Using CAD to Design a Bespoke Engagement Ring

It has never been easier to own a unique piece of jewellery. Using CAD (Computer Aided Design) has made bespoke jewellery much more accessible.

If you are looking for a bespoke engagement ring London has many jewellers offering this service, especially in Hatton Garden.  CAD technology offers clients endless flexibility, and limitless design. This doesn’t guarantee the perfect jewellery, it still takes the right knowledge to produce the perfect piece.
CAD images on a compter monitor

I’ve discussed the merits of having your own special design before, and creating a bespoke engagement ring has grown in popularity.  It is not just for celebrities as it isn’t as expensive as you might think and sourced from the right company, offers more flexibility.

All that said, it is also a minefield for the inexperienced.  Some jewellers offer a ‘bespoke’ design service in store.  This is often just taking different ring settings and shanks, and putting them together.  It certainly doesn’t involve any design.  Other services will go straight to CAD without considering the brief.   I have been drafted to help clients where the engagement ring wasn’t right on the first, second or sometimes even third attempt.  This is an expensive mistake.

In this blog I am going to look specifically at the pluses and pitfalls of utilising Computer Aided Design, commonly referred to as CAD.   This may be of particular interest for those considering a bespoke engagement ring, but any jewellery design project where CAD is involved can use the same principles.

Why use CAD?

For the bespoke engagement ring designer, CAD offers a world of design opportunities which traditionally took up hours of time and skill to fulfil.  Pieces can be more intricate, and stone setting more precise.  CAD opened up a new realm of creativity in jewellery design, and combined with 3D printing meant that prototypes could be produced quickly and cost effectively.  To the designer, the possibilities are very exciting.  About 80% of the jewellery in store today, has been modelled using CAD software.

The ring images below are CAD, rather than photographs, which shows just how sophisticated the technology is.

3 rings created with computer aided design

So where does using CAD cause a problem?

In my previous incarnation as head of Platinum Guild International UK, we were very keen to promote great platinum jewellery design.  I usually judged a few industry design events every year, both UK and globally.  When I was starting out, I loved the crisp clean images that jewellery designers specialising in CAD produced.  But as my technical knowledge grew (10 years of competitions), I learned for the inexperienced, CAD created more problems than solutions.  Here are the three main reasons why;

  1. Lack of Technical knowledge. Understanding how to manipulate a piece of software to produce a pretty design does not mean that the design is going to work as a finished item of jewellery.  The risk with an inexperienced designer is that the final piece is too heavy, or doesn’t sit upright, or doesn’t have enough metal to finish nicely. The CAD designers we use are jewellery makers as well, so understand the full process.
  2. Lack of Production know-how. If you ever seen an Escher drawing you know that just because something works on a piece of paper, does not mean it is possible in 3D.  Which can result in the finished design requiring a lot of work to get it close to what it is supposed to look like.  
  3. Lack of Perspective. You can zoom right in on a CAD design.  I’ve had clients panic that the piece is looking too chunky because it is 50 times larger than the final piece.  Conversely, confusion is easily created if the 0.40ct diamond looked a lot bigger in the picture!
CAD design from client ring brief (sent to us by client). This is when CAD goes wrong, the CAD operator is not experienced in unusual ring designs and has been distracted by client saying that ring has a 'D' shape to it. Actual design would not be particularly comfortable or wearable. We took a lot more data from the client, and established that it wasn't the letter 'D', and the ring should feel smoother.
We decided against CAD, and instead started with sketching, and then carving a physical wax version of the ring which client loved as she could see how it was going to work. And yes.. that was the D!

Questions to ask when considering CAD jewellery

Keeping it nice and simple, here are my top questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you feel that the expert you are working with understands CAD? It should not be a sales consultant who has received a CAD image, and passed it to you without considering whether it is on brief of not.  
  2. If you are working with the CAD operator, have they responded to your brief correctly? I save my clients a lot of money and time, by pushing back if I don’t think the designer has met their expectations.  Sometimes clients do not feel comfortable doing this direct with the individual.
  3. How does the design look zoomed out? Try to look at the design in a minimised view.  If you are looking at something which is 300 times the size of the item of jewellery you are actually going to be wearing, you will always end up confused about whether something will work or not.
  4. How good is the workshop? Remember that it will be the skill of the goldsmith to make the CAD jewellery model become the perfect piece.  So have a look at what is in store, and other examples of what has been made that are clearly photographs.

The advantages of CAD come down to experience, and too often when things go wrong, it is because there has been a disconnect somewhere in the process.  I work with CAD specialists, as part of the client process.  For detail and precise stone setting it can save the goldsmith a lot of time.  It isn’t the first stage though.  We begin with sketches and mood boards, move on to a formalised concept and only at this point start with CAD. Here, we always have a goldsmith who understands the jewellery making process involved.  It has saved a lot of heartache.  For our clients, the CAD design is really the end of the design process, it will make the model of the engagement ring, or other item of jewellery to be cast.  

Where CAD works - here we could give our client a 85% accurate representation of his ring design and he could relax his design was going to look right!

It is always exciting for a client to see their piece rendered.  We still caution that some of the design details will look a little chunky.  This is because we need to make the piece with room to refine it.  It is always easier taking metal off, than adding it!

Final thoughts

Here at Heirloom London, bespoke engagement rings are bread and butter to us, and we find CAD is a great asset for creating bespoke engagement rings, jewellery remodelling and pendants and earrings.  It offers us a fantastic level of detail when it comes to the model making and can save the client a lot of money.  But this is because it is joined up with jewellery design, and goldsmith know-how.  On its own, it is quite a high risk strategy, especially when in inexperienced hands.

Not all jewellery requires to be CAD designed, and it is time-consuming so always worth checking with whoever you are working with, as to whether it is really necessary.  A good sales consultant will go through all options first, if your perfect design is already in existence better to receive this.

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