3D Printing Recreates Long-Lost Family Heirlooms

Credit: American Pearl.

(Image credit: American Pearl.)

Have you ever wished your family still had that old necklace your grandmother was wearing in her wedding photo? A new service from New York City-based jewelry company American Pearl takes photos of old jewelry and turns them into 3D digital models. It can then 3D print and sell those heirlooms to you just like any other piece of jewelry in its store.

Via the "Jewelry Replicator," as the feature is called, American Pearl will turn a photo of a piece of jewelry into a digital model for free (though it won't then give you that digital model). Customers can then choose to order a 3D-printed version of that digital model. Pricing depends on the metal and gemstones used in the piece, but American Pearl's president Eddie Bakhash told Tom's Guide that something like a simple silver ring would be a few hundred dollars.

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Turning an image file into a 3D model file is done partly through automated 3D modeling programs, and partially by hand. Bakhash says there's no minimum resolution on the submitted photos; they'll work with any image you have. American Pearl will even create jewelry based on a portrait.

The one thing they won't print is copyrighted jewelry. So you can't send in an image file that you downloaded from the Tiffany's website or photographed from a recent jewelry magazine. The customer would have to ask for some kind of modification or change to the design so it's not a copied original," Bakhash told Tom's Guide. "We're focusing on old [family] photos."

American Pearl takes images via its Google Plus page. Users can click "Submit Request" to send in an image file. Once American Pearl has gotten back to you with a digital rendering for you to view, you can choose whether you want to actually buy a print. Bakhash told us the company will not share the 3D model file of the jewelry it makes.

By choosing to purchase a printed version of the heirloom you submitted, users also give American Pearl the rights to that design, so they can then feature it on their website and offer it to other users. Bakhash said that several of the items currently featured on American Pearl's website were originally private commissions to replicate old family jewelry, and the customers were happy to make it available to other consumers.

However, for a premium price, American Pearl will make the jewelry design exclusive, said Bakhash. 

American Pearl had been doing custom jewelry orders for several years, when customers contacted the store directly to order a commission. Bakhash found that many of these requests concerned replicating old family jewelry, which was the inspiration for the "Jewelry Replicator" feature.

Recently, American Pearl started using 3D printing in its custom jewelry. Its method is to 3D print the molds in which the jewelry is cast, rather than printing the jewelry itself. This is cheaper because 3D printing in metal, while possible, is still very expensive, and flaws in a plastic printed mold are much easier to fix than flaws in a printed golden ring.

Email jscharr@techmedianetwork.com or follow her @JillScharr and Google+.  Follow us@TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.