Many Handmade Wedding Series readers want to break the mold with that very meaningful item — the ring. As a jeweler who has done many custom rings, Monique Leon aka gurlygirl brings her experience to the jewelry bench — er table — with this how-to for buyers. She also offers custom orders through her Alchemy.
Custom designing jewelry is exciting and challenging for the customer as well as the producer. Wedding or commitment jewelry is extra special because the piece will reside with the wearer for a lifetime. Bridal head pieces, tiaras, combs, groomsmen and bridesmaid’s gifts can also all be custom designed and created to coordinate with the vision of the client. Here are a few suggestions to help you collaborate with your designer.
A lot of times I’m approached by potential clients who desire a custom made item/rings and they really aren’t sure as to how to articulate their ideas to me. Seeing this, I ask them to do a little homework before we meet to discuss.
One thing I recommend is to try to find some pictures on the internet or in magazines, catalogs or library books, such as these Italian-style iron gates which were used to inspire the design of the ruby engagement ring pictured above. The more descriptive photos or adjectives they can provide, the easier it will be to come up with a sketch. Write down your ideas or keywords to help convey your vision.
Use words to describe what you like: “thin, wide, bold, matte finish, textured, shiny, smooth, sparkly, detailed, fancy, cheerful, swirly, infinity, harmony, geometric, ancient, floral…” You can also choose time periods to better explain styles you like: "Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Celtic, Victorian, Modern, Egyptian, Retro, etc."
One customer decided on a theme of the beach as inspiration, sea foam and bubbles…The diamonds being the bubbles, and the form of the ring would represent the water/waves washing ashore. The stones were chosen and the drawings worked around the combination of different sizes diamonds.
Your designer will create a composite drawing of the elements you have shown or described to them. When most people approach a designer, they know his or her capabilities but ask to see his/her portfolio anyways. You can get a greater sense of what your designer has done in the past and you can use that guide them towards your custom piece. For me, this is one of the most fun parts of the process: I love to help the customer to see what is possible as a result of our collaboration.
Pricing depends on the difficulty of design, the materials used and the production schedule. As a customer, discuss your budget with the artist so they will be able to design and produce a piece within your parameters. If you are doing an Alchemy request, check out other rings to get a ball-park range of prices. Most sellers will bid on your request based on a fair price.
A deposit is often required for custom pieces. Market price/cost of materials needs to be considered when a designer gives you a quote. “Market price" refers to the current cost of metal or precious stones, and these prices fluctuate up and down like gasoline prices. Your designer can offer options to scale down your design if the materials are too costly, such as using fewer or different grade or kind stones or a less expensive metal, while still maintaining the integrity of your design.
Traditionally, wedding jewelry has been made more or less of gold or platinum. But today there are so many more options: silver, titanium, steel. These lesser costly metals offer a break from the high prices of gold and the even higher price for platinum.
The same may be said for the use of stones in jewelry. Diamonds alone are no longer the norm. Customers are choosing colorful gem stones of all kinds (precious and semi-precious) for their wedding sets. These additional choices tend to allow the customer to feel they are personalizing their jewelry, not just merely "downgrading" because of price.
If you are in a hurry, expect your order to cost a bit more. Custom work demands extra attention, and if an artist needs to rush-order supplies for your design or must rush-ship your completed order, then they must pass these costs along to you. Planning as far in advance is best, to allow for the design process (back and forth between client and designer), production and shipping.
Your designer can explain their production process, as each design has its own way of coming to life, depending on the techniques required. Some pieces will be carved from wax (as shown in the blue pieces here) for the original model to then be cast into metal. Others begin straight within the metal, working it into shape by hammering and soldering, drilling, stamping, grinding, etc. All pieces are then finished in a variety of ways: polishing/burnishing, patina, setting of stones or plating. This is my favorite time, getting into the meat of the project, building it. I love planning out how I’m going to execute the design and taking it all the way to the finished piece.
For this lion bracelet, the customer provided this image he drew himself. Each of the two sides were slightly different to reflect ‘the male and the female.’ The raw blue form is the beginnings of the wax carving. Then we see the carved blue wax for the mold.
This was a collaborative process from start to finish!
Collaboration is an organic process, a transformation of ideas and materials into a unique new object. With the proper research and communication between client and designer, your custom jewelry can become something even better then you had ever imagined!