Title:
Multiplet gemstones with directly printed embedded translucent images
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A multiplet gemstone is described having a first and a second layer of gemstone material, the first and second layers each having an interfacial surface; and wherein one of the interfacial surfaces has a translucent image printed thereon. A method of making the multiplet gemstone is described including a first step of providing a first layer of gemstone material having at least one flat surface; a second step of providing a second layer of gemstone material having at least one flat surface; a third step of direct printing a translucent image onto the flat surface of the first layer; and a fourth step of bonding the flat surface of the first layer to the flat surface of the second layer to manufacture the multiplet gemstone.



Inventors:
Malinowski, Jack (Austin, TX, US)
Application Number:
11/368742
Publication Date:
09/13/2007
Filing Date:
03/06/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A44C17/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
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20090056374Gemstone Facet ConfigurationMarch, 2009Abate
20090151395INTERCHANGEABLE RING SYSTEM JEWELRYJune, 2009Louk et al.
20090260396METHODS FOR PROCESSING ORNAMENTAL DIAMONDS AND CORRESPONDING ORNAMENTAL DIAMONDSOctober, 2009Broukman et al.
20060059947Timepiece hidden within jewelry bodyMarch, 2006Gore
20080236195BangleOctober, 2008Woebke
20040172969Gem formationSeptember, 2004Buchberger et al.
20090013721CLASPJanuary, 2009Murao
20080271483Memorabilia and charm displayNovember, 2008Horkey



Primary Examiner:
RODRIGUEZ, RUTH C
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
John Bruckner PC (P.O. Box 1268, Allen, TX, 75013-0020, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An article of manufacture comprising a multiplet gemstone including: a first layer of gemstone material having a first interfacial surface; and a second layer of gemstone coupled to the first layer of gemstone material, the second layer of material having a second interfacial surface, wherein at least one surface selected from the group consisting of the first interfacial surface and the second interfacial surface has a translucent image directly printed thereon.

2. The article of manufacture of claim 1, wherein the first layer of gemstone material and the second layer of gemstone material are bonded together at the interfacial surfaces with an adhesive, the adhesive having an index of refraction substantially the same as the first layer of gemstone material and the second layer of gemstone material.

3. The article of manufacture of claim 1, wherein the first layer of gemstone material defines a gem crown and the second layer of gemstone material defines a gem pavilion.

4. The article of manufacture of claim 1, wherein the first layer of gemstone material includes at least one member selected from the group consisting of diamond, cubic zirconia, spinel, topaz, sapphire, topaz, beryl, and quartz.

5. The article of manufacture of claim 1, wherein the second layer of gemstone material includes at least one member selected from the group consisting of diamond, cubic zirconia, spinel, topaz, sapphire, topaz, beryl and quartz.

6. The article of manufacture of claim 1, wherein the translucent image includes an ink that substantially transmits light and substantially does not scatter light.

7. The article of manufacture of claim 6, wherein the ink includes a dye.

8. The article of manufacture of claim 7, wherein the dye is selected from the group comprising azo dyes, anthraquinone dyes, aminostyryl dyes, disulphone dyes, oxonol dyes, carbonyl dyes, and phthalocyanine dyes, or mixtures thereof.

9. The article of manufacture of claim 6, wherein the ink includes a pigment including pigment particles less than 0.1 micron in diameter, coated with resin, having a substantially smooth and round shape, and being substantially uniform in size.

10. The article of manufacture of claim 6, wherein the ink includes a combination of a dye and a pigment including pigment particles less than 0.1 micron in diameter, coated with resin, having a substantially smooth and round shape, and being substantially uniform in size.

11. The article of manufacture of claim 6, wherein the ink includes a UV cured ink.

12. The article of manufacture of claim 11, wherein the first and second layers are bonded together at the interfacial surfaces with the UV cured ink, the UV cured ink comprising an epoxy resin having an index of refraction substantially the same as the first and second layers.

13. The article of manufacture of claim 1, wherein the translucent image includes a pixilated digital photographic image.

14. The article of manufacture of claim 1, wherein the translucent image includes a magnetic strip containing electronic data.

15. The article of manufacture of claim 1, wherein the translucent image includes an electrical circuit, wherein the electrical circuit is powered by a method selected from the group of inductive power, photovoltaic power, and thermal power.

16. An article of manufacture comprising a multiplet gemstone including: a first layer of gemstone material having a first interfacial surface; and a second layer of gemstone coupled to the first layer of gemstone material, the second layer of material having a second interfacial surface, wherein at least one surface selected from the group consisting of the first interfacial surface and the second interfacial surface has a pixilated digital photographic translucent image directly printed thereon, the pixilated digital photographic translucent image including an ink that substantially transmits light and substantially does not scatter light, wherein the first layer of gemstone material and the second layer of gemstone material are bonded together at the interfacial surfaces with a UV curing adhesive having an index of refraction substantially the same as the first layer of gemstone material and the second layer of gemstone material.

17. A method comprising: a first step of providing a first layer of gemstone material having a first flat surface; a second step of providing a second layer of gemstone material having a second flat surface; a third step of direct printing a translucent image onto at least one member selected from the group consisting of the first flat surface and the second flat surface; and then a fourth step of bonding the first flat surface to the second flat surface, thereby creating a multiplet gemstone containing the translucent image.

18. The method of claim 17, wherein the translucent image includes an ink that substantially transmits light and substantially does not scatter light.

19. The method of claim 17, wherein the third step includes using an inkjet printer.

20. The method of claim 18, wherein the ink includes a dye.

21. The method of claim 20, wherein the dye is selected from the group comprising azo dyes, anthraquinone dyes, aminostyryl dyes, disulphone dyes, oxonol dyes, carbonyl dyes, and phthalocyanine dyes, or mixtures thereof; and where the ink includes a solvent selected from the group comprising methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), gamma-butyrolactone, isopropyl alcohol, or mixtures thereof.

22. The method of claim 18, wherein the ink includes a pigment comprising pigment particles less than 0.1 micron in diameter, coated with resin, having a substantially smooth and round shape, and being substantially uniform in size.

23. The method of claim 18, wherein the ink includes a combination of a dye and a pigment comprising pigment particles less than 0.1 micron in diameter, coated with resin, having a substantially smooth and round shape, and being substantially uniform in size.

24. The method of claim 18, wherein the ink includes a UV curable ink.

25. The method of claim 24, wherein the first and second layers are bonded together at the flat surfaces through curing of the UV curable ink, the UV curable ink comprising an epoxy resin having an index of refraction substantially the same as the first gemstone layer and the second gemstone layer.

26. The method of claim 17 wherein the third step includes using a dye sublimation printer.

27. The method of claim 17, wherein the third step includes using an electrophotographic printer.

28. The method of claim 27, wherein the toner used by the electrophotographic printer includes a combination of resin particles and dyes, wherein the resin particles are less than or equal to approximately 8 microns and have a substantially round and smooth shape.

29. The method of claim 17, further comprising: prior to the third step, a step of cleaning the flat surface of the first layer.

30. The method of claim 29, wherein the step of cleaning includes first washing the flat surface of the first layer with a solution of H2O2—NH4OH—H2O, followed by a solution of H2O2—HCl—H2O.

31. The method of claim 17, further comprising: prior to the fourth step, applying an adhesive to the flat surface of the first gemstone layer, the adhesive having an index of refraction substantially the same as the first gemstone layer and the second gemstone layer.

32. The method of claim 31, wherein the adhesive is a UV curable adhesive, the method further comprising a step of applying UV light to the flat surface after the fourth step.

33. The method of claim 32, wherein an ink is used in the third step and includes a UV curable ink, and the step of applying UV light cures both the UV curable ink and the UV curable adhesive.

34. The method of claim 17, further comprising: prior to fourth step, speeding up the drying time of the translucent image through a method selected form the group of radiant heating and convective heating.

35. A method comprising: providing a tray having a plurality of recesses shaped to receive a set of first layers of gemstone materials; loading the plurality of recesses with the set of first layers of gemstone materials, each member of the set of first layers of gemstone materials having an exposed flat surface; directly printing a translucent image onto the exposed flat surface of each member of the set of first layers of gemstone materials; and bonding a second layer of gemstone material to the exposed flat surface of each member of the set of first layers of gemstone materials, thereby creating a set of multiplet gemstones.

36. The method of claim 35 wherein bonding includes locating a quantity of UV curing adhesive between the second layer of gemstone material and the exposed flat surface of each member of the set of first layers of gemstone materials and then UV curing the quantity of UV curing adhesive.

37. The method of claim 35, wherein directly printing includes dye sublimation using at least one dye.

38. The method of claim 37, wherein the at least one dye is selected from the group comprising azo dyes, anthraquinone dyes, aminostyryl dyes, disulphone dyes, oxonol dyes, carbonyl dyes, and phthalocyanine dyes, or mixtures thereof; and where the ink includes a solvent selected from the group comprising methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), gamma-butyrolactone, isopropyl alcohol, or mixtures thereof.

39. A method comprising: providing a first tray having a first plurality of recesses shaped to receive a first set of gemstones; filling the first plurality of recesses with the first set of gemstones; providing a second tray having a second plurality of recesses shaped to receive a second set of gemstones; filling the second plurality of recesses with the second set of gemstones; securing and leveling the first set of gemstones within the first plurality of recesses; direct printing a custom translucent image onto each of the first set of gemstones; aligning the first tray with the second tray to align each of the first set of gemstones with a gemstone from the second set of gemstones, thereby defining a plurality of aligned pairs of gemstones; and bonding each of said plurality of pairs of gemstones together, thereby producing a plurality of multiplet gemstones, each having a custom translucent image embedded therein.

40. The method of claim 39, further comprising applying an adhesive to the flat surface of the first layer prior to aligning the first tray with the second tray, the adhesive having an index of refraction substantially the same as the first and second layers.

41. The method of claim 40, wherein the adhesive is a UV curable adhesive, the method further comprising a step of applying UV light to the flat surface after the aligning of the first tray with the second tray.

42. The method of claim 41, wherein the ink used in the direct printing includes a UV curable ink, and the step of applying UV light cures both the ink and the adhesive.

43. The method of claim 39, wherein the translucent image includes an ink that maximizes light transmission and minimizes scattering of light.

44. The method of claim 39, wherein the direct printing includes using an inkjet printer.

45. The method of claim 43, wherein the ink includes a dye.

46. The method of claim 45, wherein the dye is selected from the group comprising azo dyes, anthraquinone dyes, aminostyryl dyes, disulphone dyes, oxonol dyes, carbonyl dyes, and phthalocyanine dyes, or mixtures thereof; and where the ink includes a solvent selected from the group comprising methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), gamma-butyrolactone, isopropyl alcohol, or mixtures thereof.

47. The method of claim 43, wherein the ink includes a pigment comprising pigment particles less than 0.1 micron in diameter, coated with resin, having a substantially smooth and round shape, and being substantially uniform in size.

48. The method of claim 43, wherein the ink includes a combination of a dye and a pigment comprising pigment particles less than 0.1 micron in diameter, coated with resin, having a substantially smooth and round shape, and being substantially uniform in size.

49. The method of claim 43, wherein the ink includes a UV curable ink.

50. The method of claim 49, wherein the bonding is performed through curing the UV curable ink, the UV curable ink comprising an epoxy resin having an index of refraction substantially the same as the first and second layers

51. The method of claim 39 wherein the direct printing includes using a dye sublimation printer.

52. The method of claim 39, wherein the direct printing includes using an electrophotographic printer.

53. The method of claim 52, wherein the toner used by the electrophotographic printer includes a combination of resin particles and dyes, wherein the resin particles are smaller than 8 microns and have a substantially round and smooth shape.

54. The method of claim 39, further comprising: prior to the direct printing, a step of cleaning the flat surface of the first layer.

55. The method of claim 54, wherein the step of cleaning includes first washing the flat surface of the first layer with a solution of H2O2—NH4OH—H2O, followed by a solution of H2O2—HCl—H2O.

56. The method of claim 39, further comprising: directly after the direct printing, speeding up the drying time of the translucent image through a method selected form the group of radiant heating and convective heating.

57. The method of claim 39, wherein the securing and leveling is done by a method selected from the group of applying a rigid lattice to the first tray, applying vacuum suction to the bottom of each of the first set of gemstones, or applying a non-setting adhesive to the bottom of each of the first plurality of recesses.

58. The method of claim 39, wherein the translucent image includes a pixilated digital photographic image.

59. The method of claim 39, wherein the translucent image includes a magnetic strip containing electronic data.

60. The method of claim 39, wherein the translucent image includes an electrical circuit, wherein the electrical circuit is powered by a method selected from the group of inductive power, photovoltaic power and thermal power.

Description:

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

1. Field of the Invention

Embodiments of the invention relate generally to the field of jewelry. More particularly, an embodiment of the invention relates to gemstones with embedded translucent images, and methods of making such gemstones.

2. Discussion of the Related Art

Prior art jewelry products composed of more than one piece of gemstone material, sometimes called multiplet gemstones, are known to those skilled in the art. For instance, a conventional multiplet gemstone is typically composed of two layers of gemstone material, a crown and a pavilion.

A problem with this technology has been the embedding of images within a gemstone. An image embedded within a gemstone is esthetically pleasing. Furthermore, the inclusion of a custom image selected by a wearer of the jewelry item adds significant sentimental value and personal meaning to a given gemstone within a jewelry item. Some examples of such custom images could include pictures of family members or friends, baby pictures or pictures of pets, or images having religious significance for the wearer. Therefore, what is needed is a multiplet gemstone with a custom image embedded within and a reliable method of manufacturing such a gemstone.

One unsatisfactory approach, in an attempt to solve the above-discussed problems involves coating one layer of a gemstone with an opaque material to form insignia thereon and then bonding it with another layer of gemstone to form a composite gemstone with the opaque insignia embedded therein. However, a disadvantage of this approach is that such an opaque image cannot show the details of an image and only appears as a silhouette by light passing through the image. Furthermore, conventional coating processes are inadequate for forming a detailed graphical image on the surface of a gemstone.

US Published Application 20050274144 discloses embedding a translucent image carried by a transparent film within a gemstone.

Another disadvantage of the above approaches has been the relatively high cost of producing custom designs. Therefore, what is also needed is a solution that meets the above-discussed requirements in a more cost-effective manner.

Heretofore, the requirements of embedding graphically detailed translucent images within gemstones and providing a cost effective method of embedding custom images within gemstones referred to above have not been fully met. What is needed is a solution that solves both of these problems.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

There is a need for the following embodiments of the invention. Of course, the invention is not limited to these embodiments.

According to an embodiment of the invention, a jewelry product comprises a first and a second layer of gemstone material, the first and second layers each having an interfacial surface; wherein one of the interfacial surfaces has a translucent image printed thereon. According to another embodiment of the invention, a process comprises providing a first layer of gemstone material having at least one flat surface; providing a second layer of gemstone material having at least one flat surface; direct printing a translucent image onto the flat surface of the first layer; bonding the flat surface of the first layer to the flat surface of the second layer, thereby creating a multiplet gemstone product.

These, and other, embodiments of the invention will be better appreciated and understood when considered in conjunction with the following description and the accompanying drawings. It should be understood, however, that the following description, while indicating various embodiments of the invention and numerous specific details thereof, is given for the purpose of illustration and does not imply limitation. Many substitutions, modifications, additions and/or rearrangements may be made within the scope of an embodiment of the invention without departing from the spirit thereof, and embodiments of the invention include all such substitutions, modifications, additions and/or rearrangements.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The drawings accompanying and forming part of this specification are included to depict certain embodiments of the invention. A clearer concept of embodiments of the invention, and of components combinable with embodiments of the invention, and operation of systems provided with embodiments of the invention, will be readily apparent by referring to the exemplary, and therefore nonlimiting, embodiments illustrated in the drawings (wherein identical reference numerals (if they occur in more than one view) designate the same elements). Embodiments of the invention may be better understood by reference to one or more of these drawings in combination with the following description presented herein. It should be noted that the features illustrated in the drawings are not necessarily drawn to scale.

FIG. 1 illustrates a duplet having an embedded directly printed photographic image, representing an embodiment of the invention.

FIGS. 2A-2B illustrate effects of surface roughness of the printed image on light transmission through a duplet having an embedded directly printed image, representing an embodiment of the invention.

FIGS. 3a-3g illustrate isometric views of a process for making duplets having an embedded directly printed image, representing an embodiment of the invention.

FIGS. 4a-4g illustrate orthographic views of a process for making duplets having an embedded directly printed image, representing an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 5 shows a triplet having an embedded directly printed magnetic strip combined with an imbedded directly printed photographic image, representing an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 6 shows a double having an embedded directly printed electronic circuit, representing an embodiment of the invention.

DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Embodiments of the invention and the various features and advantageous details thereof are explained more fully with reference to the nonlimiting embodiments that are illustrated in the accompanying drawings and detailed in the following description. Descriptions of well known starting materials, processing techniques, components and equipment are omitted so as not to unnecessarily obscure the embodiments of the invention in detail. It should be understood, however, that the detailed description and the specific examples, while indicating preferred embodiments of the invention, are given by way of illustration only and not by way of limitation. Various substitutions, modifications, additions and/or rearrangements within the spirit and/or scope of the underlying inventive concept will become apparent to those skilled in the art from this disclosure.

Reference is first made to FIG. 1, which shows one embodiment of the product of the invention. FIG. 1 shows a multiplet jewelry product, in this case a doublet, consisting of two layers, a crown (20) and a pavilion (30), sharing an interfacial surface. A translucent image (10) is embedded within the gemstone, between the crown and pavilion layers. In this case, the image has been directly printed onto the flat interfacial surface of the pavilion layer. As can be seen in FIG. 1, for maximum viewability of the image, a large table in the crown layer is desired. The less faceting is present in the cut, the better the visibility of the image. Additionally, the facets of the bottom layer, in this case the pavilion, are cut at an angle to direct reflected and refracted light through the translucent image. FIG. 1 shows an emerald cut, one example of such a desired cut. Another example of a cut with a large table is a barion cut, shown in FIG. 5. However, any cut may be employed with the invention, such as a brilliant, rose-cut, marquis, baguette, or cabochon cut. Any gemstone material may be used. Examples include, but are not limited to, diamond, cubic zirconia, spinel, topaz, sapphire, topaz, beryl, quartz, and rock crystal.

The image (10) in the gemstone of FIG. 1 is a graphically detailed image which is printed directly onto the interfacial surface of one of the gemstone layers. Various printing technologies exist which may be utilized for printing the image.

Inks and paints are composed of three main ingredients, the carrier fluid, additives, and the colorant. The carrier fluid keeps the ink in a liquid state and allows delivery to the substrate. It evaporates as the ink dries and frequently includes a co-solvent to speed up drying time. The additives typically comprise a small fraction of the total ink volume and serve to control such factors as dot grain, drop formation, print head corrosion and clogging, pH level, fade resistance, adhesion, and abrasion resistance of the ink. The colorant is that which is left after the ink dries. The two main types of colorant are dyes and pigments. A dye is fully dissolved in the carrier fluid and typically comprises small organic molecules. Pigments consist of small solid particles suspended in the carrier fluid. What is desired is an ink that maximizes light transmission and minimizes scattering of light.

FIG. 2a shows the effects on light transmitted through an image printed with a pigment based ink. Light entering the gemstone (210) and getting internally reflected hits the image from below. This is the light which defines the brilliance of the gemstone and allows details of the image to come through. Since pigment particles are generally opaque, light hitting the particles will get absorbed or reflected (211). Light which hits the sides of the particles will tend to scatter (212). Only a small portion of the light will pass through and contribute to the visibility of the image. Light hitting the image from above (215) will get reflected, however, since the surface of the print will be uneven due to the pigment particles, which can have irregular shapes and be variable in size, much of it will be scattered (216). These issues can be mitigated by using pigments consisting of pigment particles less than 0.1 micron in diameter, which are substantially uniform in size, and have a substantially smooth and round shape. To improve adherence to a non-porous substrate such as a gemstone material, the pigment particles are typically coated with resin. Examples of pigments which can be used with the invention include, but are not limited to, metallic inorganic pigments and salts of multi-ring, nitrogen containing compounds. Pigments with more translucence, which are preferable, are resin pigments, for example styrene acrylate copolymer or polyester polymers, mixed with dyes, which are also used as toner. Such a toner may also be used with the invention with an electrophotographic printing method, although the use of toner will lead to a thicker image due to the larger particle size, and may impede the bonding of the two gemstone layers together.

Applicable toners preferably have resin particles that are 8 microns or smaller in size and have a substantially round and smooth shape.

FIG. 2b, in contrast, shows light transmission through a gemstone having an image printed using a dye-based ink. Light entering the gemstone (220) and getting internally reflected penetrates the image and exits back out through the table (222), due to the higher translucence and smoother surface. Likewise, light (225) entering from top and getting reflected (226) suffers less scattering and improves the color brilliance of the image. The translucency of such an ink is easily adjusted by adjusting the ratio of concentrations of the dye colorants and the carrier fluid, thereby obtaining the maximum desired transmission of light through the image.

Therefore, dye-based inks are preferred for the product and method of the invention, as they lead to higher translucency and minimize scattering. Another advantage of dyes is the larger color space compared to pigments. One main apparent disadvantage of dyes is their lack of durability, represented by such factors as water fastness, fade resistance, and abrasion resistance. However, these concerns are severely mitigated in the present application, since the image becomes embedded. Water fastness and abrasion resistance are thus not a concern. Most fade resistance is a result of oxidation under UV light exposure, and since the image is enclosed with no access to oxygen or other degrading chemicals, oxidation of the dyes does not occur. Dyes which are applicable for use with the invention include, but are not limited to, azo dyes (which comprise 60-70% of all dyes), anthraquinone dyes, aminostyryl dyes, disulphone dyes, oxonol dyes, carbonyl dyes, and phthalocyanine dyes.

The ink carrier or solvent controls the delivery of the ink and the drying time. Solvents applicable to the invention include, but are not limited to, water, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), gamma-butyrolactone, isopropyl alcohol, or mixtures thereof. Water in not preferred, since it has a long drying time compared to the other solvents. MEK is a common inkjet solvent with a very fast drying time and is suitable for nonporous substrates, such as those of the invention.

Another type of ink which may be used in the context of the invention is a UV curable ink. After the droplet of UV ink hits the substrate, it is polymerized by being subjected to UV light. A UV ink consists of a monomer, an initiator which initiates polymerization, a pigment or a dye, a solvent, and a diluent. The monomer polymerizes into an epoxy resin. A more detailed discussion of epoxy resins is presented below in the discussion on adhesives. Any dyes or solvents mentioned above may be used. Diluents serve to reduce the viscosity of the epoxy and allow delivery through an inkjet print head. Examples of such diluents are vinyl pyrrolidine and n-isobutyl alcohol. UV inks based on biphenol epoxies are an effective choice, as the index of refraction matches that of many gemstone materials. The curing step may further be combined with the curing step for the adhesive, if a UV curable adhesive is used to bond the two pieces of gemstone material together. Alternately, the epoxy of the ink can serve as the adhesive as well, and the curing of the ink be performed after the second layer of gemstone is placed on top of the image, effectively curing the ink and bonding the two layers of gemstone material together. This would eliminate the need for the adhesive step.

It must be noted that the use of pigment based inks still falls within the scope of the invention, as do inks whose colorants are combinations of dyes and pigments.

Methods of printing the image onto the gemstone will now be described. Drop-on-demand inkjet printing is a versatile printing method known to all skilled in the art. Inkjet printers work by either creating a drop of ink to be delivered to the substrate through pressure created by activating a piezoelectric ceramic, or by vaporizing an ink vapor bubble through heat created by activating a heating element (also known as bubblejet printers). Inkjet printers deliver photographic quality prints with high resolution, are cost effective, fast, and reliable. Inkjet printers can print on a variety of substrates, including nonporous materials such as gemstones. Inks can be quickly switched by replacing a cartridge and allow for cost effective printing of custom images.

Another printing method sharing many of the same advantages is dye sublimation printing. Dye sublimation is a type of thermal transfer printing utilizing a transfer medium, such as a ribbon, with an ink layer. The thermal medium is placed in close proximity with the substrate and small heating elements are selectively applied to the back side of the transfer medium, vaporizing the dye and transferring it to the substrate. Since the ink is vaporized, more blending of the ink on the substrate occurs, reducing dot grain and resulting in clean, sharp, photographic images. Clearly, only dye-based inks may be used in dye sublimation. Any of the dyes mentioned above may be used. However, the use of dye sublimation requires some absorption of the dye by the substrate, and thus for nonporous materials, an image receiving layer must be deposited onto the substrate. Examples of materials for the image receiving layer include, but are not limited to, vinyl copolymers, such as vinyl chloride and vinyl acetate, aromatic polyesters, and styrene acrylonitrite acrylates. Additionally, and adhesive layer may be provided underneath the image receiving layer to bond it to the substrate, or binder may be included in the image receiving layer. Examples of binders include, but are not limited to, polycarbonate, polyurethane, polyester, and polyvinyl chloride polymers.

Electrophotographic printers (laser printers) may also be used. Toner, made of particles 8-12 microns in size and typically a pigment or a mixture of resin and dyes, is picked up by a drum which has been selectively charged, for example a with a laser, to correspond with the image. The toner is then transferred through heat and pressure to the substrate, where it partially melts and fuses with the substrate. Electrophotographic printers are fast, offer high quality images, but are more expensive. As stated above, toner is very similar to a pigment-based ink in terms of light properties and in addition leads to a thicker image and thus this is not the most preferred method for this invention.

Three common methods are employed in the art for bonding crystalline layers. The first method is that of optical contacting, which is done at room temperature and does not use any adhesive. Optical contacting requires a very thorough preparation of the bonding surfaces, which must be thoroughly cleaned to remove any contaminants and polished to minimize surface roughness. The surfaces are then brought together and pressure is applied to achieve a chemical bond. However, this method is highly sensitive to contamination, does not result in reliable bond strength, is sensitive to thermal shock, and requires flat surfaces. In the invention, the thickness of the printed image would interfere with this contact, unless it was printed into a recess in the interfacial surface, which would unnecessarily add processing steps and expense. The second method employed is that of high temperature frit bonding. This method uses low melting point glass frit and is carried out at temperatures of 400-650° C., which is too high for the present application, as it would destroy the printed image. Furthermore, frit bonding is not suitable for precision structural work and generally leaves an opaque bond.

The third, and most applicable method, is through the use of an adhesive, typically an epoxy resin. The three most common methods of setting, or curing, such an epoxy are through the use of heat (typically low temperatures under 60° C.), UV light, using a hardener, or a combination thereof. A conventional two-pack epoxy consists of the epoxy, such as a bisphenol resin base, and a hardener or curing agent, such as an aliphatic polyamine. Numerous epoxy resin compositions exist, which vary greatly in the refractive indices, optical losses, and adhesive strengths. The refractive indices of bisphenol A epoxies derived from polyglycols are in the 1.54-1.60 range. It is of course desirable to match the refractive index of the epoxy to that of the gemstone material. The refractive indices of some common gemstone materials are 2.4 for diamond, 2.1-2.2 for cubic zirconium, 1.7-1.75 for spinel, 1.6 for topaz, 1.76-1.78 for sapphire, 1.57-1.6 for beryl, 1.54 for quartz. Bisphenol A epoxies are thus quite suitable for some of these materials. The epoxy with the closest index of refraction may be selected for the gemstone used. The index of refraction of epoxies may be altered by the addition of reactive diluents, which polymerize upon curing. Examples of diluents which will increase the index of refraction are N-vinyl-2-pyrrolidone, 2′-oxybenzophenone-2-ethoxy-ethyl acrylate and 2-phenoxy-ethyl acrylate. Examples of diluents which decrease the index of refraction are 2-ethoxy-ethyl acrylate and 2′-ethoxy-2-ethoxy-ethyl acrylate. In general, adding ring structures and increasing the molecular weight of the epoxy will lead to higher indices of refraction. Lowering of the index of refraction may also be accomplished by fluorinating the resin, the hardener, as well as the active diluents. Flourinating also increases the wettability of the epoxy.

UV curable epoxy may also be used with the invention. Examples of UV curable epoxies are aliphatic urethane-based oligomers or ester-based acrylate compounds. Typical curing times range from 30 seconds to 10 minutes with UV light in the 254 to 420 nm range. The exact curing conditions can be adjusted according to the specific requirements of the materials used. Caution must be exercised when using dye-based inks, however, as these inks are susceptible to UV damage and the curing conditions can cause a degradation of the image.

Within the scope of the invention, the epoxy is preferably applied with an inkjet printer around the border of each of the first set of gemstone layers. In order to reduce the viscosity of the epoxy and allow delivery through an inkjet print head, diluents are added. Examples of such diluents include, but are not limited to, vinyl pyrrolidine and n-isobutyl alcohol. Other methods of applying the adhesive may be used, such as mechanical syringes.

EXAMPLES

Specific embodiments of the invention will now be further described by the following, nonlimiting examples which will serve to illustrate in some detail various features. The following examples are included to facilitate an understanding of ways in which an embodiment of the invention may be practiced. It should be appreciated that the examples which follow represent embodiments discovered to function well in the practice of the invention, and thus can be considered to constitute preferred mode(s) for the practice of the embodiments of the invention. However, it should be appreciated that many changes can be made in the exemplary embodiments which are disclosed while still obtaining like or similar result without departing from the spirit and scope of an embodiment of the invention. Accordingly, the examples should not be construed as limiting the scope of the invention.

FIGS. 3a-g and 4a-g show a preferred embodiment of the method of the invention, illustrating the various steps in the manufacture of the gemstone product. In FIG. 3a, a custom tray (310) or template is provided, having recesses shaped to receive a series of first gemstone layers. In this case, as shown in FIG. 4a, the recesses are shaped to receive the pavilion sections of the gemstones. Such a tray can be manufactured for each common shape of gemstone utilized in this process. The tray can be cast around the gemstones by pouring a UV curable epoxy which is subsequently cured. Or the tray can be injection molded or machined. In FIG. 3b, the recesses are filled with the first layer of gemstones (320).

It is imperative that the flat surfaces of the gemstones be secured and horizontally leveled with the surface of the tray to facilitate the printing of the image. This can be accomplished in several ways. In FIG. 3c, a lattice structure (330) is shown, securing and leveling the gemstones to the tray by applying direct pressure around the borders of each gemstone. The lattice structure may be made from any structural material, such as a metal. The lattice structure can be secured to the tray through mechanical means, such as adjustable screws, or through magnetic means by making parts of the tray magnetic. An alternate method of securing the gemstones in the tray is through vacuum suction, by providing small openings at the bottom of each recess in the tray. Another alternate method of securing the gemstones in the tray is by applying a small amount of non-setting adhesive to the bottom of each recess in the tray. It is within the scope of the invention to provide more elaborate means of leveling the gemstones. The presence and horizontal level of each gemstone may also be checked with a sensor, such as a laser. Alternately, alignment marks may be laser scribed onto the flat surface of the gemstones and, once the gemstones are placed in the recesses, alignment checked optically by locating the alignment marks.

It is further imperative that the tray be aligned with the print head to ensure the correct printing of each image on the gemstones. The correct manufacture of the tray will ensure the precise location of the recesses, which correspond to a predetermined template in the software used to print the custom images. The tray is aligned with the print head through methods known to one skilled in the art, such by providing an alignment mark on the tray.

After the gemstones are secured and aligned, the surface of the gemstones are cleaned (340) to prepare them for printing. This is illustrated in FIG. 3d and FIG. 4d. Any conventional cleaning solution may be used, such as the SC1 and SC2 cleaning solutions commonly used to clean silicon wafers. SC1 solution consists of NH4OH/H2O2/H2O and removes any organics or particles from the surface. SC2 solution consists of HCl/H2O2/H2O and removes any metal contaminants from the surface.

FIG. 3e and FIG. 4e shows the step of printing the images. The inkjet printer method is illustrated. A print head (340) moves above the tray and prints a custom image onto each gemstone. The individual images are placed into a graphical template in the software used to print the images. The images can be sent in by a customer through the internet or by scanning the image in at a self-serving kiosk. While an inkjet method is illustrated in this embodiment, the other printing methods described above may equally be used. After the images are printed, the drying time may be speeded up through the use of convective or radiant heating.

After the ink has dried, the adhesive is applied to the gemstones. FIG. 3f and FIG. 4f illustrate an inkjet printhead (360) applying the adhesive around the border of the gemstones. This may be the same print head used to print the image, with a different cartridge. As stated above, the step of printing the image and applying the adhesive may be combined into one step by using a UV curable ink.

FIGS. 3g and 4g show the next step in the process. A second tray (370) is provided, which has recesses shaped to accommodate the plurality of second gemstone layers, in this case the crown portions (380). The same requirements for securing and leveling the crown portions within the recesses must be met as was stated above for the first tray. However, a lattice cannot be used at this point and must also be removed from the first tray to allow for the mating of the crown and pavilion sections. The crown portions can be secured in the second tray through vacuum suction or through the use of a non-setting adhesive, such as a poly-butene adhesive. Alignment of the first and second tray is crucial and may be realized through matching alignment marks on the first and second tray, or through matching projections and recesses in the two trays. The two trays may also be aligned with robotic arms or hydraulic plates. Pressure is then applied and if the adhesive or ink used is a curable adhesive, heat or UV light is applied. The top tray is then removed and the composite gemstones are taken out.

Even though the present embodiment illustrates printing the images on the pavilion section of the resulting composite gemstone, the image can equally be printed onto the crown section.

An embodiment of the invention can also include the printing of a magnetic strip containing digital information. This would require the inclusion of magnetic pigment in the ink. Embedding a magnetic strip would allow the composite gemstone to be used as an identifying device. It would also allow the embedding of a credit card (510) with a magnetic strip (520) into a gemstone as shown in FIG. 5, which could be worn as a ring. Such an application would minimize the potential for loss or theft of a credit card, and would facilitate purchasing by placing the ring in the vicinity of a sensor. Alternately, such a ring with an identifying magnetic strip could be used to control access to secure areas to authorized individuals.

Reference will now be made to FIG. 6. Another embodiment of the invention can include the embedding of functional electric circuits (610) into a gemstone. Such circuits can be powered inductively, through photovoltaic (e.g., solar) power, or thermally by including contacts which would touch a wearer's skin. Examples of applications of such a circuit include circuits with identifying information verifiable inductively or providing a small display screen within the gem for receiving and displaying information.

An embodiment of the invention can also be included in a kit-of-parts. The kit-of-parts can include some, or all, of the components that an embodiment of the invention includes. The kit-of-parts can be an in-the-field retrofit kit-of-parts to improve existing systems that are capable of incorporating an embodiment of the invention. The kit-of-parts can include software, firmware and/or hardware for carrying out an embodiment of the invention. The kit-of-parts can also contain instructions for practicing an embodiment of the invention. Unless otherwise specified, the components, software, firmware, hardware and/or instructions of the kit-of-parts can be the same as those used in an embodiment of the invention.

The particular manufacturing process used for printing the image should be inexpensive and reproducible. Conveniently, an embodiment of the method of the invention can be carried out by using any printing method. It is preferred that the process be inkjet printing

However, the particular manufacturing process used for printing is not essential to an embodiment of the invention as long as it provides the described functionality. Normally those who make or use an embodiment of the invention will select the manufacturing process based upon tooling and energy requirements, the expected application requirements of the final product, and the demands of the overall manufacturing process

Definitions

The term substantially is intended to mean largely but not necessarily wholly that which is specified. The term approximately is intended to mean at least close to a given value (e.g., within 10% of). The term generally is intended to mean at least approaching a given state. The term coupled is intended to mean connected, although not necessarily directly, and not necessarily mechanically. The term proximate, as used herein, is intended to mean close, near adjacent and/or coincident; and includes spatial situations where specified functions and/or results (if any) can be carried out and/or achieved. The term deploying is intended to mean designing, building, shipping, installing and/or operating.

The terms first or one, and the phrases at least a first or at least one, are intended to mean the singular or the plural unless it is clear from the intrinsic text of this document that it is meant otherwise. The terms second or another, and the phrases at least a second or at least another, are intended to mean the singular or the plural unless it is clear from the intrinsic text of this document that it is meant otherwise. Unless expressly stated to the contrary in the intrinsic text of this document, the term or is intended to mean an inclusive or and not an exclusive or.

Specifically, a condition A or B is satisfied by any one of the following: A is true (or present) and B is false (or not present), A is false (or not present) and B is true (or present), and both A and B are true (or present). The terms a and/or an are employed for grammatical style and merely for convenience.

The term plurality is intended to mean two or more than two. The term any is intended to mean all applicable members of a set or at least a subset of all applicable members of the set. The term means, when followed by the term “for” is intended to mean hardware, firmware and/or software for achieving a result. The term step, when followed by the term “for” is intended to mean a (sub)method, (sub)process and/or (sub)routine for achieving the recited result.

The terms “comprises,” “comprising,” “includes,” “including,” “has,” “having” or any other variation thereof, are intended to cover a non-exclusive inclusion. For example, a process, method, article, or apparatus that comprises a list of elements is not necessarily limited to only those elements but may include other elements not expressly listed or inherent to such process, method, article, or apparatus. The terms “consisting” (consists, consisted) and/or “composing” (composes, composed) are intended to mean closed language that does not leave the recited method, apparatus or composition to the inclusion of procedures, structure(s) and/or ingredient(s) other than those recited except for ancillaries, adjuncts and/or impurities ordinarily associated therewith. The recital of the term “essentially” along with the term “consisting” (consists, consisted) and/or “composing” (composes, composed), is intended to mean modified close language that leaves the recited method, apparatus and/or composition open only for the inclusion of unspecified procedure(s), structure(s) and/or ingredient(s) which do not materially affect the basic novel characteristics of the recited method, apparatus and/or composition.

Unless otherwise defined, all technical and scientific terms used herein have the same meaning as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art to which this invention belongs. In case of conflict, the present specification, including definitions, will control.

CONCLUSION

The described embodiments and examples are illustrative only and not intended to be limiting. Although embodiments of the invention can be implemented separately, embodiments of the invention may be integrated into the system(s) with which they are associated. All the embodiments of the invention disclosed herein can be made and used without undue experimentation in light of the disclosure. Although the best mode of the invention contemplated by the inventor(s) is disclosed, embodiments of the invention are not limited thereto. Embodiments of the invention are not limited by theoretical statements (if any) recited herein. The individual steps of embodiments of the invention need not be performed in the disclosed manner, or combined in the disclosed sequences, but may be performed in any and all manner and/or combined in any and all sequences. The individual components of embodiments of the invention need not be formed in the disclosed shapes, or combined in the disclosed configurations, but could be provided in any and all shapes, and/or combined in any and all configurations. The individual components need not be fabricated from the disclosed materials, but could be fabricated from any and all suitable materials. Homologous replacements may be substituted for the substances described herein.

It can be appreciated by those of ordinary skill in the art to which embodiments of the invention pertain that various substitutions, modifications, additions and/or rearrangements of the features of embodiments of the invention may be made without deviating from the spirit and/or scope of the underlying inventive concept. All the disclosed elements and features of each disclosed embodiment can be combined with, or substituted for, the disclosed elements and features of every other disclosed embodiment except where such elements or features are mutually exclusive. The spirit and/or scope of the underlying inventive concept as defined by the appended claims and their equivalents cover all such substitutions, modifications, additions and/or rearrangements.

The appended claims are not to be interpreted as including means-plus-function limitations, unless such a limitation is explicitly recited in a given claim using the phrase(s) “means for” and/or “step for.” Subgeneric embodiments of the invention are delineated by the appended independent claims and their equivalents. Specific embodiments of the invention are differentiated by the appended dependent claims and their equivalents.