Interview with Alex Antich, TechJewel CEO

Rhino is a very flexible application and is gradually penetrating different professional areas, from industrial design to architecture, and jewelry design. Each specific domain can significantly benefit from Rhino’s features but requires specific commands and libraries that are usually not provided by Robert McNeel and Associates. What McNeel delivers is a powerful software platform on top of which third parties such as TechJewel, can build vertical plug-ins. One of the most successful plug-ins is RhinoJewel, formerly known as TechGems. It’s a product that has evolved over the years to provide a complete set of commands, templates, and features to jewelry designers. I interviewed the founder and CEO of the company, Alex Antich, to find out more about the exciting world of Rhino plug-ins.

Alex can you tell us a bit about yourself and your company?

Jewelry came natural to me as my father was a goldsmith with a jewelry store and workshops

Hello Franco, and thanks for the interview. I was born into a family of jewelers and ever since I was a boy I have had two great passions: jewelry and technology.
Jewelry came natural to me as my father was a goldsmith with a jewelry store and workshops in one of the main shopping streets of Barcelona. At a young age I started a long apprenticeship as a goldsmith – first with my father and later for a number of the leading jewelry manufacturers in Spain. I graduated from jewelry school in 1991 and studied gemology at the University of Barcelona.
My passion for computers and technology dates back to the early 80s when home PCs became increasingly common. From the moment I laid eyes on my first computer I started thinking how we could use this technology to design and manufacture jewelry. I developed the first gem libraries for 3D software in 1994 and founded my current company Techjewel in 1999 as a training center and consultancy for new technologies applied to jewelry design and manufacturing. In 2000 Techjewel launched TechGems, a jewelry design plug-in for Rhino which evolved throughout the years and in its current version is called Rhinojewel 5.0. Techjewel also runs a training facility for 3D jewelry design using Rhinojewel and a Solidscape service bureau called Protojewel.

Can you explain the main reasons your customers like to extend their Rhino with a plug-in such as RhinoJewel?

RhinoJewel adds to Rhino a comprehensive set of jewelry-specific tools

Rhino is a fantastic CAD software which is in many ways very complete. The art of jewelry making however requires specialist knowledge which cannot be improvised and mastery of ancient techniques that have developed over centuries and have only recently (last 15-20 years) started to converge with the so called CAD-CAM revolution. RhinoJewel adds to Rhino a comprehensive set of jewelry-specific tools, focused on real-life applications and developed by a team of jewelry professionals with a proven track record working or consulting for the leading jewelry houses in the world. While there are numerous Rhino tools which are just perfect to design jewelry the way they are, many jewelry techniques and design strategies require customized tools which can significantly speed up and simplify the modeling process. Rhinojewel offers not only parametric jewelry builders but most importantly specific tools developed for the needs of jewelry professionals that empower creativity. Every Rhinojewel tool is a synthesis of proven jewelry techniques with the latest CAD-CAM technologies available.

What are the reasons for the growing success of Rhino and Rhino’s plug-ins in the jewelry design industry?

the McNeel & Associates business culture which has always been open to collaboration

Rhino is at the same time extremely powerful, flexible, precise and very well priced. It is also continuously evolving and interfacing with the most exciting innovations in this field. It has proven itself the ideal CAD engine on which to build sector-specific plug-ins like RhinoJewel. Even at a worldwide level, the jewelry industry is a closely knit community and the great majority of users ends up using what works best. Beyond its technical superiority, part of Rhino’s success is also owed to the McNeel & Associates business culture which has always been open to collaboration with professionals from a wide range of industries for the development of specialist plugins.

T-Splines gets a lot of attention from jewelry designers. Does this signal a limitation of the current technology, or a mature market able to explore new solutions?

the jewelry industry will always welcome new technologies that can reduce costs and empower creativity

Both. Today’s technology has very few limits compared to what we were using ten years ago, but is surely very limited compared to what we will use in ten years time! The jewelry industry will always welcome new technologies that can reduce costs and empower creativity. T-Splines is an excellent example since it makes it much easier to model organic shapes and works within Rhino which is the industry standard for jewelry modeling. At Techjewel we have been working with Matt Sederberg, CEO of T-Splines, to develop a Rhinojewel version of T-Splines which will integrate with our exhisting tools to output creative results suitable for jewelry applications.

Rapid prototyping is another technology that has been embraced by jewelry designers. What is the level of use and the potential for future evolution?

the use of CAD applied to jewelry design would not be fully exploited without Rapid Prototyping

Of course the use of CAD applied to jewelry design would not be fully exploited without Rapid Prototyping. This technology has been improving steadily and has now reached a stage where – with the proper training – it is stable, easy to use and relatively affordable. 3D printers like Solidscape and other rapid prototyping solutions have long found their way into the manufacturing process of all the leading jewelry companies around the world and everyday more they are being adopted by the smaller independent workshops, either directly or through service bureaus. The best Rapid Prototyping solutions for jewelry make it possible to translate into the real world the many advantages available in the virtual space of CAD: cost reduction, shorter time-to-market, high precision and the ability to generate complex and creative designs which would otherwise be too difficult or impossible to achieve. In future the performance of Rapid Prototyping systems for jewelry applications will continue to improve and prices will gradually reach a level which will make direct ownership of this technology possible to anyone interested.

The Rhino platform offers a growing list of options for end-users, from several rendering alternatives to visual programming tools such as Grasshopper. What is your company’s approach to these kinds of tools and technologies?

our first duty is to screen any new tool, software or technology that comes to market and to check its potential for jewelry applications

From the beginning the focus of TechJewel has always been on advancing the use of new technologies for the design and manufacturing of jewelry. In light of this, our first duty is to screen any new tool, software or technology that comes to market and to check its potential for jewelry applications. Sometimes, as in the case of photorealistic rendering engines, we need to select the best option out of numerous offerings. Other times we monitor a new technology until it is stable enough to be adopted within our industry. Wherever possible we work towards enhancing and integrating new solutions within our software RhinoJewel, to make them more relevant to the needs of jewelers as well as easier to learn from within one unique interface.

TechJewel is a Spanish company with deep European roots and important ambitions for the US market. What are the major problems you face when entering the American market and what is your strategy?

we are launching a RhinoJewel Academy program of 101 Video Tutorials

It is always easier to do well close to home. People are easier to contact and the main jewelry trade fairs throughout Europe are all reachable within a couple of hours flight. In Europe we meet face to face with our many resellers and clients and provide extensive training either at our facilities in Barcelona or at the client’s premises.
All this is harder and more expensive to do with the American market, and also for the equally important markets in the Far East. So far we have relied on a network of distributors like yourselves. However, to further support our clients and resellers we are launching a RhinoJewel Academy program of 101 Video Tutorials which can take users from beginner level to a highly proficient advanced level. This self-paced educational material is the result of over 15 years experience in teaching CAD applied to jewelry design and draws from real-life professional jewelry projects. Students in remote areas will be able to learn on their own and access online help whenever they need to, either from us or from an international network of RhinoJewel Academy Instructors.
The full RhinoJewel Academy program will be made available through our resellers but we are also gradually adding 40 of the 101 Video Tutorials on our YouTube channel free of charge. The videos on YouTube will cover all the material from Level 1 to Level 3, plus samples of the tutorials from level 4 to Level 10.

I would like to thank Alex for taking the time to answer my questions. If you have any questions for Alex or for Novedge, please leave a comment below and we will be glad to answer.

Franco Folini

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