Digital tech to polish up jewellery making

Posted on 4 May 2018 by Jonny Williamson

Jewellery manufacturing is an art of its own; Pandora’s senior vice president, Thomas Touborg, explains how digital technologies help the Denmark-based company to create state-of-the-art jewellery.

The Danish jewellery manufacturer and retailer was founded in 1982 by Per Enevoldsen – image courtesy of Pandora.

In the ancient world the discovery of how to work metals was an important stage in the development of the art of jewellery.

Over time, metalworking techniques became more sophisticated and decoration more intricate.

Nowadays, jewellery manufacturing is more reliant on advanced digital technologies and automated processes, and, Thomas Touborg said, it consists of three major process steps.

Creating the masterpiece & digital technologies

Some tools in the jeweller’s workshop have remained more or less unchanged since jewellery manufacturers started to work with metal in ancient times.

But, in addition to these old tools, jewellers now have access to a dazzling array of new tools which allow them to make more delicate and sophisticated works of art than ever before.

For example, CAD/CAM software has caused an entire industry of jewellers to rethink their approach to design and sales.

The company started as a family-run jewellery shop in Copenhagen - image courtesy of Pandora.
The company started as a family-run jewellery shop in Copenhagen – image courtesy of Pandora.

Whereas CAD’s origins run parallel with the American military’s rush in aerospace innovation in the 1960’s, modern CAD tools can combine all the finesse of sculpting in clay with the precise control needed for making an iPhone or shoes.

Although, jewellery was the last of all product design fields to find a use for CAD/CAM, even after fine art sculpture, it is impossible to image the jewellery industries without these modern designing tools.

Pandora has also worked for many years with CAD/CAM programmes which allow a designer to create delicate details and flourishes difficult or even impossible by any other means.

Touborg explained: “As a first step, we design a sketch of the masterpiece with 3D-CAD/CAM software. Together with our in-house designers, we exactly define how the product should look like.”

Pandora’s senior vice president said that in the process of creating the masterpiece, the company uses all the digital tools it has on hand.

“Our design department is in Denmark, but we get all the necessary information about current trends to set the design direction from our other office in Italy; thanks to a good data connection, both offices work perfectly together.”

After collecting the design concepts, ideas and trends, he said, the data is collectively transferred to the design department in Copenhagen which then crafts the sketches.

Touborg said: “In a next step, we then transfer the sketches to the product development and research department in Thailand where Pandora finally makes sure the drawings can be turned into physical products.

“We use different types of software solutions to ensure that we always have the right and latest version of the drawings.”

The stone setting process – image courtesy of Pandora.

Product Lifecycle Management solutions are another technical tool which found its way into the jewellery manufacturing industries.

Initially, PLM systems were primarily seen in heavy industries like aerospace and automotive but over time it has spread its wings to any segment which has to do with designing.

And PLM systems have become very useful in the jewellery segment especially for export-oriented manufacturers, who for example design in Europe and manufacture in the Far East.

Touborg: “And of course, we work with a PLM system, making sure the different stages we are pushing the product through – from the design to the development – always meet our expectations.”

The 2D-designed masterpiece is the springboard from where Pandora duplicates and creates a high volume of jewellery pieces.

The designers then begin with the 3D-printing process; starting from there they create a physical masterpiece in the same metal the final piece of jewellery will be made of.

“Thanks to new technologies, we can 3D print masterpiece in ceramics or other suitable materials. Then we apply stones, diamonds and other ornamental elements,” Touborg added.

Automation & the front-end

The second part of the manufacturing is the casting process. Basically, jewellery casting is an art form that has been in existence for thousands of years.

But with the advent of high frequency melting and a host of other technologies, jewellery casting is more dynamic than ever.

At this second stage, the company creates the moles as replicates of the masterpiece.

“Now, we melt the main material (like gold or silver) down to its liquid form, and casts it into the created mould. After the casting process, we break the mould and cut away the waste material.”

The first modern casting machines for casting jewellery and precision parts which offer precise casting results for almost every production capacity, were invented in the 1980’s.

“The casting process is suitable for deploying robotics and automation. In that area, our company has automated a number of processes, with robots especially built for the jewellery manufacturing process.”

The finishing processes – handmade

However, the castings can be flawless and the assembly precise but as soon as the surface gets a bit rough, a little uneven and wobbly, the jewellery is judged to be inferior.

Therefore, the finishing process requires greatest precision which can be achieved only done by hand. Touborg concluded: “The third step is the finishing part of the process. This step is highly manual since we are producing hand finished pieces of jewellery.

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