One of the biggest lures of 3D printing in jewellery making is the reduction in time to make pieces, a big requirement when selling online. Moreover, with no physical interaction, 3D renderings serve as a much better way to show customers of designs they are getting commissioned.
"We are going after the market for marriage jewellery where everyone wants some sort of customisation," says Vivek Krishna, co-founder of AuGrav, an online jeweller that specialises in custom jewellery. AuGrav will put everything from fingerprints on rings to a 3D family portrait on a gold coin.
Krishna estimates that 20-30 per cent of all customers looking to buy gold jewellery in the country want some sort of customisation, be it even small changes.
Despite this, the market for 3D printed jewellery is small today, so small that none of the large analyst firms track it, but pretty much everyone is sure that it will soon become huge.
India consumes nearly 1000 tonnes of gold with nearly half of it is used to make jewellery by thousands of small craftsmen across the country. Bulk of gems and ornaments, processed by skilled workers is exported to global customers. The domestic market is also witnessing a shift towards jewellery buying from organised and branded players, but the customisation of the ornaments is done by millions of workers in shops and factories.
Jewellery is one of the first consumer facing businesses to adopt 3D printing. While the aviation and automobile industries have been using 3D printers for decades to create prototypes and in some cases actual parts that go into cars and planes, the first 3D printed object most of us will ever own is probably going to be jewellery.
"This whole though started from how we could make jewellery that was larger in size without really adding weight. I wanted jewellery that was both light on my body as well as on my pocket. Using the regular casting process you just cannot make it as lightweight, whereas with today's 3D technology you can start creating hollows and bring down the weight and cost," says Arvind Singhal, COO at Bluestone.
Today Bluestone has collections of jewellery which it prints. Moreover, the company says 3D technology doesn't just help it produce the final product, but is engrained into every step - design/prototyping, display and manufacturing - of its corporate process. The images of jewellery on the website aren't photos but 3D renderings of the jewellery.
Computer Aided Design (CAD) has opened up new doors for creativity in the jewellery industry, but considering that majority of the sector is made up of small unorganised players, the willingness to adopt technology is slower. However, the ease and benefits of designing on a computer are pushing more players to transition into 3D printing, which directly outputs CAD drawings.
Novabeans, a Delhi-based 3D printing service provider says that the technology still doesn't save enough costs to put it to use for mass manufactured precious jewellery. But considering that the marriage jewellery segment makes up 70 per cent of the overall gems and jewellery sector in India, there's certainly room for big growth.
Since end users often don't care about how their thoughts are translated to one-off pieces of jewellery, often 3D printing it is employed without their knowledge. This also makes it hard to judge the size of the market, since there are several smaller jewellery retailers that utilise services of other local 3D printing and designing firms.
The world over, experts say that 3D printing will change the way consumers buy things. Several of them envision every household having a desktop 3D printer which would dish out products for which the license and designs would be downloaded from the internet.
Danish toymaker Lego is already working on models where they would allow customers to print their own Lego blocks, which they would ideally download and even customise. There's also a huge market for open-source hardware design that could see users printing their own products in the near future.
For now, until the technology becomes more affordable, segments such as precious jewellery which make products that usually have large sticker prices are adopting 3D printing. In India, while more hardware startups are emerging that utilise the technology to prototype products for cheap, for a lot of us the first 3D printed product we own could be an engagement ring.