Their site and presentation is a fascinating study in ways to make 3D printed products appeal as a premium product to the current 25-35 year old middle income consumer market. It also shows what a website would look like when an artisan boutique is created to sell mostly or fully 3D printed retail products.
This marks an interesting evolution in the development of the CAD/CAM and 3D printing in the jewellery market. While we have talked about how CAD/CAM is portrayed to customers in the jewellery market before, it seems we are now seeing several distinctly different business strategies evolve which use 3D printing as a key component not only for manufacturing, but also for retail presentation. Each of these strategies shows how CAD/CAM is used and presented in a different target market.
Design Your Own Jewellery The Easy Way
While it seems to come and go with fashion at the moment, for quite some time we’ve been seeing several sites now offering easy to use online interfaces for customers to personalise their jewellery for quick and easy production. The level of sophistication of the interfaces varies widely, but they all take advantage of manufacturing on demand with 3D printing.
The principle involves presenting a limited number of designs, each with a set number of permutations allowing the customer to make the piece uniquely theirs. What sets this apart from the more common “customise your own ring” websites is that all the customisation is actually taking place within a simple CAD interface in which you can view the model itself, rather than a series of 2D photos linked to a complex set of options (go to Brilliant Earth for a nice example of this approach).
Order Any Model, and We’ll Make It
This is generally what happens when 3D printing service bureau grows big enough to where they expand into chasing customers who don’t understand 3D modelling. To get around the general lack of understanding of the whole process (and to make it easier to keep innovating new stock), they’ve upgraded the venerable online 3D model catalogue concept, added their varied fleet of 3D printers, and combined it all with an element of social media community.
The end result tends to look a lot like an etsy.com for 3D printing enthusiasts and CAD modellers, or perhaps an online vending machine with infinite choice. 3D modellers are able to use these systems for uploading their own models for customers ordering, and customers can order any model they like.
3D Printing IS the Product
In this type of business, the company has created a boutique selling 3D printed products. They’re advertising 3D printing itself as a small-scale and more personal answer to mass production. To some eyes, the idea of selling hipster-style personal craftsmanship with 3D printing could look a bit like a contradiction. I believe the key to making this work is the choice of product, and the nature of the designs. If it is the right product which can only be made using the tools on show, then it only makes sense to showcase the technologies and techniques used to make it.
CAD and 3D Printing Means Bespoke Fine Jewellery Design
This is probably the oldest business strategy of the four, but it has also taken the longest to evolve. While it is no secret that CAD/CAM and 3D printing have pretty much completely taken over bespoke jewellery design, it’s only been in the past couple of years that jewellers have willingly admitted to customers they’re using it. They seem to do this by focusing on the flexibility it offers customers. In a growing number of cases, we’re even seeing jewellers incorporate the use of CAD CAM into a service that is primarily focused on bespoke design, by showing customers sample designs and encouraging them to customise them on their own. In the case of Durham Rose, customers can even work with the designer over Skype (thanks to the resourceful application of Countersketch and shared screens).
For some tech savvy jewellery businesses, it seems to be working as a resourceful way to establish themselves as bespoke jewellery designers. Of course, on its own it doesn’t solve all of the problems with starting a bespoke service, but it at least provides one innovative way to reach and interact with customers.
What This All Means
Several futurists have been talking for a while now about how new technology will replace many low end jobs. Some alarmists could even take the arrival of virtual vending machines as an omen of the decline of the factory-produced plastic toys. My answer to that would be: is that a bad thing? If manufacturing facilities and factories get smaller, it may reduce the need for low skilled mass production jobs in giant factories, but it won’t reduce the need for products. Indeed, if anything, we’re only going to see the demand for original content (and content creators) grow as people look to smaller producers of more personalised and unique items.
What’s interesting here, though, is how differently the same technology is presented at different levels of market. Perhaps merchants are finding their ways around existing consumer prejudices against new methods of making, or perhaps it is simply selling the methods on their relevant strengths.