The Digital Mine, Part 1: Studio Notes on 3D Printed Jewelry

Do you speak 3D? I am trying to become more fluent in this language of jewelry making. (I also have a story about figurative wax carving paired with 3D printed jewelry in the March/April issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.)

Here is one example of computer designed, 3D printed jewelry by 30-year-old Denver artist Ricky McRae.

3D digital printed jewelry octopus Ricky McRae

Education: BFA from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, 3D animation

Traditional Jewelry Making Experience: None.

Secret Sauce: Assembling the right team of experts

Design Elements: intense, 360-degree detail. See all those little suckers on the curling and twisting tentacles? Nature, surrealism.

Method: McRae began experimenting with 3D printed jewelry after he graduated from art school, consulting with two professional, Denver-area jewelers. One of his first projects was a chess set of honeybees. He uses his computer app expertise to come up with designs, and then outsources the work to 3D printing companies.

Where to find his work: See his work online and in two Colorado galleries

3D digital printed jewelry octopus Ricky McRae

Featured Work: Empyreal Remnants – Octopus bronze

Dimensions: 2.28 x 2.83 x 1.31 inches

Inspiration: “I was inspired by a two-hour class on the history of amulets and talismans, the different beliefs and why people wore these. I’m a Capricorn. Saturn is my ruling planet and this is also associated with the number 8. The octopus has eight arms and it parallels my traits.”

Software: AutoDesk Maya to build and size his designs, Z Brush and other apps for fine detailing.

Time: Octopus took 15 hours to design on computer

Quote: “It’s almost like sculpting by hand digitally. Through the apps, you have so much more capability. You can spin an object around in so many directions. It allows you to get very close in–within a millimeter and even smaller.”

McRae printed out prototypes to make sure the dimensions were correct and that the piece could be worn as a pendant. He designed the arms so that they would prevent the pendant from flipping when worn. He also added an intense amount of detailing to the underside of the piece.

3D Printing Resources: Shapeways printed his design prototypes for $15 each. The final version was printed and cast in bronze by i.materialise.

Reaction from the public: I wear it everywhere I go and I can see people looking at it from afar. It’s also been an ice-breaker, conversation piece.

Inventory: McRae doesn’t keep stock on hand. Instead, each piece is printed as a wax and cast when ordered by customers. Delivery is three to four weeks. A portion of the sale proceeds go to Ocean Conservancy.

Read part two and three of Betsy’s series on 3D printed jewelry.

Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. Her project on figurative wax carving with Kate Wolf and 3D imaging appears in the March/April issue. You can reach her at

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