3D-printed gold collection aims to transform the jewellery industry

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Future Makers: digital manufacturing could "reshape the jewellery industry," says designer Lionel T Dean, who has created a collection that is 3D printed in 18 carat gold (+ movie).

Orbis 3D-printed gold ring by Lionel T Dean

Dean designed the pieces as part of a project called Precious, a collaboration between five companies including software provider Delcam and precious metal supplier Cooksongold, which is aiming to modernise the UK jewellery industry.

The first range, which includes items by Dean and other designers, was unveiled in August at Birmingham City University's School of Jewellery.

Orbis 3D-printed gold ring by Lionel T Dean
Orbis 3D-printed gold ring by Lionel T Dean, manufactured by Cooksongold

"We're here today to launch our collection of 3D-printed gold artefacts to demonstrate to the UK jewellery industry the potential of 3D printing," Dean explains in the movie. "Additive manufacturing with metal allows you to create forms that would be almost impossible to create by conventional means."

Collect 3D-printed gold bangle by Lionel T Dean, manufactured by Cooksongold
Collect 3D-printed gold bangle by Lionel T Dean, manufactured by Cooksongold

While the jewellery industry has used 3D printing to create moulds for a long time, Dean says it has been much slower to take up printing directly with metal.



"The jewellery industry was one of the early adopters of additive technology, using it in an indirect sense," he says. "So printing waxes and casting from those waxes. It's been more reluctant to adopt direct metal processes."

Collect 3D-printed gold bangle by Lionel T Dean, manufactured by Cooksongold
Collect 3D-printed gold bangle by Lionel T Dean, manufactured by Cooksongold

One of the reasons for this is the high value of the raw materials. Initially, Dean tried using a regular laser-sintering machine to produce his jewellery, but the wastage was too high. Cooksongold provided a laser-sintering machine called the Precious M080, which it developed together with 3D printer manufacturer EOS specifically for use with precious metals.

"Regular laser-sintering machines have lots of cavities and places where powder can get trapped or lost," Dean explains. "Obviously with the high value of gold powder, it's important to capture every speck of material. The nice thing about the Precious M080 is that it's designed specifically for gold."

Cooksongold Precious M080 3D printer
Cooksongold Precious M080 3D printer

Dean designed a range of customisable 3D-printed jewellery pieces to demonstrate the technology. This includes a delicate latticework ring embedded with gemstones that the customer can position themselves, as well as a bangle that contains miniature reproductions of family heirlooms.

"The customer brings in a piece of retired jewellery that's not fashionable to wear, yet precious to them," Dean explains. "We turn this into a contemporary piece by trapping elements of that jewellery into a contemporary design."

Heartbeat 3D-printed gold pendant by Lionel T Dean, manufactured by Cooksongold
Heartbeat 3D-printed gold pendant by Lionel T Dean, manufactured by Cooksongold

Another piece in Dean's collection is called Heartbeat. Customers are invited to distress a sheet metal heart with a hammer to create a unique shape, which is then scanned and 3D-printed to create a personalised pendant.

Heartbeat 3D-printed gold pendant by Lionel T Dean, manufactured by Cooksongold

A solid gold pendant this size would be much too heavy to wear – as well as being extremely expensive. But one of the advantages of 3D printing is the ability to create hollow structures with very thin walls.

Heartbeat 3D-printed gold pendant by Lionel T Dean, manufactured by Cooksongold

As part of the Precious project, Dean worked with software provider Delcam to develop a new tool for preparing jewellery designs for 3D printing.

"Hopefully in the future this will be launched as a commercial package," he says.

Heartbeat 3D-printed gold pendant by Lionel T Dean, manufactured by Cooksongold

Either way, Dean is sure that the jewellery industry will radically change as designers become more familiar with the host of digital design tools that are available today.


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"For me, the future lies in digital design tools and the direct link between those and the artefact you get," he says. "3D printing will reshape the landscape of the jewellery industry as designers get to grips with the capabilities of digital technologies and master the skills to harness them."

Lionel T Dean portrait
Lionel T Dean

Future Makers is a collaboration between Dezeen and Autodesk exploring how designers are harnessing new digital tools and advanced manufacturing technology to pioneer the future of making things.

Future Makers

  • Concerned Citizen

    Shapeways allows users to create their own jewellery and have it 3D printed in a plethora of materials, from junk plastic to precious metals. So, who needs a jeweller?

    • KMeisje

      The precious metal from Shapeways is not printed but cast. It’s the cast that gets printed. There lies the difference. The above is direct printing from gold powder!

      I doubt this technology is aimed at off the shelf jewellery which are produced in the tens of thousands. We’ll have to see I guess.

  • David H

    Why are things expensive? Because they’re rare / difficult to produce. What happens if things become common / easy to produce? The price falls. How do we know this happens? History (microwaves ovens, computers, automobiles, cell phones, etc.)

  • Perhaps this type of revolution in the industry will result in greater than normal demand for physical gold bullion going forward, leading to higher gold prices.

    • Guest

      If only I could squeeze a few more bars under my bed.

  • x

    The future of design is just the same as monumental architecture, which is parametric and highly demanding of computer technical skills. Some people try to deny it, but it is just denial.

  • 3D printing will definitely change the industry, but not for good. A gold jeweller has to hand make, from man, not from a printer. There’s nothing valuable in a “printed” golden ring or necklace.