I had a fascinating conversation recently with Scott Patrick, a gifted jeweler and designer who works in Findings Development here at Rio, on the topic of computer-aided design. We talked about fishing, too, but that will have to be a post for another day…
Scott has been at the bench designing and carving models in wax for 38 years and counting. Impressive, I know. He’s done production work, custom design, manufacturing for other designers, you name it. What really amazes me is how naturally he has incorporated computer-aided design (CAD) into his work as the technology has emerged over the years.
What could once only be done by hand can now be accomplished with the aid of design software, computerized mills, and rapid prototyping machines that use lasers to build incredibly intricate models in wax. And Scott loves it.
“The beauty of CAD for me is the huge difference it can make in the kind of tasks that in the old days were a real chore.” Design software is a great boon when design elements are repetitive, or require a high level of precision.” As an example, he described creating the models for a matching pair of earrings. “Carving the first one was always fun— seeing the design come to life and taking the time to get it just right.” But when it came to precisely creating a duplicate in reverse for the second earring, it became just labor – the magic of creation was gone. “Now,” he said with a gleam in his eye, “I can create the exact mirror image with a single click.”
Design and manufacturing for Scott doesn’t begin or end on the computer— it’s just another step in the process. Many of his designs still start their journey scribbled on a napkin, and there is always more to be done after a piece has been modeled or cast, whether it’s further customization, stone-setting or finishing.
During our conversation it became obvious to me that Scott’s wealth of experience at the bench and in manufacturing plays a critical role while he’s at the computer working on a design. “Knowing your real-world constraints— what’s possible for your mill or your rapid-prototyping machine or, eventually, your stone-setter to actually accomplish— is pretty important.”
In the digital realm it’s easy to design a model that’s impractical or even impossible to actually execute. These constraints are magnified when you’re talking about a production piece rather than a one-of-a-kind custom design that can be modified along the way.
Scott isn’t ready to turn his back on his bench skills, either. “There are still a lot of elements that are just easier or better done by hand.” Some parts of a design might be impossible for a mill to reach or a rapid-prototyping machine to support – these can be modified on the master by hand after the computers do their thing. And sometimes there are artistic elements wherein the design intention can simply be better achieved by hand-carving. “I’ll just leave a block of wax as part of the digital model for hand-carving by my wife later—she’s a fantastic artist.” It’s a very common-sense approach to integrating all of the available techniques.
The bottom line? “It’s just another tool on my bench,” Scott told me, then paused. “A very cool one.”
In the following short video Scott talks about the power of CAD:
Did you know that Rio offers training and mentorship in CAD specifically for jewelry designers?
Our 3DESIGN® CAD class is offered regularly for craftspeople and small manufacturers who have little or no CAD experience but are thinking of adding CAD to their shop. The intensive, three-day class is packed with CAD and jewelry manufacturing knowledge and lays the basic foundation of skills necessary in 3DESIGN to allow continued individual exploration. It’s followed up with a 30-day demo license for 3DESIGN, training materials and hands-on mentor support and can be an easy and inexpensive way to get your foot in the digital design door. Shoot us an email at email@example.com if you’re interested in finding out more.
So. More than once I’ve heard a jewelry designer say that if their studio caught fire, the first thing they’d grab would be the computer. How about you? Does CAD already have a place in your work? Tell us how you use it!