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While it may have seemed the stuff of science fiction just a few years ago, but by now most people have heard of 3D printing technology. If you haven't, then to recap 3D printing is a method for producing a three-dimensional physical object from scratch using a special printer in conjunction with a digital model of the object to be manufactured.
While the technology is still in its infancy, it has already been used to produce a wide range of items, from miniature models and product prototypes to tools and, sadly, even guns. Now its use for jewellery production is also being explored, and may one day revolutionise the industry.
Earlier this year the BBC reported on its use by manufacturer Cookson Precious Metals. The process, known as laser sintering, enables jewellery to be produced in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, based on custom-designed models.
3D printed gold jewellery
In the case of gold jewellery, the technique fuses layers of gold powder together using a high-powered laser. Incredibly complex designs can be made in this manner with much greater speed and ease than traditional methods. It also makes it possible to make lighter pieces of jewellery with less material, as hollow shapes can be made where previously solid metal would be required.
One of the largest areas of potential for 3D printed jewellery, though, is the scope it offers for custom-made pieces designed to the customer's exact specifications.
It should be noted that the technique is at present still relatively expensive, and once a piece is printed it will still need further finishing using traditional methods. Precious stones such as diamonds would of course need to be added separately for the production of certified diamond rings and other items. But it seems likely that the use of 3D printing techniques is likely to grow over the coming years, alongside more traditional jewellery making methods honed over centuries.