When Anurag Tamta wanted to gift his special woman-friend something exclusive, his mind immediately went to several quotes from his favourite Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies. His online research led to a retailer of 3D-printed jewellery, and Tamta eventually got her a distinctive, 3D-printed ring with an LOTR quote inscribed around the band in calligraphy letters.
Tamta’s singular gift was crafted by the Coimbatore-based startup AuGrav, a customised online gold jewellery brand that marries the wonders of 3D-printing technology to India’s gold craze. The country is the world’s largest consumer of the yellow metal jewellery and gold ornaments have been custom-crafted by artisans for centuries. In recent decades, these traditional craftsmen have been replaced by machines spewing out mass-market designs. Now, avant-garde 3D-printing takes gold to a new level of personalisation.
With technology now disrupting many spheres of everyday life, India’s booming jewellery sector could be next in line. And bespoke 3D-printed jewellery could be just the thing for younger, affluent Indians who want some pieces of modern jewellery to express their identity, not just their heritage.
AuGrav, whose Au stands for gold and Grav “to make”, customises pieces of jewellery based on the buyer’s personality or design. It sells pendants, earrings, bracelets and rings that have names, fingerprints, faces and even unique barcodes etched on them. “We believe there is an individual piece of jewellery for every one of the seven billion people on this planet,” declares AuGrav’s founder, Vivek Krishna.
The pieces could cost twice as much as regular jewellery, but buyers don’t mind forking out. Nuthan Balakrishna ordered himself a gold pendant with his baby daughter Loukyaa’s faced etched on it in 3D. The impact is priceless, says Balakrishna, whose friends were stunned at the likeness of the little girl’s face on the pendant. Paying double the price was worth it, he says.
Besides faces, him-and-her rings are popular too. The voices of a man and a woman exchanging “I love you” pledges is converted into a sound wave pattern, and then etched onto identical “couple” rings using 3D. Dozens of these rings have been sold to couples getting engaged, married or celebrating some other milestone in their relationship.
Krishna is now pushing the limits of 3D printing by working in all kinds of customisation. They include jewellery etched with Bitcoin (digital currency) codes and NFC (near field communication)-based rings and bracelets that can communicate with the owner’s smartphone.
AuGrav launched in October last year after Krishna, a software engineer who had worked with a startup in New York City, returned to India to try his hand at entrepreneurship. As serendipity would have it, he could find nothing special to gift his sister on her wedding day. So he came up with the idea of engraving the faces of his sister and her fiancé on a gold coin. What started as jewellery e-commerce soon veered off into customisation. When Sachin
Tendulkar retired from international cricket soon after, gold coins with his face etched on them sold like hot cakes. The idea of personalisation crystallised in Krishna’s mind. Orders started trickling in, and the startup was on its way.
Krishna bootstrapped AuGrav and decided to harness the power of 3D-printing technology to personalise jewellery. A steady stream of customers started pouring in and today, the startup has customers in all major Indian cities, and orders are coming in from abroad.
In a country that has long associated gold jewellery with status and wealth rather than exclusivity and design, AuGrav is a hit with customers. Traditional jewellery making does not always deliver precise results, while machine-making individual pieces is a cumbersome affair. In AuGrav’s case, the customer gives the design or lays out his or her requirements. AuGrav designs and prints a 3D prototype of the jewel and gets the customer’s approval. The design then goes for production to one of the numerous jewellery units dotting Coimbatore. It may not be too early to call this one — 3D printing could potentially change personalisation in the jewellery industry.