The Pure Joy and Challenges of Custom Designed Jewelry

Posted by on Sunday, April 9, 2017 · 1 Comment 

The authentic art of jewelry encompasses metal smithing, gemstone knowledge and the ability to connect with the creative soul of the client. All three require decades of academic study and practical experience. Other than appraising, designing and making custom jewelry is by far the most challenging service within the jewelry business, but almost always the most rewarding.

What is a custom piece? The simplest answer is … jewelry that is made purposefully for a single individual, at the request of that client, using either gemstones and worn jewelry supplied by the client or gemstones and precious metals supplied by the artisan or often a combination of both.

When is it appropriate for a client to pursue custom work? There are several good answers. First, when the client does not wish her jewelry to look like everyone else’s. Next, when the client has shopped and cannot find precisely the gemstone or piece that she is willing to purchase. Third, when jewelry purchased over the years sits in a drawer gathering shadows, and … the owner does not wish to gift those pieces to family, the owner does not wish to donate them to a charitable auction and the owner does not wish to sell them for cash. The owner wishes to use them to make something beautiful and wearable.

The process begins with an appointment with the jeweler chosen by the client to design and make the piece. The client may bring her worn jewelry to the appointment and or she may choose only to talk through the process to make certain she and her jeweler are in sync with the beginning, the middle and the end result.

Custom work represents the core of my practice. Before I tell you how I do it, let me tell you what it is not: Custom design does NOT include copying another jeweler’s work. Doing so is obviously unethical, and further, if the piece is trade-marked or trade-dressed, copying may result in violation of Federal and State Law, which carries with it both punitive and compensatory damages levied against the jeweler and sometimes the client.

Custom designing evolves in stages. Stage One: create the design. Stage Two: create the model. Stage Three: create the final piece. The client must approve the completion of each stage before proceeding to the next.

Custom Designed Jewelry – Stage One

The design may be created “from scratch,” and presented to the customer by hand drawing or by computer. The design may also be created from research by the client, presenting to the jeweler categories of pieces the client likes, and from these, the jeweler produces the designs. Many clients in 2017 use the internet for this introductory work.

Custom Designed Jewelry – Stage Two

The jeweler makes a model of the finished piece, based on the approved design. The model may be made by hand, in wax, or printed by computer in wax. The client tries it on, and gemstones are placed in it temporarily. Once that model is approved by the client, the jeweler may then make a more realistic model in silver or other inexpensive metal and allow the client to try it on. This allows the client to “almost see” the finished piece, BEFORE it is actually made. Some clients love this. Others do not require it, as a properly detailed wax model may be sufficient to move the project from Stage Two to Stage Three.

Custom Designed Jewelry – Stage Three

The jeweler constructs the finished piece, using one or two methods of manufacturing. These include casting and or fabrication (hand work), setting required gemstones, polishing the entire jewel and finally preparing the appraisal report for home owner’s insurance.

Is Custom Designed Jewelry Expensive?

Generally not, if the jeweler is an expert in the process and knows how to guide the client from the start to the finish. The cost of the project should be discussed no later than the completion of Stage One. Some jewelers charge for their time beginning with the first appointment, and if that is the case, project cost is settled then. I do not charge for time and effort to finish Stage One. As a matter of policy, my fee does not begin until the customer has approved the wax model (Stage Two). My fee is not based on hours of research or effort. It is based on the cost of materials including precious metals and gemstones and the labor required to manufacture the inexpensive metal model in Stage Two (if requested) and of course the finished piece. The important point of course is to explain the process thoroughly and communicate the cost transparently.

It is not possible to express the happiness when this works well. It is pure joy!

Tom Tivol


One Response to “The Pure Joy and Challenges of Custom Designed Jewelry”
  1. Rhianna Hawk says:

    I didn’t know that you could get custom jewelry designed by presenting categories of what I want instead of a full drawing. My art skills definitely aren’t good enough to properly convey the style of necklace that I want to get for my sister, and I love the idea of being able to preview the piece as a realistic model that I can try out. Thanks for clearing up that custom jewelry isn’t really expensive; I was a little worried about that, but it’ll all be worth it when my sister sees the necklace I dreamed up for her.

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