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How one German company is shaking up the European market of personalized jewelry with Artec Micro

When Patrick Hübner and Josephine Hammer welcomed their first child, they wanted to hold onto a few memories of some of their baby’s firsts: first tooth, first lock of hair, the umbilical cord that some parents keep after birth, not to mention those teeny tiny footprints. And, like many parents, they kept some of these special memories in a keepsake box.

But to the new parents, something was missing. The couple wanted something a little closer to their hearts – something they’d forever be able to treasure.

When Patrick found out about breast milk and other ‘natural material’ jewelry – a necklace handcrafted with a breastmilk gemstone, a ring with a baby’s fingerprint or strand of hair, a pendant with a dog’s paw print – an idea began to form. While the idea of natural material jewelry was gaining popularity in the United States at the time, Patrick and Josephine hadn’t seen anything like it in Germany or in Europe. And so milk-design, their jewelry design business – and their second “baby” – was born.

The couple officially launched milk-design Manufaktur GmbH in 2017, fronted by their online store (https://milk-design.com), behind which the couple create their sustainable and personal jewelry based on each customer’s unique story, material, and design preferences.

Each piece is created based on a customer’s unique story and material

Via the store, the company offers numerous design options, with various materials, gemstones, and colors to choose from. Customers can select a pre-designed jewelry piece and customize it with their own natural material, which can include hair, teeth, an umbilical cord, a fingerprint or paw print, or breast milk. Alternatively, customers are welcome to provide a completely new design, share something they saw on Pinterest or Instagram, a drawing by hand, or an actual piece they already own and want to customize or duplicate. The basic design starts at 150 euros, and each customization of color, stone, or material is added on to the final cost.

When Patrick and Josephine first started working on what they call “remembrance jewelry,” they had to buy the basic gem settings for every type of jewelry they wanted to make, be it a bracelet or a pendant, from wholesale stores in China, the US, and Australia. These would later be embedded with stones and other natural materials.

While this is a common situation for many jewelry businesses, for milk-design it was simply too inefficient, expensive, and time-consuming. They’d have to wait for 4 to 6 weeks for the settings to make their way through customs, not to mention having to pay all the corresponding charges.

On top of that, the design process would be slowed down, which often left their customers unsatisfied, having had to wait far too long to receive their orders. Some items ended up sitting on shelves unused and unsold because of a lower demand, which the team couldn’t predict due to the nature of their business.

A sample of a ring gem setting ready for personalization

Another challenge was in recreating existing jewelry. It was a tedious process, one that took a lot of time. For each and every piece, a designer needed to create something that had already been done before, simply to get a 3D model in STL format for further customization in 3D software.

Patrick believed a way to make the process faster and more efficient had to exist, and so began his search for a 3D scanner that would speed up production, and allow in-house creation of gem settings.

After doing his research and considering different scanners, Patrick selected Artec Micro as the scanner most suited to their needs. He was soon on his way to KLIB, Artec Gold Certified Reseller and Ambassador, for the initial training. The whole session took around 3 hours, during which Knut Lehmann, CEO of KLIB, demonstrated everything Patrick needed to know about the scanner and also gifted him a bottle of scanning spray, which is essential for easily capturing shiny and glossy surfaces – something that would come in handy given the nature of their business.

Founder Partick Hübner is beyond pleased with his Artec Micro

“I was so impressed with how easy-to-use this scanner is. Anyone can use it, literally anyone, even my son!” said Patrick. “Ease of use is the most important factor for us. Scanning is just part of a bigger process, and like with a document scanner, it shouldn’t take much time and should be easy.”

“Artec Micro is the best choice out there for scanning very small objects with high accuracy and outstanding resolution,” said Knut. “Thanks to its automatic scanning mode, the whole process takes almost no time. We made a sample scan of one of Mr. Hübner’s designed jewelry, and the result was stunning. The combination of accuracy, speed, and ease of use is what made Mr. Hübner go for Micro, and we at KLIB were happy to offer him such a solution.”

A recent addition to Artec’s scanner family, Artec Micro was released in 2019. The scanner is designed to capture objects of up to 90 × 60 × 60 mm in size, with up to 10 microns accuracy and 0.029 mm resolution. It comes with advanced twin color cameras and blue LED lights synced with a dual-axis rotation system that allows you to capture tiny objects from all angles, with a minimum amount of frames. All of that makes it a perfect scanner for reverse engineering small objects, jewelry, quality control, inspection, design, dentistry, and more.

It doesn’t hurt that Artec Micro looks stylish, too. “Every person who comes to my desk always says, ‘oh wow, it looks really great!’” said Patrick. “Artec Micro: It’s a real game-changer.”

Artec Micro allows the team to create gem settings and custom-designed jewelry entirely in-house and more sustainably

With Artec Micro, the milk-design team is now able to create both gem settings and custom-designed jewelry entirely in-house and more sustainably. It had previously taken them weeks just to get all the necessary supplies from the wholesale stores. Now, it takes them a few hours for scanning, printing, and casting the necessary piece. All their existing settings were scanned right away, too, so they won’t need to be ordered again. They’re simply 3D printed as needed.

Previously, Patrick and his team had to take photos of every piece they created, and in every color, only after it was finished. Yet even with professional lighting and photo equipment, it was difficult to achieve the desired quality. Thanks to the new workflow, the team can show the 3D model of the jewelry to their customers before it even gets sent for printing and casting. This not only allows the customer to make changes or additions, it also gives them a very clear idea of what to expect in the final product.

A sample of a ring 3D printed in castable wax

The new process goes like this: A customer selects one of the existing pre-designed pieces in the online store, and the designer uses the specialized jewelry design software 3Design to finalize the model. There, one of the scanned gem settings is selected and optimized based on customer preference, before the final piece is sent for printing in castable wax. This wax template then goes over to a casting machine that’s loaded with the necessary metal, where the piece actually takes its shape and comes to life.

Part of the casting process for creating the jewelry

Following that, the designer takes the final casted setting and fits in the natural material. This could be a piece of hair that is used to make the initials on a piece of gemstone, or breast milk that gets boiled and mixed with epoxy resin to harden and take the necessary shape, or a fingerprint that gets engraved into the setting.

Designer and founder Josephin Hammer cleans jewelry with a sandblasting device

The team also uses their Micro to create custom-made jewelry not offered in the store – either to create something seen online, inspired by nature, or to replicate and customize an existing piece. Whether a leaf from your favorite tree or something bought online, a Micro scan allows Patrick and his team to then work on modifying the scan data in line with the customer’s requests.

While the first stage requires time and much attention to design and detail, the time spent contributes to the company’s growth, as well as the opportunities and flexibility it allows. “Once we have the STL file we can design it 200 times, however often we want. It’s not a problem and we don’t charge the customer for such a wish, because we learn and we earn much more from their request.”

Josephin models hair in epoxy resin into an owl

To achieve the best possible results out of the scanner, Patrick and his team use scanning spray, which helps when capturing any glossy or shiny surface. They then clean the captured jewelry piece with an ultrasonic machine that polishes the metal and glass pieces in the workshop. With Artec Studio software, the captured model is processed. The final STL file is then exported to 3Design software for further modification.

Depending on the natural material and complexity of work, the design and production process can take anywhere from a few hours to a week. With breast milk, for example, it takes 1.5 weeks for the milk to harden after mixing it with epoxy resin and taking its final form and shape to be fitted into the jewelry.

Final polishing of the jewelry

Throughout this process, it’s the relationships formed with their customers that Patrick values above anything. “Customer service is at the heart of milk-design,” he said. “Every customer gets a reply in a few minutes after the initial request in every popular messenger.”

Once the order is ready, it is packaged up in a nice box and sent off to the customer. “Because our products are so personal, we get lots of letters from our clients. Many of them cry when they open the box for the first time. It’s truly a special piece of memory,” said Patrick. “You couldn’t make it more unique.”

Every part of milk-design’s personalized jewelry is customized

Starting from the initial idea in 2018, the company’s workflow and customizations – from product to service – has made milk-design the market leader in personalized jewelry, not just in Germany but all over Europe.

“European jewelry businesses and goldsmiths are very conservative and old-fashioned. They use really old machines and still rely heavily on manual labor. The whole process takes a really long time and the final result is not perfect,” explained Patrick. “And if you make a mistake, you have to start over.”

But Patrick and his team now believe that to be an ineffective approach. “You can design much faster and create more perfect jewelry with modern machinery, like Artec Micro,” he said. “Just imagine, it takes over 2 to 3 weeks to create a ring with a regular goldsmith. And I can simply 3D print if I want 1000, 2000, or 3000 rings in over 3 hours. It just depends on how many printers I have!”

Patrick scans a ring with Micro

Based on their initial success, the company is planning to open studios in Austria and Switzerland in the coming year, and over 20 more outlets in the next couple of years. From an initial team of two, the company now employs five people, and is planning to hire five more in the coming months, including designers who will also work with the scanner.

“What makes us different is that we create personalized jewelry professionally. Most jewelry makers who are doing similar things are doing so in their spare time, as a hobby, and they can’t deliver such quality and speed. And that is what makes us a market leader,” Patrick said.

The milk-design Manufaktur team. From left: jewelry designer Josi Borch and founders Patrick Hübner & Josephine Hammer.

Looking ahead, the team is planning to offer 3D scanning as an add-on premium service for their customers who want further customization. The company also plans to work with additional materials such as wood, concrete, and glass, to create even more beautiful and unique custom-made jewelry for their clients.

“We see a lot of potential from 3D scanning, designing, and printing for our business,” said Patrick. “Many people I’m talking to don’t see it when they look at the price of the scanner. But if you invest once, you can do business just with scanning. Many businesses still create jewelry with their hands, but by mixing technology and manual work, you can be much more creative and spend less time on doing something that you can automate. That’s what Artec Micro allows us to do. It’s a one-time investment and it’s 100% worth it.”