Grant enables lecturer to further explore 3D printing in jewellery

by Gerrit Bester

20 October 2022

With the advent of 3D printing, the age-old craft of manufacturing jewellery from precious metal has undergone a significant transformation. Hesti Wade, a part-time lecturer and postgraduate student at the Department of Design Studies (Jewellery Design and Manufacture), is part of this evolution, having recently received a R20 000 Collaborative Programme in Additive Manufacturing (CPAM) grant to design jewellery for stainless steel 3D printing.

Hesti Wade, a part-time lecturer and postgraduate student at the Department of Design Studies (Jewellery Design and Manufacture).

Wade, who is an award-winning jewellery designer, says the CPAM is part of the National Programmes Portfolio at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) that aims to support research and development initiatives in the use of photonics-based technologies. "The objective of the CPAM is to promote additive manufacturing, more informally known as 3D printing, as a viable and advanced technology for manufacturing in South Africa (”

"The CPAM is funding R20 000 worth of Direct Metal Laser Sintered (DMLS) stainless steel 3D prints of my jewellery designs, to be printed through Akhani3D, a South African 3D printing bureau," she adds. 

Asked what the grant means to her, she says: "Until now, my research on 3D printing for jewellery making has been self-funded and limited to Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) prints in nylon. The CPAM grant allows me to expand my research to metal 3D printing processes. Not only did I receive funding for my prints, but through this opportunity, I can tap into the knowledge and experience of the wonderfully supportive engineers and operators at Akhani3D, who are teaching me to design within the parameters of the DMLS 3D printing process. When designing for a specific technology, I must work with the strengths and limitations of the process and the material. This forces me to explore forms beyond what I would be able to devise on my own, and I love how the tool and the properties of the materials I work with force my creativity in a specific direction, like a river that owes its path to the land formations in its course."

Wade continues to say that part of any product design process is determining the most cost-effective way to produce pieces. "Additive Manufacturing (AM) can be used both as a tool for production and as a tool for producing customised items. I aim to produce a series of smaller works to be sold on my website ( and at selected art and design gift shops, though I would also like to make more contemporary pieces for galleries and art exhibitions." 

What will the impact be of the new technology on jewellery design? Wade says Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and 3D printing are already used to produce wax- or resin-based jewellery models, though the process of casting the model into metal and surface finishing remains much the same as in the past.

"The technology to 3D print directly into precious metals like gold does exist, though it is not the preferred way of making jewellery yet. It is, however, not unreasonable to expect that as the technology becomes more advanced and accessible, it may soon become a viable option for general jewellery production. In the interim, I can experiment with the DMLS process by producing jewellery in stainless steel." 

"Using technology to produce creative work raises questions for both the creator and the consumers of the product. I hope to use the lessons I learn from this opportunity to help formulate a theory around the use of technology in artmaking, to be included in my Master's degree in 2023," she concludes.

Wade’s work has been recognised nationally and she is a past winner of the South African Jewellery Council Collection Awards Design Competition.

Images of Wade’s jewellery pieces in 3D printed stainless steel.

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