Want your jewelry to be a story starter for years to come? Learn the process, pros and cons of custom designing your own special piece.
The specifics of that distinctly perfect piece vary from person to person because — you got it — every one of us is unique! Many will find the perfect jewelry by choosing and combining individual elements — diamonds or gemstones, metal, setting, band style — and using these basic building blocks to uncover an infinite number of truly individual styles. Others will want to add special touches to further personalize their piece.
However, if you have a singular vision of how your special piece should appear and can’t find it anywhere, you might consider a custom design. Every piece of jewelry has a story, but if you also want yours to be a story starter decades then a piece of jewelry may be for you.
Make an informed decision
Before plunging ahead with a plan to custom design, understand the pros and cons, and review this primer of what it will take to make your inspired idea a reality.
Creating custom-designed jewelry has great benefits:
- Your piece will feel inspired and creative, a pure reflection of your individual personality.
- It will reflect your interests and values.
- No one else will have an item quite like yours.
- A truly unique design will garner attention, and will be a conversation starter for years to come.
But you should also keep in mind the trade-offs you make when creating custom jewelry:
- It’s more expensive. Don’t be surprised to pay up to three times what you would for a non-custom piece. How much more depends on how elaborate the design is, how far it deviates from more traditional jewelry and the jeweler you choose.
- It takes longer. While it’s on the extreme high end, a collaboration with a designer could reach 12 full months. On the low end, expect a well-thought-out design to take several months from idea to finish.
- It requires more involvement (several touch-point meetings and a good deal of collaboration) on your part.
- The jeweler also has a say in the ultimate design — and as the expert with precious metals and stones, he or she should.
- It’s unpredictable. You don’t get to see, touch and feel the weight of the ring until it’s finished.
Understand the process
The specifics will vary according to your needs and the jeweler you select, but in general, here’s what you can expect when designing a custom piece.
1. Sketch out your idea
Start by asking yourself: Do I have a distinct vision of the piece I want? Remember, simply wanting “something unique” doesn’t necessarily warrant going the custom route, because any any jewelry can be made to be unique.
Then, sketch out your idea as best you can. If your idea isn’t super-specific — or if you want to further articulate your desired style — start prowling jewelry stores and the Internet and sketch elements (filigrees, unique settings, organic lines, mixed metals) that catch your eye. This is basic logic but it bears noting — the more specific you can get with what you have in mind, and the more aptly you express this to your jeweler, the more likely you’ll end up with what you want.
2. Find the right jewelry designer
Once you have an idea in mind, you’ll need to find a jeweler who can do a custom design. Start with a jeweler you know and trust, if you have one. Often, your own jeweler will have someone in-house who can create custom designs or can refer you to a trusted colleague. Otherwise, turn to referrals from family and friends, and follow all the same guidelines for finding a jeweler that you would if you were purchasing a non-custom piece.
When looking for a jeweler to create a custom item, you should also ask to see some previous work. Recognize that, as an artist, a jeweler will likely add his or her own touches to your idea, so you’ll want to be sure you like the elements — like style and weight — of the previous work.
You have your sketch(es) in hand. You have a trusted jewelry designer. Now have a long conversation to get your project moving in the right direction. Once the custom design is under way, be sure to review a full color illustration, a picture made by computer-aided design, or CAD, or see a mock-up in wax of the final product so you can give input and shift directions if it’s not what you expected — or want. Also be sure to see all the elements (metal and stone or stones) in person, to get a better idea how it will turn out.
It’s natural to feel intimidated when speaking to an experienced jewelry designer about your vision for your custom piece — he or she is the expert, with years of knowledge, artistry and passion. But don’t let this stop you from asking questions and voicing concerns. It’s your jewelry, not the designer’s.
4. Protect yourself
Take extra care with warranties and guarantees when working on a custom design. You’ll want to get everything in writing, from what elements you agreed to include in the jewelry to a final appraisal that notes the custom design and designer. Last, but not least, while its value is far greater than monetary, don’t forget to insure your jewelry.
Credit: Jewelry Wise