Jewelry has remained relatively the same for the past six thousand years... in fact, one of my thesis for Art History was about this very fact. Enameling, metalsmithing, lost wax casting, cloisonne, stone setting - since ancient times the techniques have persisted. Maybe we aren't using blow pipes to stimulate our fires in the sand anymore, but next time you visit your local museum, take a glance at the Egyptian jewelry. Clasps, ear wires, pendant bails, chains - the mechanisms all remain identical to their forefathers. But in the past 10-15 years, a new techno toy has rocked the industry.
CAD/CAM ("Computer-aided Design") software, originally for 3D architectural drafting, now allows the designer to build the jewelry digitally and then magically print in wax. Or at least it certainly seems like magic, single-handedly making a master model maker of 60 years obsolete.
I've avoided CAD so far; like a religious fanatic blissfully tending my crops while sky-rises and Pinkberry's surround my farm. Like that old man in Pixar's movie "Up." However this new Chess Collection posed quite the logistical problem; Mainly how to carve something so precisely geometric by hand. After various attempts in wax and fabrication (soldering sheet metal and pre-made shapes), it was clear that for such tiny pieces to look uniform and stand straight, it was time to try the computer. It also involved a lot of hand-holding from a friend who is a professional CAD artist, since I quickly found out that this is not like my 2D graphics in Photoshop.
First we scanned my sketches, then built over the lines with basic 3D shapes (cone, cylinder, sphere, box). Sizing the pieces was especially difficult since a pendant over about an inch would be too bulky and heavy when cast. Thinner than a real chess set, we slimmed the bases of the pieces so that they wouldn't protrude too far from the wearer's neck. Finally, to accommodate as accessible jewelry, rather than make the chess pieces graduate completely in size, we made the King, Queen, and Bishop an inch tall with the Knight, Pawn, and Rook at three quarters of an inch. As pendants, a smaller Pawn would be too tiny, a larger King would be too obtrusive.
The Knight required some hand carving after wax printing to give it a more organic shapelier feel; look closely and you can see the little tool marks. Once all the waxes (in green) were complete, then it was casting as normal, just the same as when I carve the model from scratch. The second Knight you see pictured here is what raw silver naturally looks like... a matte white until evenly scratched (aka "burnished") all around. The Knight on the right is the finished product after de-spruing, dremeling, oxidizing and polishing - the little scratches are so uniform that all we see is one perfectly reflective shiny surface (what we normal picture in our heads when thinking about silver).
An exciting new technology, this chess collection would not be possible without the geometric precision of CAD software. I have broken out of my antiquated corn-field, pulled my head from the ostrich hole, and tested out the limitless frontier of graphic assisted jewelry production. But truth be told, I look forward to old fashioned hand carving for the next collection. Six thousand years and counting!