Meet The Woman Bringing The 3D Printed Jewelry Trend To Hollywood

3D printing has long been used behind-the-scenes in architecture and design, but now, you can actually buy, and wear, 3D printed designs. Jenny Wu, the founder of a 3D printed jewelry company based in Los Angeles, is one name making it happen.

Interestingly, Wu's background isn't in fashion or jewelry design — it's in architecture, which is how she became familiar with 3D printing in the first place. In 2004, she cofounded the Oyler Wu Collaborative, an architecture firm known for impressive projects such as Hollywood's Culinary Lab and The Cube, a four-story steel and rope installation, which was on display next to the Olympic Stadium for the 2013 Beijing Biennale.

Photo: Courtesy LACE.
Now, Wu balances architecture design work and her jewelry company, LACE, which creates surreal and futuristic necklaces and rings. Her jewelry is becoming a huge hit in the contemporary art scene, in Hollywood (on stars like Carrie Underwood and Ingrid Nilsen), and at festivals, such as Burning Man. LACE’s collection ranges from $50 to $1,200 — and includes materials that aren’t typical in jewelry, including nylon and stainless steel, as well as premium materials such as silver and rose gold.

We caught up with Wu to better understand the art of 3D printing.

Photo: Courtesy LACE.
What is 3D printing? How is it used to produce jewelry?
"3D printing is an additive manufacturing process. A 3D printer builds a piece of jewelry by printing it in layers of powdered materials like nylon, metal, or wax. As each new layer of material is printed, it’s coated with a binding agent that hardens the layers together. After the final shape is finished, a cleaning process removes the loose powder or support material that forms around the target shape of the design."

What's the process like?
"My design process starts with hand sketches. Then I work with my staff to 3D model several variations that explore how the design looks three dimensionally, as well as how it might sit on the body. Once we develop an initial digital model that we like, we begin the prototyping process with our own FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printer in the office. (This is the most common desktop printer that one can buy on the market today.) It's a cost effective and quick way to see how the design looks and wears. Once we are happy with the design, we send the file out to a 3D printing service bureau to produce the final end product."

Is it ready to wear once it's printed?
"There’s a misconception that if a piece is 3D printed, it comes out of the printer as a ready-to-ship, finished product. In fact, there’s quite a bit of post-processing, including sandblasting or coloring the pieces afterwards to make them perfect."
Photo: Courtesy LACE.

How did you get started 3D printing? Is it difficult?
"I started using 3D printing to make architectural models when I was a graduate student at Harvard. However, it was not until the past five years when I began to experiment with 3D printing for other applications, like product and jewelry design."

"The toughest aspect of the actual 3D printing process is translating my initial design sketches into a 3D digital model on the computer. We use a very high-end 3D modeling software that is typically used to model movie animation and CGI (computer-generated imagery)."

Why did you decide to start LACE?
"Two years ago, I wanted to create a high collared necklace. With my background in architecture, I’d been using 3D printing for many years. So I thought,Why not create a 3D printed one to see what the form looks like on my body?'"

"I printed the piece and wore it to Miami Art Basel. I was stopped by everyone at parties, asking me questions, like, where I’d gotten it and who made it. After all the attention I received, I just thought, Why not launch a company?' I spent the next year understanding how to make 3D printed items for the body, and how I could turn this into the business, which eventually became LACE."
Photo: Courtesy LACE.

What are advantages to 3D printing jewelry versus traditional methods?
"3D printing accelerates the manufacturing process. For example, my necklaces are made of interlocking chains, and instead of making each chain individually, I print the entire necklace in one go — no hooking, assembling, welding, or clamping tiny components together. The entire piece is produced as one."

"Another huge startup advantage with 3D printing is that the manufacturing cost of printing one ring costs nearly the same as printing a hundred rings. And because it is so easy to print more whenever you need, I don’t need to keep extra inventory in stock."

"Lastly, offering customization is a huge advantage with 3D printing because I can make each item made to order, and deliver it in two to three weeks."

What's your advice to someone that wants to start 3D printing their own ideas?
"3D printing is a great way to test out new ideas for both design enthusiasts and professionals. The technology is becoming more and more accessible. For example, there is now more basic 3D software, like Google SketchUp, which you can pick up easily with little or no modeling experience. Even without owning a machine, you could send your designs to 3D printing service bureaus and marketplaces, such as Shapeways and Sculpteo, to print high quality finished products at an affordable price."

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