As someone who finds fulfillment in the acts of craft and making, I’ve always found the idea of making one’s own wedding ring deeply meaningful. In 2016, I got to actually put this into practice, when I designed and fabricated an engagement ring to give to my long-time girlfriend. It wound up being a substantially more challenging - and occasionally panic-inducing - project than I had anticipated, but also brought me tremendous satisfaction, and delighted my (now) wife!
Instead of relying on my usual toolkit of precision machining, I decided to explore traditional jewelry fabrication techniques in this project. I knew I wanted to design a ring that combined silver and gold elements, along with at least one stone. Early on in the project, I focused primarily on materials selection, particularly in the context of a) what materials I could work most easily, and b) minimizing potential allergic reactions to the metals I used. I eventually settled on a design with an investment-cast, fine silver inner band; a gold inlay, produced using 24-karat gold Precious Metal Clay (PMC); and a rough diamond. This combination of materials would let me sinter the PMC clay inlay without melting the cast ring, producing the silver-gold combination I was looking for.
I designed the ring in SolidWorks, leveraging some of the surfacing experience I had picked up during my time at Barrett Technology. I 3D printed my wax masters using a Formlabs Form 2 printer and Castable Wax resin, and invested them with Ransom and Randolph Plasticast investment. I modified my burnout schedule slightly from what Formlabs recommends: you can see details of this in the notes linked to below.
I cast the patterns with the help (and equipment) of my good friend Matt Baum. After de-spruing and finishing the castings, I then started experimenting with building up the PMC inlay and setting. My intention was to use a burnish setting to hold the irregularly-shaped rough diamond I had purchased, so I knew I would need to sculpt both a setting as well as a ring of material to burnish into place. After some trial and error, I had an inlay that survived the process without cracking (the secret: build up an extra-thick inlay to help compensate for the considerable shrinkage in the materia). After sintering, I set the stone, and polished to the desired finish.
This project was a huge learning experience for me, with the primary lesson being that there’s a good reason that jewelers are highly paid professional craftspeople! I made a plethora of mistakes in the process of making my wife’s ring (and later, my own wedding ring): oversizing my wife’s ring, using PMC instead of traditional inlay techniques, picking a hard-to-set rough diamond, and more. Because of the materials our rings are made out of, they may wear down from normal use to the point where we have to replace them - at which point I will be at the very least consulting more with professional jewelers, if not handing off the actual fabrication completely. However, they’ve held up well so far, and I like the idea that our rings, like our relationship, will change and grow with time.
If you’re interested in learning more about the process I used to make these rings, the following may be useful.