Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Some thoughts on CAD in advertising..

I don't know how I feel about CAD renderings used for advertising purposes when it comes to jewelry.  A CAD rendering may show you the designer's intent for how the piece is supposed to look, but does nothing to convey the quality of craftsmanship of the manufacturers.

If you're lost and aren't sure what I'm talking about, let me explain.  CAD stands for Computer-Aided Design and has to do with the 3D models that designers create, that can then be used with CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) -- that is, milling machines that can cut out an exact replica of the 3D model in wax, so that it can then be cast into metal.  So, when you see a CAD rendering, it's simply a 3D design model that's been rendered to look like real jewelry.  The problem is, the renderings are quite life-like if you don't know what to look for, and can leave you with the impression that that's exactly how the piece of jewelry that you might purchase from them would look.

The reason that there can be such a variation between a CAD rendering and the finished piece is that, despite the fact that the CAM process makes an exact replica in wax, the piece still has to be cast in metal and go through the finishing process.  The finishing process includes many steps of polishing, as well as the stonesetting and any sort of enameling or antiquing of any kind.  Basically, if poorly manufactured, the piece may look completely different after it goes through the finishing process.

It's much less of an issue if it's a master jeweler, with his own business, who made the CAD design with himself in mind to manufacture it.  He would know his own limits and how his pieces are likely to look upon completion, and tailor the CAD rendering to match.  The CAD process can also be a great way for him to create designs without having to spend his precious capital on the metal required to cast it, until the piece has been purchased and paid for, leaving many more design options available to his customers at any given time.  So there are definitely ways that I think CAD renderings can be used ethically for advertisement.

My biggest issue is when larger companies use it.  If the designer is not the same person that physically crafts the piece, then there is almost always a gap between what the designer thinks can be made, and what can actually be made by the craftsmen and/or manufacturers.  So, a piece should, in my opinion, always be cast and finished to make sure that the piece is a good and viable product, before being made available for purchase.  And if that's the case, and the piece already had to be made anyway, then the actual piece should be photographed and that photograph should be used for advertising purposes.  That would certainly be a more honest representation of what you'd be buying.

About 2/3rds of the CAD renderings I see, that are disguised as product pictures, are of designs that I don't think are plausible, especially when it comes to stone settings.  Funky super-intricate prongs that aren't likely to look the same after the stone is set, suspended tension-set stones in cast silver, that sort of thing.  Textures are another issue.  Lots of CAD renderings I see have really fine textures on them, that would have to be added on after the polishing process, because polishing would just take it right off.  Again, possible (especially for an extremely skilled bench jeweler), but not plausible given how most manufactured jewelry is made.

Anyway, those are just my thoughts on the issue.  Like I said, I'm not sure how I feel about it, but it's definitely something I think more consumers should be aware of.  What do you think about this, and how ethical it is?  I'd love to hear your thoughts. :)

-Deborah Wilson Taylor

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