The time-honored tradition of browsing a jewelry store -- wallet in hand and heart in throat -- is being turned upside down, thanks to one New York jeweler's tech-forward thinking.
American Pearl is using 3-D printing to let customers create their own finely detailed pieces of gold, silver and platinum jewelry, quickly, and more cheaply than the traditional jewelry-making process, without ever setting foot in the store.
That's right, guys: You can order that Christmas engagement ring while in your pajamas, without ever leaving your laptop behind.
“What we love about 3-D printing is that consumers save a lot of money and lot of time having something 3D-printed,” said Eddie Bakhash, CEO and son of the founder of American Pearl, which has had a storefront in New York City’s Diamond District since 1950. He called the technology “very disruptive” to the $85 billion a year U.S. jewelry industry.
Bakhash has cracked one important component necessary for making 3-D printing accessible for mainstream consumers: He's put the power of creation into the hands of the buyer. Right now, you work from American Pearl's existing designs (though high-rollers can approach Bakhash with their own designs, too) to choose the size and type of gemstone, the metal type and color and the piece’s form and fittings, such as an earring backing or a clasp.
American Pearl then uses a Solidscape T76 3-D printer to create a wax model of the piece; that model is used to create a thermoplastic sculpture of the piece, followed by a mould made of latex, rubber or silicone into which they pour gold to fashion the final piece.
The company plans to create more intricate designs using 3-D sintering next year. In this process, the company goes from the digital file directly to gold metal using additive manufacturing: The precious powder is hit by a high-powered laser, which causes the metal to heat, fuse and add a layer to the main form. The process is repeated until the full piece is finished.
This approach lets American Pearl offer a diverse range of jewelry for all budgets. Bakhash hasn't added up all of the permutations he offers, but hazarded a guess that it numbers in the millions. His company began offering the platform on some products in November; today the vast majority of its jewelry is 3D-printed. You can find something on the cheap, or go big if you're ready to drop six figures on an eight-carat diamond. The choice is yours.
“We never knew how much consumers wanted to change the products they were buying until we offered the option,” Bakhash told FoxNews.com.