Create custom jewelry
using CAD software and
a 3D printer.
BY JONATHAN OXFORD
After giving my wife a handmade plastic faux-diamond engagement
ring, I decided I’d better get serious
and come up with more permanent
wedding rings. The polycarbonate ring
was funny, but even made out of an
engineering plastic, there was no way
it would last. We scoured the vintage jewelry shops, and then
We scoured the vintage jewelry shops, and then the dreaded mall stores, until we finally decided that the only way to get exactly what we wanted was to design the rings ourselves. And like any self-respecting industrial designer, I’m prone to believing that I can design and make anything. Luckily for me, the making part turned out to be
easy — I simply sent my CAD design to a 3D wax
printing house, then sent the wax prints to a jewelry
foundry and got back platinum rings.
Design and Make
Time: Variable Complexity: Moderate
MATERIALS & TOOLS
3D CAD software I used Solid Works.
Access to a 3D wax printer
Access to a jewelry metal foundry
Finishing and polishing tools
1. Design the rings in 3D CAD
If you’re into highly detailed, complex forms you’ll
probably need some experience using sophisticated software, but for simpler shapes you can
even use the free Google SketchUp. There are many
CAD platforms out there, some of them specifically
for jewelry design. I chose Solid Works because it’s
what I use every day (Figures A and B).
3. Output the design file.
Once the design is done and scaled, output it to
whatever file format your 3D printing house needs.
Typically this is an STL file (Figure C), but not
always. The printing house will let you know
what they need.
2. Scale your design for the
material being cast.
Each metal has a different shrinkage rate, so the
last operation you do in the CAD process should
be to scale the design to account for shrinkage.
The casting house you choose may use a custom-
formulated metal, so ask them what the shrinkage
4. Email the file to a 3D
Then wait for the 3D wax prints to show up in
the mail. Choose a place with a machine that’s
designed specifically for direct lost wax casting.
I wasted a bunch of money having the designs
printed in a plastic material that I was told could be
burned out of the investment (the mold) directly.
This may work for some metals, but for platinum
it produced unusable parts with air bubbles. In
the end, I went with a high-precision wax printer
designed specifically for jewelry casting.
Photograph by Sam Murphy
64 Make: Volume 21