The 21st century jeweler

Sutton Smithworks gets a 3D printer

(Left to right) Holly Knight, Tom Sutton and Peggy Sutton take a forward-thinking approach to custom jewelry.

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

Family-owned Sutton Smithworks added a 3D printer to its shop, allowing its jewellers to create custom pieces more easily.

“A lot of people do come here for cus-tom (jewelry),” Holly Knight, accredited jewelry professional at Sutton Smith-  works, says. “We can customize every piece to your imagination. When someone comes up with a challenge for us, we want to do it.”

Knight says the Suttons are trying to use their new printer as much as they can to see how far they can push its limits. 

Manufacturers no longer make CNC machines, which means, in time, they may only be able to use a 3D printer to achieve the detailed work Sutton Smithworks is known for. 

A CNC machine carves wax with a needle, Knight says. With a 3D printer, you start with a base, and lasers actually tell the resin what to do. 

“Lasers get shot up into the resin as the piece slides over, and it tells it where to build up. So it actually builds up from the bottom instead of carving away wax. So there is a little bit less waste,” Knight says.

Before getting a 3D printer, Knight says the jewelry designers and goldsmiths at Sutton could already do more than most jewellers. 

This new addition allows them to do things they were never able to do before, such as make hollow jewelry without having to solder it together, and it appears that they are one of few to introduce this technology into the world of jewelry.

Jason Banman has run BanJAGS, a 3D hub, for close to a year now. He says he hasn’t received any inquiries about 3D-printed jewelry, although he’s had orders for drone parts, costume parts and decorations. 

“A little bit of everything but 3D-printed jewellery. I have seen jewelry items that are available for click-and-order 3D printing sites like Shapeways,” Banman says.

Right now, Sutton Smithworks is working to get the word out about their 3D printer technology, which is run by Tom Sutton’s son, James Sutton. 

“You can’t just buy a 3D printer and think, ‘oh it’s gonna work,’” Knight says.

Knight says the younger Sutton picked up on how to use the technology quickly. By the second day in a class where he was learning about 3D printers, he was showing the teacher how to use it. 

That didn’t mean everything went smoothly as soon as the printer was brought in.

“There was a learning curve. We had to modify the machine to get it to work properly,” Tom Sutton says.

Knight says the 3D printer cuts down labour and customer costs. 

“It lets us do things that we were never able to do before. We can make engagement rings and ash pendants too. It actually produces some pretty good detail,” Knight says.

Knight says Sutton Smithworks is the most technologically advanced jeweller in Winnipeg. 

Besides the 3D printer, she says it also has a laser welder and two CNC machines. A platinum casting machine will be set up soon.

And she expects they’ll bring in more 3D printers in the future.

Published in Volume 71, Number 9 of The Uniter (November 3, 2016)

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