3D printing is everywhere: It has found its way into art, science and, uh, glass. So, why wouldn’t it invade — and possibly disrupt — an industry which generates $11+ billion a year? The pressure is on, college friends marrying off one-by-one. The sweat pours from your brow: Are you gonna step up and become a man, finally? Sure, but maybe also a high-tech, slightly geeky man. So, how does this 3D ring process break down?
Mansee Muzumdar, a PR associate at Shapeways, says a lot of their rings “are statement pieces,” but that more and more wedding and engagement rings are being designed. At Shapeways — a major player in the customizable 3D product field — you can upload a file for them to print, or you can shop its marketplace of existing designs.
Plastic rings can be done a week after uploading; metals take about twice that. “We 3D print in steel, using a steel powder,” Muzumdar says. “It’s printed in the same ways as our plastics — layers and layers of powder that are laser-centered together.” What if you gotta have that gold? “Gold is printed in wax and then we cast them. It’s a very traditional casting process, but you’re still able to get that unique shape and design.” Muzumdar tells me it is possible to print in pure gold, but that the cost would be astronomical.
“Wedding bands are really big,” she says. “We have a lot of couples who design them together.” Since you can’t 3D print diamonds, some customers are opting to fashion engagement rings with Shapeways, and then take it to a traditional jeweler for a fitting. And if 3D rings can help eliminate some diamonds in engagement rings, so be it. Diamonds are still responsible for death, child labor, a pretty bad Leonardo DiCaprio movie, and most of your town’s worst radio advertisements.
Other companies, like Brilliance, use 3D printing to send you a bunch of different models for what your ring could be. As their site proclaims, “If you are unsure about your ring size or are having trouble picturing a particular diamond shape or diamond size, take advantage of our 3D printing options.” Neat-o.
The cost difference between this new technology and more traditional methods is difficult to measure. (This Shapeways ring is a cool million, but you can find one of those at Tiffany’s, too.) It’s more a question of how customized you want your ring. Do you want to wear Daenerys dragons on your finger for the rest of your life? Have at it! Designed cartoon versions of New Kids on the Block? Wrap ‘em around your finger, dogg.
On the flip, you might need to measure how traditional you and/or your partner’s family is. Let’s face it: A 3D printed engagement ring might not be what your gal dreamt of when she was napping after Sesame Street. It’s not classic, but if your partner is on the hipper side of things, you might be in the clear. And you can always opt for a 3D printed wedding band because, seriously, who really cares about those anyhow?