Exclusive Interview: Veronica Nunes Discusses the Rewards and Challenges of 3D Printing Jewelry


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Veronica Nunes is a jewelry designer and founder of V Nunes, the jewelry line that she started in 2009. Nunes takes much of her inspiration from nature and architecture, resulting in delicate-looking pieces sculpted from metal. Recently she began exploring 3D printing, teaming up with Star Rapid to design and print a series of pieces that included earrings, a necklace and a ring. The 3D printed jewelry turned out beautifully, and Nunes says that those designs won’t be her last foray into additive manufacturing.

We caught up with Nunes recently to discuss the benefits of challenges of 3D printing jewelry, and what she learned during the process working with the team at Star Rapid.

How does designing for additive manufacturing differ from more traditional jewelry design?

“Designing for additive manufacturing is a little more complex than designing for the traditional jewelry process. With more traditional jewelry design, pieces are created by using molds, soldering, torches or even pliers and files for finishing – which can be constraining. With additive manufacturing however, I’ve been given more freedom of design once those projects meet the requirements of the 3D metal printing process. It has allowed me the opportunity to experiment with different design concepts and ideas.

While I am a goldsmith and trained designer with CAD experience, I’m not a metal 3D printing expert. It was great that I could turn to Chloe Kow, DMLM manager, at Star Rapid to bring my design concepts to life. Chloe and I collaborated to take my drawings and modify them to meet the unique requirements of metal 3D printing. One of the great benefits of additive manufacturing is that it allowed me to create moving parts-within-parts, which would be difficult in traditional jewelry design. I was also able to design an incredible amount of detail into this collection and not have to worry about it being indiscernible in the final piece – thanks to the accuracy of metal 3D printing. With Chloe’s expertise, I have been able to create a line of one-of-a-kind pieces with carefully refined profiles and proportions, while maintaining the perfect balance of light and heavy spaces.”

Did using additive manufacturing affect how you designed your pieces at all, or did you design them first and then decide additive manufacturing would be the best way to produce them?

“I designed my pieces first and then decided that additive manufacturing would be the best way to produce them. I view jewelry as small wearable pieces of art and am always looking for new methods to incorporate more detail. It was easier to achieve the complex filigree, tiny holes and openings, and moving parts in this latest line I’ve developed using additive manufacturing, rather than the more subtractive methods used in traditional jewelry making.”

What are some of the advantages to using 3D printing for low-volume manufacturing?

“Using 3D printing is ideal for low-volume manufacturing as you can easily create small quantities of a product quickly. What’s more, when you work with a manufacturer like Star Rapid, they can keep your designs on file and create more product as needed. This works well for a jewelry designer such as myself, as I don’t have to worry about storing large quantities of product at one time. If I’m running low on a specific design, I can easily request that more be produced.

Another advantage is that the 3D CAD files can be easily edited. So, if I wanted to make a small modification to one of my designs, that can be easily done and I can do another small production run of this new design. 3D printing is also relatively inexpensive.”

Will you be using additive manufacturing again in the future?

“Absolutely! With my jewelry I want to enhance the human body form and find inspiration in the natural environment. Additive manufacturing is an excellent way to achieve and replicate organic shapes, thus creating new design opportunities for jewelry making. It is uniquely suited for the jewelry industry thanks to the amazing details that can be achieved in this process and elevated level of customization. Traditional jewelry making may require multiple pieces to be joined together to create a complex design. However, with additive manufacturing, it’s possible to create the finished design in one single piece, which leads to higher quality jewelry produced in less time.  As the pieces are created bit by bit with additive manufacturing, there is also less waste in the long run. I’m always concerned with the environmental aspect of production so this was a big benefit for me.”

Why did you decide on the specific metal material you used for this particular series? Are there other materials you would like to try in the future?

“I decided to use Ti-64 for the designs of a necklace, ring and earring as it is a titanium alloy that is high strength with excellent corrosion resistance and low weight ratio. Customers are demanding more titanium jewelry due to its durability and light weight. Metal 3D printing jobs always require some form of post-machining so the jewelry pieces were polished and plated. The craftsmen at Star Rapid deburred, sanded and polished the pieces using hand and machine tools. After polishing, they were thoroughly cleaned and sent out to receive a physical vapor deposition (PVD) colored plating.

Stainless steel 316L can be an alternative for metal 3D printed jewelry as it is a cheaper option. When there is high demand for metal 3D printed jewelry, precious materials such as silver, platinum and gold can also be used in the future.”

What were some of the challenges of using additive manufacturing for your work?

“One challenge was learning about the demands and limitations of metal 3D printing and making my designs 3D printing ready. As design engineering can be a bit difficult to understand if you’ve never done it before, I was fortunate to be able to work with Star Rapid on-site and make modifications for optimal results. A few things I learned in designing this specific line of 3D-printed jewelry included:

  • Clear wire detail
    • With jewelry, there are small features that may be twisted together. In the design, it’s important that these twisted wires are clearly separated so the printer doesn’t recognize it as a single twisted structure without gaps. Gaps should be approximately .5mm, or 500 microns.
  • Creating moving parts
    • To achieve the effect of building moving parts-within-parts, sufficient clearance between moving parts is needed so they don’t become welded together during printing.
  • Overhangs
    • Overhanging features less than 45 degrees from the horizontal may collapse due to the pull of gravity, so these sections should be elevated so they can support themselves.
  • Blade details
    • In my earring design, there were thin coils forming the outer helix that were not actually round in the cross-section but rather flattened out, like thin blades. It was important that the leading edges of these blades also remain above 45 degrees from the horizontal.”

Nunes isn’t the only jewelry designer who has discovered the many benefits of 3D printing. The technology allows for higher levels of customization, more complex geometries, higher detail and faster production. While traditional methods of jewelry-making are unlikely to disappear, 3D printing has provided a new option that many are exploring, leading to beautiful pieces the likes of which have never been seen before.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.


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