How to Make Silver Jewelry from 3D Printed Molds
With the help of a multitool 3D printer and 3D printed molds, a talented designer was able to manufacture her own unique silver jewelry.
Desktop-size multitool 3D printers won’t replace professional jewelry and industrial 3D printers, but a machine like ZMorph 2.0 SX can be used to quicken the traditional manufacturing process while lowering its costs. Paula Szarejko, who designs and fabricates her own 3D printed jewelry, proved this recently with her collection of unique silver ornaments. Furthermore, her process can be applied to cast various types of metal objects.
The truth about printing silver and gold
It’s possible to 3D print with silver or gold, but it’s not easy and certainly not cheap. The technology is still experimental and requires a powder-based industrial 3D printer, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, and wastes a lot of expensive material in the process. This is why 3D printing is being used in jewelry mostly for creating plastic or metal prototypes, wax models, and 3D printed molds, which are later needed for actual metal casting. It makes the entire process faster and simpler, but still involve some of the traditional techniques.
Even when you decide to outsource mold creations or the entire manufacturing process, it still can be quite expensive and take 8 to 12 days to ship them, especially when you want to make single items instead of buying one of the ready-to-order pieces. This is why Paula decided to recreate the process used by the outsourcing companies in her own workshop with a multitool 3D printer and a help from a local jeweler. Her goal was to create something unique relatively quick and at minimum costs. And she succeeded!
Paula Szarejko manufactured two pairs of silver earrings (geometric icicles and low poly wolf heads), three rings (with zirconia stones, with a silver bow, and with a geometrical shape), and a low poly wolf head pendant while spending no more than 150$!
Let’s have a closer look at how she manage to achieve that.
Preparing prototypes and 3D printed molds
She started with 3D printing all of her designs with ABS filament on ZMorph multitool 3D printer. The models were printed with layers set from 0.05 to 0.1 mm (depending on the object) to achieve the best possible level of detail. She then used some basic post-production techniques to clean them and polish their surfaces.
To create the mold, Paula 3D printed rectangular forms about 5 x 5 x 4 cm each. Her first design had a casket-like closing mechanism with a hinge on the side. She later modified it to enable compressing the lids with screws, so the liquid rubber won’t spill out of them.
Every 3D printed jewelry prototype was put in a form and flooded with two-component rubber. Paula used it instead of traditional vulcanization because the high temperature would deform the ABS material. Two-component rubber started to harden in the room temperature after mixing it in an exactly 1:1 proportion.
After about 20 hours, she opened the 3D printed molds, took the rubber mold out and carefully cut it in two to extract the plastic prototype. Rubber mold was ready for further work in a foundry.
Traditional metal casting
Until this point, Paula was able to utilize her multitool 3D printer during the design process and mold making. It allowed her to retain full control over the process, while saving time and money. Every artist and DIY maker can perform what she did in their own workshops.
Metal casting isn’t so easy to perform on your own, so Paula went to a professional jeweler. He took the rubber molds and injected them with wax. Wax models with sprues were then attached to a mandrel to form a jewelry casting tree and dipped in a liquid plaster.
Through a lost-wax processing, the plaster cast hardened and became a form. Jeweler poured hot silver into it in order to make the jewelry. About 45 grams of silver were used to cast the tree with all the pieces on it. After extracting it from the plaster and cutting the jewelry from the mantle, Paula could finalize her project.
Objects cast in any kind of metal are always covered in various impurities that require further post-production, so Paula cleaned and polished them with tools she already had in her workshop. Regular files and sandpaper were enough to grind all bubbles and clean them. At this stage, makers and artists can give their works a unique feel. The geometrically shaped ring was polished until its surface was clean and bright, while the icicles earrings were left with visible 3D printing layers that made them really stand out.
At the end, jeweler riveted zirconia stones into one of the rings and added metal clips to the earrings. In the meantime, Paula once again used her 3D printer — this time to make custom boxes for her jewelry. It’s a perfect example of a wide range of manufacturing possibilities 3D printing gives to every maker and artist who are limited only by their own imagination.
Machinable Wax — alternative to consider
During her work on 3D printed molds and jewelry, Paula found a new Machinable Wax 3D printing filament. It can be used to shorten the manufacturing process as it enables 3D printing of wax models that can be attached directly to a casting mandrel. The filament can be easily reduced from a plastic cast with a traditional lost-wax method. It’s a good alternative to consider when thinking about making any kind of molds for casting.
Beyond traditional jewelry making
Paula Szarejko used her multitool 3D printer to manufacture jewelry prototypes, forms, and molds, which were later used by a professional jeweler to cast silver rings, earrings, and a pendant. Simple post-processing techniques were enough to clean, polish and finalize these unique pieces of jewelry.
The results are simply gorgeous! Packed in custom-made boxes the entire collection of jewelry have this unique feel and can make for a very chic and memorable gift, while the entire costs of materials and manufacturing closed at 150$.
Other uses of 3D printed molds
Desktop-size multitool 3D printers can be used as an alternative to more expensive tools and services, and still are able to boost the traditional jewelry making. It’s worth noting, that while providing significant time and cost savings, this process requires more work than ordering a mold or an existing piece of jewelry online. That’s why we recommend it to DIY makers and artists like Paula, who have passion and time, want to create things, and express themselves in their unique crafts.
It’s also worth to mention, that jewelry and silver casting is only one of many possibilities here. 3D printed molds and the entire process described in this article and the above infographics can be easily adapted to manufacture various objects from a variety of metals, rubber, ceramics, chocolate and other materials.