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Dream Machines
What's on a custom jeweler's wish list? Here are tools that bench gurus swear are worth every penny.


WATER JET: “SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE WE’RE CHEATING”

What it does: These bad boys are like the ninjas of the jewelry factory. They use water, focused through fine nozzles and thrust out under immense pressure, to effortlessly slice and dice, cutting through large thicknesses of hard or bulky materials like steel, glass, wood, stone, shell, and foam. Yet they can also cut to amazing, literally pinpoint, accuracy, creating holes as small as 25/100ths of an inch in diameter.

Why have one: Water jets not only dramatically cut the time it takes to go from concept to finished prototype, they open the door to new profit centers. Word gets out quickly to other jewelers and companies in need of precision power cutting that you’ve got just the machine for the job.

Paul Lubitz, president and co-founder of Holly Yashi, a 27-year-old Arcata, California-based jewelry manufacturer, bought an OMAX abrasive water machine in late 2007 for about $200,000. “It was a scary purchase, but we felt we had to do it. We looked at less expensive machines from China and India, but settled on the American-made machine because we wanted quick solutions if we ran into software or repair issues, or needed replacement parts. Right now we’re experimenting with a super-fine nozzle that lets us lay down a line that’s 15/1000ths of an inch thick—the width of a mechanical pencil line.”

The water jet offers other advantages, says Lubitz: “We used to hand draw designs, then have them made by an outside source into a die. Then we’d take four to six weeks doing the back and forth adjusting sizes. Now we can go from sketch to prototype sometimes in an afternoon, which gives us a tremendous competitive advantage. We can beat Far Eastern competitors by pushing a design out the door and into the U.S. market days before they can.”

Another competitive edge for the 50-employee firm: It can rent out the machine to outside jewelers and manufacturers who are attracted by its ability to cut almost any material, including up to six inches of steel. “One manufacturer has the machine cut out ring shapes within ring shapes—it’s that fine—making maximum use of raw material,” says Lubitz. “The water jet produces minimal scrap and flawless cuts, virtually eliminating the need for dies and kick-presses.”

The machine’s capabilities, including quick changes, fast prototype creation, and increased production speeds, have allowed Holly Yashi to double its jewelry lines to four a year. Lubitz admits to one tiny concern: “We can do filigree work with the machine so super easily that I sometimes feel like we’re cheating.”





CAD Matrix software from Gemvision Corporation

Virtual design: CAD Matrix software from Gemvision Corporation, (800) 357-6272, www.gemvision.com.

Paul Lubitz of Holly Yashi

Paul Lubitz of Holly Yashi shows a sample of the types of patterns the OMAX waterjet can cut.

Photo: Humboldt State University/Kellie Jo Brown.


bracelet by Holly Yashi

This “Vashti” bracelet by Holly Yashi is an example of the work that can be created with an abrasive waterjet machine, (800) 274-2714, www.hollyyashi.com.

Eric Riddlespurger of Liberty Jewelry Mfg.

Eric Riddlespurger of Liberty Jewelry Mfg., Timonium, Maryland, at work with the CAD Matrix software by Gemvision.

Eric Riddlespurger of Liberty Jewelry Mfg.

Eric Riddlespurger of Liberty Jewelry Mfg., Timonium, Maryland, demonstrates CAM manufacturing with the Revo mill from Gemvision.

Rofin StarWeld jewelry laser microwelder

Rofin StarWeld jewelry laser microwelder available from Stuller, which recently released volume 73 of its tools catalog, (800) 877-7777, www.stuller.com.

iWeld laser system by Crafford-LaserStar Technologies

The iWeld laser system by Crafford-LaserStar Technologies, (401) 438-1500, www.laserstar.net.

Signature 8080 Super model engraving machine from Signature Engraving Systems

Signature 8080 Super model engraving machine from Signature Engraving Systems, (800) 323-3283, www.signature-engravers.com.