have been removed with the introduction of stronger micro alloyed 24-carat golds. Perhaps, in a roundabout way, this can also be seen as an illus