**edit** I got so excited about the technology yesterday, I didn’t clearly articulate that I was referring to specific source material, just published by the BBC. So here goes:
Chris Vallance for the BBC has just published an article on How tech is transforming jewellery. In his piece he specifically reference a new machine that uses laser sintering to create gold jewellery works. As I mentioned in my presentation at the 2010 Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia conference – the next big thing in jewellery manufacture would be laser sintering. Finally I have some justification!
Sintering? Printing directly onto a granulated media using a laser – in this case with gold powder. (In my presentation I mentioned steel and titanium, but it was only a matter of time before gold got a guernsey.) It’s similar to the existing forms also known as direct deposition printing which are available through your average print shop (Shapeways or Ponoko), which to date have been able to work with plaster and a few types of plastic, in that there is a deposition of the media, then the laser comes in and fuses that layer to the one previous. (With plaster/plastic there is not necessarily a laser involved in fusing layers, instead a layer of adhesive is applied, then the next layer of material.)
Unlike building with a wax, you don’t need to also deposit supports as the loose media surrounding the object stabilises the piece until it is finished, after which you just brush the excess material off. My guess is that it will still have striations, a hallmark of other ‘printing’ processes, but being gold they will be relatively easy to work with. Cleanup of these kinds of printed works present their own challenges however, in that the resolution of a print is not always kept during sanding and buffing procedures. Speaking with a local designer who works with many ‘grown’ objects, he tells me that you have to be careful of your resolution, since if you design really small features as a part of a larger object, they might not survive the cleanup.
Cookson’s, the company featured in the article (Ok, full title, Cookson Precious Metals), are like the Rio Grande of the UK, and are located (well, at least the branch I visited) in the jewellery quarter in Birmingham. They have invested in a new machine that you can use (obviously with the right 3D file – and plenty of money to pay for the print and the actual part), which now takes its place alongside all of their other supplies that they sell for jewellery makers.
Interesting times ahead!!
Thanks to Wing Mun Devenney (@ispymagpie on Twitter) for the heads up.