How to have beautiful custom jewellery created for you
By Heather L. Morigeau
Having custom jewellery created for you means that you will own a completely unique design, ensuring that it is well made and practical will mean your design can be passed down through the generations.
What Kind of Jewellery?
The most common type of custom jewellery is, of course, the engagement ring; this ring must be built strong in order to endure years of daily wear and tear. Solid metal, tough stones and secure settings are a must for custom made engagement rings.
Rings can vary between daily wear or special event cocktail rings; be sure to specify which kind of ring you want. Earrings come in all different shapes and styles; gemstone earrings which are worn all the time require different settings compared to a hollow earring which are worn for a special occasion. Brooches and pendants take the least amount of wear; they can feature softer stones or finer details.
What Kind of Gemstone?
The Moh hardness scale indicates how durable a gemstone will be; diamonds are 10 out of 10, sapphires and rubies are a 9. If you are looking for a gemstone you can wear every day these are the ideal stones. Sapphires can come in every color of the rainbow, and they can feature unique characteristics like a star on cabochon cut stones or the rare color change sapphire.
Gemstones such as emeralds, aquamarine, topaz, tourmaline and members of the quartz family such as citrine are softer stones; these stones are great for rings worn on special occasions, or earrings and pendants, not every day wear.
The best companies will present you with a couple choices of the stone you’re searching for; it’s a good idea to do a bit of research on what characteristics make that specific type of stone beautiful and ask them to show you how to use a jewelers loop to get a close up view of the stone.
Who’s Your Artist?
In many cases the jewellery designer and the goldsmith who will be fabricating your jewellery are two separate people, it is important to review both portfolios.
The jewellery designer needs to have working knowledge of jewellery fabrication; how different stones are set, structural integrity, how a piece will be assembled and who has the best fabrication skills for different techniques. They may design using hand drawn sketches, classic watercolor renderings or CAD 3D computer modeling. The image is often done to scale, with at least 3 different views. If you admire a specific artist many designers will work with you over the internet however they will require payment up front before emailing any concepts. Some branded artists will require you to have the jewellery made by their team because they expect all their pieces to be stamped with their logo.
The goldsmith fabricating jewellery may or may not be two separate people as well; the metal worker and the gemstone setter. Check the portfolio for proper finishing and polishing, stones set straight, and smooth clean lines which are straight. Expect to place a non-refundable deposit before your item is started and establish a timeline with payment plan first.
Designing your own ring?
Some clients have ideas about how they want their jewellery to look, they bring in a sketch which they would like the goldsmith to work from, gemstones they have bought themselves or an ingot of pure metal which they would like the jewellery made from.
While it is great fun being involved at every level of jewellery design please remember that you aren’t trained to understand all the logistics of jewellery making. You may bring in a design that is simply impossible to fabricate; too thin, too heavy, alternative metals, stones that can’t be set the way you wish, the goldsmith doesn’t do a specific technique such as enamel, or many other structure issues could prevent your ring from being made exactly how you imagine. Be flexible. A good designer will work with your concept to create something as close to your design as possible.
If you are bringing in gemstones or having gemstones remounted, there are a number of things to consider; the gemstone may have a structural flaw that makes it weak, if it’s already mounted it may be damaged from years of wear and depending on where you purchased it there is a chance it may be synthetic. Also there are some gem cuts that are problematic no matter who is trying to set them; stars, kites, concave cuts, anything that’s long, thin and tapered and gems with sharp points are all great concepts but can be very difficult for a gem setter to secure without breaking, you may be asked to sign a waiver stating that you understand the risks of trying to set the stone, and accept that the stone may break at no fault of the gem setter.
If you want an appraisal of your custom piece (which is a very good idea) ask that the gem analysis be done before the gemstone is set; a certified gemologist has a series of tests which can’t be done on set stones, also inclusion plots (typically done on diamonds) are best done when there are no settings to obscure the view.
If you bring in an ingot of gold, platinum or silver to be made into jewellery there are limits to what can be done. Pure gold is too soft to be made into most jewellery so it must be alloyed with other metals to make it strong enough to wear daily, some shops simply don’t have the facilities to do this. Other shops won’t do this because of laws protecting ingots or coins from being melted down.
The most common request is to have a chain made from the ingot; very few jewelers are trained to make chains, the time and skill required to do this is high and chain weavers (good ones) are a dying breed. A condition known as “chain maker’s cataracts” deters most jewelers from even learning the trade. A special pin tip torch is needed to solder each of the links and the patterns for hand-woven chains are complex. If you are lucky enough to find an artist who will do this check the links to make sure the chain is completely soldered and expect to pay a hefty fee for the labor. The gold must be alloyed, forged and drawn into wire, links are hand spun and cut, the chain is laboriously woven, soldered and finally polished. The cheapest handmade chain is rolo or loop-in-loop. Chains sold in jewellery stores are machine made, those machines are located at huge manufacturing warehouses and there are pounds of gold poured into the machines, not just an ingot or two.
If you have raw gold the best option is to have it made into bangles; solid bangles are strong and most jewelers can make many different styles.
Who will maintain your jewellery?
Check the jewellery over to ensure that it is well made, stones are straight and secure, and then try it on to make sure it fits. Ask questions about cleaning and care, and how often they recommend you bring it in to be checked. Determine what repairs you will pay for in the future, get a certified appraisal and insure your jewellery, and make sure they give you a nice box or pouch to store it in.
If you are happy with your jewellery write a review online for the company. If you are not happy with the final product give the jeweler a chance to fix it. Be calm and honest about what you are unhappy about and ask them if it can be fixed, most reputable artists want to make their customers happy.