Can you tell us a little about your background?
When I started teaching at the British Academy of Jewellery (then known as Holts Academy) in 2006, it was right at the point where the jewellery industry was starting to transition into using 3D printing on a large scale. At that time there was a real shortage of qualified CAD tutors who had the necessary combination of practical knowledge of jewellery manufacturing, teaching skills, and product design CAD knowledge.
When I joined the BAJ, I was one of the few in the UK to step in and fill the gap, and over the years I’ve worked to build a jewellery CAD/CAM department here through trial and error as well as collaboration with many other talented and inspiring professional tutors and staff.
Since then, the BAJ jewellery CAD courses have transitioned from short courses for industry professionals, to vocational diplomas in CAD-based jewellery production management. Along the way, I’ve trained hundreds of students and even several other CAD tutors, many of whom have gone on to achieve much greater things in competitions or business. At my last count, somewhere around 700+ students have passed through my various long and short CAD courses and diplomas since 2006.
Through all this, I’ve ended up becoming something of a go-to specialist on the subject, delivering guest lectures at trade shows and universities and publishing articles in trade magazines on my opinions of the future of the subject. My blog www.CADjewelleryskills.com has become a helpful resource for both new and experienced jewellery CAD users around the world. Having passed my ten year anniversary of serving the UK jewellery community, I had the honour of being allowed to join the Goldsmiths Company last year, one of the few foreigners to ever do so.
How did your jewellery career start? At what point did you decide to pursue a career in this sector?
I actually didn’t start out in jewellery at all. My first career out of university was computer graphics programming, working on flight simulators for the military. It wasn’t until after a few years spent working for various governments and defence ministries that I realised I wanted to do something more creative. My last posting was at an airbase near Oxford, where I discovered through their evening short courses that jewellery making was a viable career. (It pretty much didn’t exist as an available profession where I come from in the United States). That was when I quit and went back to school at Central St Martins to train as a jeweller. With jewellery’s balance between technical focus and creative expression, I found a common thread with my previous training in computer graphics.
Ironically, I didn’t even know CAD/CAM was an option for jewellery until after I started working professionally for a fashion jeweller. They discovered I had both computer skills as well as design and practical making skills, so they asked me to research CAD and 3D printing. I ended up helping my old company develop an international CAD-based production chain which connected the design studio in California, the factories in Indonesia and Thailand, the sales office in Japan, and management in Australia. I only realised years later that we were early adopters of jewellery CAD/CAM and 3D printing.
How can learning CAD be beneficial to a jeweller or a jewellery student? Why would someone take the course?
There’s a lot more to CAD than just 3D model making. Even in product design alone, there are many different types of CAD you can study, each serving a different purpose. I’ve written a full article on the differences here:
That being said, the advantages of using CAD for visualising your designs are much the same as writing a letter in Microsoft Word versus writing it by hand—copy and paste, easy duplicates, even easier modifications, improved alignment and precision, and of course the Undo button.
“The whole reason the BAJ was founded was to address this skills gap between what the universities must teach and what the industry actually needs in an employee.”
It’s also important to point out what CAD does not do—it is most definitely NOT a design tool, but rather a visualisation or modelling tool. Indeed, when most people hear the term Computer-Aided Design, they focus on the word design, where they should be focused on the word aided. CAD will not design for you, and you cannot design directly into CAD very well at all.
One thing which makes our CAD courses unusual is that we focus quite a lot on the end product. You have to know tolerances and standard making methods for working in certain materials in order to replicate them in CAD. So we start from there and then build a CAD modelling strategy around these good working practices.
Why would you recommend it to someone to study at BAJ?
One of the first things I love to tell both prospective and existing students about the BAJ is that we are not your typical ‘art school’. One thing nearly all of the British art schools have in common is their focus on creativity first, and then technical skills second. This creativity training is very important, but it still leaves you unprepared for working in a practical way in any jewellery manufacturer or design house. But then again this is what most university art degrees are supposed to do.
The whole reason the BAJ was founded was to address this skills gap between what the universities must teach and what the industry actually needs in an employee. This also explains why to this day I’ve never taught a DJP (CAD Design for Jewellery Production) Diploma course which didn’t feature at least a few art school graduates.
That doesn’t mean we don’t teach design (we most definitely do), but we are teaching commercial design rather than just blue sky creativity or self-expression. So even experienced creatives from art school benefit greatly from learning how to market research and focus their designs on the practical.
In short, I recommend all our courses (whether design, bench or CAD) to any creative jewellers who wishes to add practical professional skills to their tool boxes while learning to focus their abilities in a commercial direction.