Professional Jeweler Archive: CAD/CAM Convert

November 2000

Precious Metals & Bench/News


CAD/CAM Convert

Designer Jean François Albert becomes an unabashed advocate of computer-aided design and manufacturing. Here he demonstrates how this technology is becoming more accessible to smaller jewelers and craftspeople


Jean François Albert is internationally recognized for creating some of America’s most innovative and beautiful jewelry. Long before the development of computer-assisted design and manufacturing, Albert consistently demonstrated his talent as a designer and his skill as a craftsman. So why, in the past three years, has he become an unabashed advocate of computer-aided design and manufacturing?

Some designs readily lend themselves to CAD, says Albert, especially those requiring geometric symmetry or the repetition of a design or motif. The two sides of a design can be made with mathematical precision by drawing one half and then using the computer to replicate the reverse image for the other half. It can be used to make left and right earrings precisely and can repeat motifs from a ring to a pendant to a pair of earrings quickly and easily.

While any skilled artisan can draw forms with precision, no one can draw them with the CAD software’s speed or its ability to manipulate size, shape and angle, says Albert. It’s also useful for designing pieces with minute detail – enlarging a tiny section of a piece to work on and then reincorporating it. Albert says this is a great help for middle-aged designers whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be.

The JFA designs pictured were completed using Alias Wavefront Studio software, one of about 150 design software programs on the market. Learning the basic functions of the Alias program wasn’t difficult, though Albert says he’s still learning after three years.

From a design standpoint, the only limit he sees is an operator’s ability to make the computer create what the designer imagines. Albert creates about half of his designs in CAD and says he’ll do more as he develops a greater mastery of the software.

All pieces shown with this article were also made using CAM technology from models built on a Sanders stereolithography machine (see Professional Jeweler, January 2000, pp. 70-72 for more about Sanders). The benefits of this machine, he says, are its precision and the fact it frees him to design while the machine works.

If you’re thinking of investing in CAD/CAM, Albert advises you to focus on what this technology can and can’t do, what it is and what it isn’t. It enables a designer to do many tasks quickly, efficiently and precisely. But designing jewelry is both a functional and aesthetic undertaking. CAD cannot give the operator a sense of aesthetics. It can’t make an artist out of someone who lacks artistic talent and training. But if the talent is there, CAD/CAM can be an invaluable tool, he says.

• JFA Designs, Irvine, CA; (949) 263-9909.

– by William H. Donahue Jr.

JFA Does CAD/CAM

Follow Jean François Albert as he designs a morganite pendant using CAD/CAM technology

Jean François Albert always begins his designs with a selection of well-cut gemstones. Once he chooses a gem, the job of creating a design to maximize its aesthetic attributes beings.

Albert’s company, JFA Designs, Irvine, CA, is known for using an endless, well-cut array of colors. He collects the highest-quality gemstones and sometimes holds them for years before using them in a design.

Rather than designing a piece of jewelry and then finding a gem to go in it, he designs out from the gemstone.

– by William H. Donahue Jr.

Designing by Hand

Albert’s first real design step is to hand-sketch the basic concept or design of the piece. He does this with every design, whether he’s going to use CAD or not. “You can design completely on the computer without ever using paper, but I prefer to draw the concept first. For me, it just works better.” The sketch shown here is his original rendering for the morganite pendant.

To CAD or Not To CAD

Albert designs about half his pieces without using CAD. With the morganite pendant, he decided its perfect symmetry and double row of diamond accents make it an ideal piece to finish in CAD. Using his Alias software, he drew the piece on the computer. These illustrations show the piece in its preliminary design stages from the side (top illustrations) and front and back (bottom illustrations). Albert sometimes makes extensive revisions after the piece is drawn on the computer.

The CAM Choice

Once a piece is finished in CAD, Albert decides whether to use CAM to build the model or to hand-carve it. The design influences the decision. He tends to hand-carve designs that incorporate wire or other fine elements. Because the morganite pendant doesn’t include such elements, the model was made using CAM technology on a Sanders stereolithography machine. The final piece, made from that model, is shown here.

JFA Designs’ 18k and platinum ring, created using CAD/CAM technology, has 38 round diamonds pavé-set around a sugarloaf-cut tanzanite. It won the 2000 Couture Collection award for best colored gem design.
18k yellow and white gold pendant features a 39.35-ct. cushion-cut green tourmaline accented with pavé diamonds.
Platinum SignatureFit™ ring is centered by a 7.17-ct. hexagonal aquamarine cut by Tom Munsteiner. 18k yellow gold hexagonal ring features a 13.57-ct. hexagonal pink tourmaline carved by Tom Munsteiner.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications