Mar 9, 2016 | By Kira

A couple from Dallas, Texas, gave up the ‘conventional wisdom’ that suggests spending one to three months’ salary for an engagement ring, and instead opted to have a custom ring designed, 3D printed, and set with a stunning cubic zirconia stone. The final result is a 3D printed engagement ring that could be made for just $100. And learning the ins and outs of 3D printing firsthand? That part was priceless.

Christian and Elisa Genco aren’t your average twenty-something couple. He is a ‘hacker, maker, and internet micropreneur;’ she is a schoolteacher turned yoga instructor/tech evangelist, and together, they reside full-time in an RV, travelling the US and living a “minimalistic, financially frugal” lifestyle. In fact, they’ve gotten so good at it that Christian is on track to financially retire before he’s 30. Their economical lifestyle isn’t about foregoing the pleasures in life—it’s about spending wisely and knowing what truly matters.

That’s why, in 2014, rather than dropping an entire month’s salary on an engagement ring, Christian decided to have a custom model 3D printed and set with a cubic zirconia stone—a stone that is similar to diamonds in refractivity and appearance, yet costs a fraction of the price (they’re so cheap, he could afford to buy a whole handful for backup). After doing their research, consulting several different 3D jewelry designers, and working with multiple iterations, plastic 3D printed samples, and finally, the polished silver 3D print, the total cost came to $508.77. However, Christian estimates that without the learning curve and unnecessary overhead, an identical custom engagement ring could be 3D printed for as little as $106.25.

closeup of the final 3D printed engagement ring

Because neither Christian nor Elisa were familiar with 3D printing whatsoever, they decided to approach a professional 3D jewelry designer. Elisa began by picking out a few models online that matched her classical taste, and they began to shop for a 3D designer they could both trust and afford. Eventually, they contacted Dani Epstein, a photo-real CGI and 3D designer with experience in classical jewelry detail work.

After just a few hours with the sample images Elisa had sent, Epstein came up with the first 3D model of their engagement ring, complete with delicate, nature-inspired details and embellishments. While it was already close to what they’d asked for, Christian requested a few changes, and Epstein readily complied, going back and forth a few times to make design changes and to correct errors in the 3D printing file (a plastic test print, for example, revealed that the 3D file was too thin in some places).

3D design iterations of the engagement ring

Plastic 3D printed prototype

“For all the customizing we did, and the willingness and help Dani gave through the process, I’m incredibly happy with how much I spent and how it turned out,” said Christian. In all, Epstein charged roughly US$290 for his custom work—significantly cheaper than what a professional jewelry shop would charge, with the added benefit of direct communication and collaboration.

With the 3D model finally ready, Christian ordered a polished silver version from a professional 3D printing service, which took care of 3D printing the lost wax casting mold, filling it with silver, and all post-processing needs.

“The level of detail was much better than in the plastic prints, likely from the polishing process. It looked like a real ring!” he said. “This blew me away—I had no idea you could just make a ring by 3D printing it. I thought they were hand engraved by people with really tiny hands or something, but apparently this is now a common practice in jewelry making.”

Finally, he took the 3D printed silver band to a local jewelry store, which agreed to set the cubic zirconia stone for just $35. Within days, the engagement preparations were made, the 3D printed ring was on Elisa’s finger, and the happy couple were on their way to becoming a happily-married couple, with a few extra thousand dollars cushioning their retirement fund.

The final breakdown of expenses for Christian and Elisa’s 3D printed engagement ring is:

  • 1 carat CZ wedding ring (for emergency backup): $13.41
  • Handful of Cubic Zirconia stones in different sizes: $41.76
  • Design by Dani Epstein: $290
  • Handful of 3D printed rings to test different materials and size: $34.30
  • Test print in plastic: $28.05
  • Silver Print: $66.25
  • Ring mounting: $35
  • Total: $508.77

However, as you can see, many of these costs weren’t necessary, and had more to do with the learning process. A similar 3D printed engagement ring could easily be achieved for as little as $100, assuming you already have a 3D model on hand:

  • 1 carat CZ stone: $5
  • Silver Print: $66.25
  • Ring mounting: $35
  • Total for another ring: $106.25

At the end of the day, however, it’s not just about the money. The 3D printed engagement ring is one hundred percent unique, and now carries with it the beautiful and personal story of how it was made. “It was a lot of back and forth through uncharted territory, and a lot of unnecessary expenses, but I’m incredibly glad I went this route. The final ring - even with the extra overhead of learning the process as I went - was a fraction of the cost it would have been the traditional route, and feels like a much more personal token,” explained Christian.

“At the same time, if the ring were ever lost, stolen, or damaged, we could sleep easily knowing we could have an identical copy made - perhaps even in a different material or with a different sized stone - in about two weeks for a hundred bucks.” They could even get creative with it—now that they have a 3D model of the ring, they could use it to 3D print a chocolate version for wedding party favors, or for a fun Valentine’s Day gift.

Christian and Elisa Genco have been married since 2014, and are currently living the nomadic life in their renovated RV. Their story is just one example of how 3D printing can be used in unexpected ways not only to save money, but to create experiences that money just can’t buy.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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RandomBogusName wrote at 3/12/2016 1:30:02 PM:

Lost-wax casting is hardly an unconventional technique - but the overall economics enabled by 3d models may be different from what you get if you make a positive for casting.

I. A. M. Magic wrote at 3/9/2016 11:51:33 AM:

Kudos to them. I fail to see the advantage of using additive manufacturing in this case. The design is simple, it probably would have cost less using conventional techniques. I am happy to see that some people think that diamonds (and the 3 month salary "rule") is over rated.

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