Tucked away in one of the many narrow alleyways in Bourj Hammoud is Ralph Rizk’s jewelry prototype 3D printing store. While the 3D Matrix and Diamond office space appears small and unimpressive, the technological work that gets done there cuts the jewelry manufacturing time by more than half and increases the precision in the end result immensely, according to Rizk.
Rizk says he started learning about the jewelry making business at the young age of seven as both his father and grandfather were jewelry designers. Gradually he began finding ways to modernize the business, moving from purely handmade to incorporating more technology and opening his own jewelry prototype making business in 1997 with no partners or other investors.
Rizk experimented with various technologies, including laser cutting, to increase the efficiency of his prototyping. He hit the jackpot with his purchase of Matrix, a 3D computer program and printer for wax prototypes, in 2004. Rizk says the cost of the machine starts at $54,788 – going up according to size – aside from the taxes and transportation fees of bringing it to Lebanon; its operational costs reach up to $30,000 to $40,000 annually depending on the volume of work.
Rizk explains that he essentially takes any design, be it hand drawn or photographed, runs it through a series of Matrix’s computer programs where he sets the stone dimensions, draws other details and checks for errors before finally printing the prototype. The whole process takes a maximum of seven hours, whereas the manual designing of the same prototype would take up to four days and would be much less precise and detailed.
While Rizk taught himself to use Matrix, today he offers a series of twelve courses for $1,500, where he teaches the basic techniques of using the 3D printer, leaving the design, sense and style up to the individual designer. Still, Rizk says there are only a handful of designers who have the same machine as him in Lebanon.
When the situation in the region was stable, Rizk sold his prototypes to jewelry factories, ateliers and stores in Lebanon and several other countries in the region, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, UAE, Jordan, as well as countries such as Australia and France, who he says prefer Lebanese prototypes because they are cheaper.
Today, he says business is down by 80 percent, and his plans to expand his business into Syria, where the majority of his non-Lebanese clients used to come from, have been shelved until better days.