All That Glitters Is Not Gold

icdhs 10 website

P. Atkinson (2010) All That Glitters Is Not Gold:
Craft Jewellery and Digital Manufacturing
Proceedings of Design and Craft : a History of Convergences and Divergences
7th Conference of the International Committee
for Design History and Design Studies
ICDHS 2010, pp. 454-457

20-22 September 2010
Brussels, Belgium

I delivered this paper at Brussels earlier this week – the start of a long and busy stretch of conferences, talks, presentations and meetings. The conference was well attended with delegates from many countries, and some really interesting discussions took place. For more information, see the conference website at


The Post Industrial Manufacturing (PIM) research group at Sheffield Hallam University explores the potential of emerging technologies to change the relationship between people and the objects they choose to own. One issue raised by PIM technologies is that the objects produced, due to the ways in which they are randomly generated and fashioned, challenge existing notions of what constitutes the practices of craft, art and design.

When this research began, there were a few Internet-based companies that utilised randomly generated software to create forms for jewellery, that were then handmade using traditional craft techniques. The PIM research group went further, developing systems that created unique, randomly generated forms, manufacturing them using rapid prototyping.

Since this original work, a number of Internet-based businesses have started, which allow users to create designs for jewellery by manipulating interactive templates and that then manufacture and deliver those artefacts. The designs produced by non-professional users form an ‘open source’ library, available for others to browse and select for manufacture, undermining the role of the craftsperson.

The Computer Aided Manufacturing techniques used by these companies are not new, and although coming down in cost are still largely beyond individual reach, which at least has kept the production of artefacts within a ‘professional’ framework. A recent development that is changing this situation, though, is the increasing availability of domestic versions of 3D printing machines enabling the direct digital manufacture of products on the desktop. In the spirit of open source, the designs for such machines can be downloaded for free.

These technologies are in the early stages, but as they improve and proliferate (as they will), the craftsperson faces being removed completely from the aspect of their practice that most clearly defines them. In that situation, what does craft become?


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