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Rolling Forward

One of the reasons many jewelry designers like to use a pencil to sketch their designs is because the utensil allows them to go back and easily make changes to their work. The same can be said for jewelry designers who’ve embraced computer-aided design (CAD). “CAD is amazing,” says Robin Waynee of Ryan Roberts Ltd. in Chimayo, New Mexico. “You can create a piece of jewelry, play with metal, stone settings, all at your fingertips.” It can even take you places you never imagined.

That was certainly the case with Waynee. In 2009 she fabricated a rolling pearl bracelet featuring links that housed Tahitian pearls that were pinned so they rolled freely as the bracelet was worn. (The bracelet later won first place in the silver/Argentium category of Rio Grande’s annual Saul Bell Design Award competition.) “I wanted to revisit the rolling concept,” she explains. “I started designing another bracelet, initially drawing it out on paper before I took it to CAD because I had so many design ideas.”

As she played with the design in CAD, it began to evolve. “I had it together and I was playing with metal choices,” she says. “Somewhere along the way I wound up being inspired to make a pendant with the bracelet design. I looked at the initial link design I had created for the bracelet and realized that it could be more than a bracelet.”

But, since the original link was designed to be part of a bracelet, Waynee had to make some modifications along the way. “Initially the link was sized for a bracelet, but I wanted the pendant to have presence, so I went up to a 12.1 mm–sized pearl, adjusting the metal around it to accommodate the larger pearl.”

In addition to allowing Waynee to easily alter her design, CAD enabled her to overcome several technical challenges.

Since the pearl is meant to roll, Waynee needed to make sure the metal surrounding it was precise. “Because the pearl spins freely within the surround, clearance is critical,” she explains. “CAD allowed me to precisely create the pearl surround.”

It also enabled her to create holes in the surround for the pin that would secure the pearl in place. “It’s hard to drill this type of hole in reality,” she says. “Using CAD allowed me to virtually drill the holes and have them perfectly centered.”

Vision Awards Robin Waynee BackCAD was also critical in enabling Waynee to make the piece reversible: It allowed her to easily duplicate the main body of the centerpiece, and then alter the two sides to make each one unique. “The program lets you build locator tabs into the piece that make it easy to line everything up precisely during assembly,” she says.

In addition, CAD saved her a great deal of time. Her initial sketch for the pendant was very basic. Working with the digital sketch allowed her to play with different variations for the diamonds and sapphires that adorn the two sides of the pendant, making the precision layout for the pavé and flush-set stones quick and easy. Once she was satisfied with the layout, Waynee had the 1.5 mm–thick mirrored pieces cast in palladium.

But CAD wasn’t necessary for every part of the pendant. “I sketched out by hand the upper and lower v-shaped pieces for the top and bottom of the pendant,” says Waynee. “The design was so straightforward, it was easy to quickly fabricate those pieces by hand.”

Although this project had her wielding both a pencil and her computer mouse, Waynee ultimately credits the pendant’s creation to CAD. “It resolves any design issues,” she says. “You can try something this way, try it that way, all with the click of a button, and without wasting any metal. It’s pretty awesome,” she concludes, a sentiment she would feel confident making in permanent marker.


This pendant is an MJSA Vision Award winner for 2014. Since 1990, the Vision Awards have recognized the best in jewelry making and design, showcasing the work of professionals and students alike, and that tradition still holds true today.

This article was written by Shawna Kulpa, and originally published in MJSA Journal.

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