Gold continues to be the most “common” of the “rare” precious metals, if it can even be called that way. And since 3D printed jewelry is advancing as quickly as everything else on this market, Shapeways has decided to provide 14K gold items.
Even though there are some ways to make pendants and rings in bulk, good jewelers pretty much always have to create their products by means of handheld tools.
Now, though, it's no longer a matter of how steady and precise your hands are. 3D printing technology can allow for greater precision and higher shape complexity.
Sure, normal consumer 3D printers based on FDM (fused deposition modeling) and with resolution of 100-300 aren't much good for this. Besides, they use plastic.
Nevertheless, some 3D printing companies have developed special processes for making 3D printed rings, pendants, earrings, necklaces, etc. Shapeways' process consist of five steps, and is based on wax casting.
First off, a model of the intended piece of jewelry is 3D printed out of wax. A specialized, high-resolution 3D printer is used for this.
The object is dumped into a container of liquid plaster afterwards. Once the plaster sets, a furnace melts the wax out, basically turning the plaster into the mold.
Molten gold is then poured into the mold and left to harden. That leaves only step five, the breaking of the mold itself.
So you could say that Shapeways doesn't actually 3D print the jewelry out of gold. The items are even hand-polished.
Then again, it's not like metal 3D printers are all that widespread. They can be counted on the fingers of a single hand actually, and most of them use steel, not gold.
That said, the Shapeways “gold-printed” jewelry is pretty expensive, with a pendant of 1 x 1 x 1 inches / 25 x 25 x 25 mm costing almost one thousand dollars / Euro.
For now, only customers from the United States can place an order, and this will hold true for the following two months. It's a sort of trial, we suppose you could say. Also, a specially made jewelry box will be used for the shipment, which you'll have to sign personally.
Given the world's population and how many richer-than-average men and women exist in the US and the rest of the world, we're certain that the Shapeways 14k gold jewelry printing service will spread across the globe in due time.