Market Insight - The Future of Jewellery is Unveiled

One of the most hotly debated topics in the rarefied world of British jewellery design and manufacture is regarding the relative benefits and drawbacks of Computer Aided Design (CAD).

The UK is one of the last jewellery making countries in the world to have embraced the technology, with some craftsmen denouncing it as a short-cut route to creating fine jewellery. The unrivalled reputation of British jewellers is, they say, based on a combination of exceptional craftsmanship and aesthetics that simply cannot be replicated via a computer. Those at the forefront of the new technology, however, argue that the latest design programmes and – crucially – prototyping machines, are invaluable tools of the trade to be mastered like any other. In the wrong hands they can produce sub-standard products, but in the right hands they can be used to turn gems and metals into dazzling creations that any leading jewellery workshop can be proud of. Some stalwarts of London's Hatton Garden jewellery quarter told Marketplace News that not only is CAD revolutionizing their trade, it is also opening the way for ordinary consumers to purchase the bespoke designs they crave at a fraction of the usual price.

Expert traditional stone mounter and CAD enthusiast, Theo Ioannou, said criticisms of CAD: “Boil down to a fear of new technology - people are worried that it will take away the soul of the product - but it’s a very old argument.” Theo did however admit that Computer Assisted Design “cannot compete with the very finest, traditionally produced jewellery. It can’t achieve as fine a measurement, the really intricate pierced work, double scrolled galleries and so on. There’s a limit to the laws of physics in metallurgy.” While conceding that “In the wrong hands CAD can result in some pretty horrendous stuff,” he added: “I actually find it a lot more creative than traditional methods. It’s just another sort of tool and I find that it gives you more control over the materials. Really good CAD work is invisible. If you look at the work of David Marshall, for example, he has really mastered it, you just wonder at how the piece has become so intricate and beautiful.”  As computer-users everywhere are well aware, technology also saves an awful lot of time; especially precious in a job where every single hour counts and the artisan can’t, in Theo’s words: “Ever afford to do a job wrong.” Theo said he thought more active interaction between graduates and established craftsmen and women is needed. “Apprenticeships have dried up,” he explained “and so designers are coming through from art school now. There’s a bit of a siege mentality amongst the craftsmen. You have to put an awesome amount of time into training someone and people are also afraid to share their skills and lose customers to apprentices.  The Hatton Garden Festival, part of Coutts London Jewellery Week, will include 'The Great Debate: Computer-Aided Design and its effect on Jewellery Manufacture', which is to take place on Saturday June 13 from 11:30-12:45 at Holts Academy. A panel of master tradesment and other experts will discuss their experiences working in a changing marketplace, and offer insights into how modern technology is changing their trade, as well as what we wear. The moderator will be Jack Meyer and the speakers will be Theo Ioannou and Andrew Berg.

Theo Ioannou