By Alec | 3Ders
While the advent of 3D printing marketplaces has made 3D printed jewelry more available than ever before, it remains a risky field to get stuck into. While theoretically a 3D printer – metal or plastic – should give jewelry designers more freedom than ever before, it’s almost as if designing beautiful jewelry has become far more difficult. Jewelry 3D printed in metal runs the risk of being too similar to traditional pieces, inducing a reaction of ‘why even bother 3D printing it?’, while too playful, original or futuristic pieces can quickly become too childish or tacky. It’s no wonder that lots of pieces you can find on Shapeways and other channels are just unappealing.
While creating more freedom, 3D printers in short also create more pressure. But one designer who is easily navigating that tightrope of pressure is Philadelphia-based designer Maria Eife, who seems to launch successful and beautiful pieces one after another, in plastic and metal. Her jewelry is already proving a hit through her own websiteand at select shops around the US, including the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum Gift Shop.
Fortunately, the New Jersey native was happy to answer a few questions about her inspiring creations. As she explained to us, she is a baking-mad designer who can always be found tinkering with her Makerbot (from cookie-cutters to gorgeous rings) and is a veteran of 3D printing technology. "I started using 3D printing technology in college, so 1998 at Tyler School of Art. They have been teaching CAD and 3D printing in the Jewelry department since the 1980's. However, I did not actually get something printed until several years later," she tells us.
But in her experience, jewelry can hardly be created in any other way. "I can create forms that would be either impossible or really difficult to make in any other way. Some of my designs would be too heavy or too expensive (or both) using other materials and processes," she says. Unsurprisingly, CAD design and 3D printing have become integral parts of her workflow. "I usually start out by sketching on paper. This enables me to get ideas out fast and work through some of the design problems. The next step is building in CAD using Rhino. The design sometimes changes quite a bit at this stage."
While using a MakerBot for all her prototyping work, most of the actual pieces of jewerly you can see has been 3D printed in the far more durable nylon, using an SLS 3D printer. "I love this material because it is lightweight, durable (both important for wearables) and porous so I can dye any color I wish. These, as well as her metal creations, are sent away to an external printing service, before being cleaned, dyed and assembled in her home studio."
Throughout her creative life, however, Maria has always been inspired by existing jewelry rather than by the futuristic shapes and designs that prevail in the 3D printed jewelry market. "First and foremost, I am inspired by jewelry. Jewelry from all periods and cultures. When I create my own jewelry I try to make objects that will complement the wearer and intrigue the viewer." The result is a bold, architectural yet playful style that definitely catches the eye.
This creative process has resulted in some unique, original and above all gorgeous pieces of jewelry, such as the bracelet you can see above. Intricate, spherical and yet chaotic, its design came about out of some careful experiments with CAD shapes. "I wanted to make something geometric and precise, yet asymmetrical and random at the same time. The spines that make up the sphere are placed at random, but the overall form is precisely calculated. Basket weave was not my intention, but I like that some people connect to it that way," Maria explains.
But when asked what her own favorite piece is, there was no hesitation in her answer. "Right now I am wearing my Cage Ring [above] in gold every day. It's bold but really easy to wear."
With her blend of bold and original designs and inspiration drawn from traditional jewelry, Maria has so far found that all sorts of people enjoy her creations. "I have done quite a few “traditional” craft shows and most people are fascinated. People respond to the design, the colors, the technology or all of the above. There are a wide range of women with a wide range of styles who wear my jewelry. It is bold, but it is still very wearable."
We here at 3ders.org fully expect that this successful formula will continue to do well, as Maria intends to expand her selection of 3D printed pieces of art using new techniques and combinations of printing materials. "I have started to mix natural materials with 3D printed plastics, for example the chain necklace with Lapis. I want to push this idea much further. This summer, I am spending 2 weeks at the Open Studio Residency at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine," she tells us. "I hope to use this time to experiment with the mixing techniques and materials."
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