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When to Consider a Custom Design

If you can’t find exactly what you want, here’s how to go about getting a custom jewelry design.

Do you turn left when your friends go right? Are trends trivial to you? Do you march to a different beat? If so, you’ll appreciate jewelry that’s not available to everyone. You’re a candidate for custom jewelry design.

The same is true if you’ve searched jewelry stores and websites and still not found a gift for that truly special someone — something that represents your unique relationship. It’s also entirely possible you are the special someone — and can’t find the right piece that represents your unique style.

It’s important to understand the difference between customized and custom jewelry. If you engrave someone’s name or “build” a piece of jewelry from a list of options, you will end up with a personalized, meaningful and beautiful piece of customized jewelry.

Custom jewelry, though, is designed from scratch, and the design is used only once. Custom jewelry is often an option when you can’t find exactly what you want (like an updated version of your grandmother’s now-lost Art Deco earrings). Custom rings may be similar to something you saw online, but with a simpler design for a diminutive finger. Or perhaps it’s a pendant that follows a favorite neckline style or calls to mind a memory of something — or someone — special. You might have diamonds or gemstones from a ring you want to rework into another piece of jewelry that represents you. Regardless of the reason behind the vision, custom jewelry is the ultimate expression that a loved one took the time to understand the recipient in a meaningful way.

How it happens

1. Get the ball rolling

The best surprise is if the custom jewelry is, well, a surprise. However, there’s nothing wrong with designing it yourself or dropping a hint for someone else to do it: “You’re such a creative guy. Sometime for an extra-special occasion I’d love for you to design a (fill in the blank) for me.” Once he gets the idea, he may still need some direction: “You could just sketch something on paper and take it to (insert the name of a jeweler) to have it made.”

2. Translate the vision

Whether you’re giving custom jewelry to someone else or someone is giving it to you, the first critical element is the vision. Whoever designs the jewelry should think about the type (ring, necklace, earrings, etc.) and the general shape (for example, button or drop earrings, or a round or rectangular pendant). Don’t be afraid to start over, and be sure to do a separate enlarged sketch of any intricate parts of the design, such as filigree or a floral design on a ring shank.

3. Consider the details

What metal does the wearer prefer (platinum, gold, sterling silver, tungsten, titanium, etc.)? What gemstones (diamonds, colored gemstones, gem-quality minerals, none) and style (a filigreed, traditional design or clean-lined contemporary)? Note: mark on the sketch what materials you’d like to use so you don’t forget when speaking with your jeweler.

4. Meet with your jeweler

Make an appointment with your jeweler (if your jeweler doesn’t make custom designs, ask him or her to recommend a trusted colleague). Before showing your sketch, ask to see some of the jeweler’s previous custom pieces (at least the pictures). Look critically to make sure rings are perfectly round, gemstones appear secure in their settings, the finish is even and there’s nothing that would make the jewelry uncomfortable to wear.

5. Review the sketch

Show the sketch and describe the look you want. Go over the materials and the dimensions (if it’s a ring, for example, you’ll need to know the wearer’s size}. Let the jeweler ask questions and refine the sketch either by hand or using computer-aided design (CAD), which uses sophisticated software to create detailed designs and drawings and dimensional images. The jeweler will make revisions to make sure the jewelry is wearable and stable, that it’s not too heavy and that the proportions are pleasing.

Some jewelers are making it even easier. With a tablet, the jeweler will interpret your sketch and enter the details of your idea into a form, and as you go it will give you a real-time estimate of what it will cost.

6. Make revisions and give final approval

Expect to make several visits to the jewelry store to check revisions until you give your final approval. At that point, the jeweler will make a wax model or CAD drawings showing different angles of how the final piece will look. Be certain you like the model or final drawings before you give approval. Any changes after this point will involve additional expense and may even require starting over. Because a wax model is destroyed in the casting process, you won’t get that back.

7. Mind your business – literally

While it’s easy to get swept up in the emotion of designing a special piece of jewelry for someone you love, don’t forget the business aspect of the process. Even before the jewelry is made, get everything in writing from the jeweler, including your responsibilities and the jeweler’s, what elements the jewelry will contain and an appraisal that notes it’s a custom design and lists you as the designer.  And don’t forget the warranty!

Be prepared

You should expect to pay more and wait longer for custom jewelry than you would if you bought something out of your jeweler’s showcase. It costs more because the materials will have to be ordered individually. Plus the model and the final jewelry will have to be produced — both of which involve time and labor.

Allow about six weeks to two months from the time you show your sketch to the jeweler until the time the finished jewelry is placed in your hand. The time is needed for multiple meetings to arrive at the final design, to create the final model and to make the final piece of jewelry. That timeline could stretch if you make a lot of changes.

Despite the challenges, custom designs are usually heirloom pieces that are treasured by the recipients and passed down through the generations along with the stories of their creation.

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