Brian Park was a product manager for social video game company Zynga for a year and a half before he saw opportunity knocking in a field in which he had no experience: 3D printing and jewelry.
Jewelry in particular is one industry poised to change thanks to advances in 3D printing and computer-aided design technologies. At the crux of it all is customization for the masses. Introducing a digital workflow to the creation of jewelry means that people can design their own jewelry before purchasing it, and with 3D printing, inexpensive plastic prototypes can be created for sizing and fit before money is spent on creating metal jewelry.
This is what Park saw in creating Trove, a New York-based startup founded in fall 2014 that publicly launched Oct. 8. From a catalog of about 30 available base designs, customers pick a starting design and begin customizing rings, bracelets, or necklaces, from their Internet browser. Trove uses an in-house Formlabs desktop 3D printer to create initial prototypes of base jewelry designs so that the company knows the designs are printable to begin with.
After approving the customer’s design, Trove ships a plastic prototype for the customer to try on. (Printing, however, is outsourced to Shapeways, an online marketplace of 3D-print files that also prints 3D objects, as well as Brooklyn-based commercial 3D-printing service Voodoo Manufacturing.) Once the customer approves of the final design, they can choose to print their jewelry in gold, silver, bronze, or brass. Prices start at $50, but something like a silver ring will cost between $80 and $90.
“People wanted 3D-printed products in metals. You can do single-batch manufacturing very cheaply, but when you customize, it’s not very cost-effective,” says Park.
Trove has six full-time employees, and has raised an initial round of $640,000 in seed funding.
Consider this the next level up of what might be called the trinket economy of 3D printing. End-use, 3D-printed products are becoming more common in the manufacturing sector. Some airline companies, for instance, have begun using 3D-printed parts in their planes. NASA has taken to testing 3D-printed rocket injectors. But the market for 3D-printed products for consumers—people who aren’t going to buy a 3D printer themselves—has a tendency to appear frivolous. Producing bobbleheads of people via 3D printing is a neat concept, but it’s basically an answer to a problem that isn’t really a problem. And home goods produced by 3D printing, at least in Park’s experience, doesn’t seem to be a viable market.
“We started out [printing] in home goods,” he says. “But we realized that people don’t buy customized home goods enough to make it a viable business.”
So far for Trove, jewelry has proved to be something customers are eager to customize. (Prior to launching Oct. 8, Park and his team tested out the platform for a few months.) Designs made on Trove’s platform stay in an online database, available for other customers to order as-is or further customize. An example of how it works: When a ring is being created on Trove, what customers see is a simple user interface that allows them to bend and straighten the left and right sides of the ring by moving a button on a slider shown on the left side of a screen—they’re not actually designing anything from scratch.
“The fact that you can manipulate these designs, and then create anything, is the true value,” says Park. “This is bringing 3D printing to the average user in a way the average user will want to use it.”
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