Custom jewelry is growing in popularity every year, and more and more consumers are gravitating towards this new trend. From couples shopping for engagement rings, to fashion forward urbanites looking for unique, bespoke accessories, the gradual surge in interest can’t be ignored. But what exactly is custom jewelry, and how does it differ from the pieces lining the shelves at department stores or designer boutiques?
If you’re thinking about having a custom piece made, you probably have a lot of questions about what’s involved. In order to be the best informed while shopping for a custom ring or other special jewelry, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can ahead of time. Let’s explore this important trend and outline the basics of custom jewelry creation.
What is Custom Jewelry?
If you walk into a traditional jewelry store, you might be in awe of the beautiful sparkling jewelry, but you might also notice that almost everything looks pretty similar. White or yellow gold solitaire rings, diamond studs, simple pearl necklaces; these are all staples of the retail jewelry store. If you’re looking for something a little more unique, you’re not likely to find it at one of these retailers.
As custom jewelry isn’t lining the shelves in these stores, sometimes consumers don’t know how to go about finding the perfect piece, where to find the right jeweler, or even what custom jewelry is exactly.
Essentially, custom jewelry is a one-time, totally unique piece developed by a jeweler at a customer’s request. In the past, the cost of traditional jewelry production usually barred everyone but the most wealthy from custom jewelry creation. Today, new technology allows anyone with a small budget to create a custom piece.
Of course, any type of jewelry, including rings, necklaces, pendants, and even brooches and piercings can be custom made. The possibilities are limitless in terms of the design, and can be anything from a simple, minimalist piece to sculpturally carved, realist pendant.
Although technically custom jewelry also includes one-time, simple hand-carved pieces sold on Etsy, or custom pieces produced with lower-priced metals like brass, custom jewelry usually refers to high-end jewelry, most commonly engagement rings.
Why is Custom Jewelry So Trendy Right Now?
Twenty five years ago, producing a custom engagement ring or special jewelry piece involved a lot of labor and time, and as a result commanded a sizable price tag. With the advent of 3D printing and the increasing accessibility of digital modeling software for jewelers, design and production time sped up exponentially. As a result, the custom pieces that were once out of reach for the majority of consumers started to become much more affordable.
Although custom jewelry creation has only been in the spotlight for a relatively short time, it’s steadily become one of the top trends in fine jewelry shopping.
Hip hop jewelry is one fine jewelry niche that involves a lot of custom creation. As hip hop and rap music grew in popularity to become the country’s highest selling genre, hip hop jewelry like gold chains and grills grew as well. Famous rappers, performers and other celebrities sport diamond studded gold pendants, and this special type of jewelry has become a central focus in New York’s Diamond District, in LA, and other jewelry centers around the US.
Aside from this, the other main clientele seeking custom jewelry are couples looking for custom engagement rings and wedding bands. The new opportunity to create unique rings made especially for their partner has drawn more and more couples to consider a custom ring. As millennial couples seek out unique preferences like lab grown diamonds, recycled gold, or design alterations like twisting shanks or unique engraved details, working with a custom jeweler who can accommodate their unique requests just makes more sense.
Above all, contemporary fine jewelry emphasizes individuality and personality. Traditionally, fine jewelry was mainly designed to emphasize the wealth and status of its wearer, but today more importance is placed on how the jewelry expresses the woman’s unique qualities and preferences. Custom jewelry perfectly matches this and so it’s no wonder the trend has increased in recent years.
What Are Some Examples of Custom Pieces?
In terms of hip hop jewelry, gold pendants are the main focus. Common pieces include crosses, skulls, and fierce animals like wolves or snakes, while some rap stars and hip hop aficionados prefer totally unique pendants with special symbols or characters from popular culture. As many of these pendants involve highly detailed gold sculpting of animals, faces or other realistic objects, special software is used to digitally model the pendant’s design.
For custom engagement rings, couples often look for alterations to traditional engagement ring designs in order to make the ring uniquely her own. This might include carving elegant filigree detail into the body of the ring, or adding subtle objects like leaves and branches to create a naturalist look. Some couples choose to build their engagement rings inspired by their favorite movie or game, which involves a completely custom design on the part of the jewelry studio.
Aside from these two major customer bases, jewelry studios also create a variety of other kinds of custom work. This can include a special pendant for a baby shower with the newborn’s name or birthstone, a ring immortalizing a loved one who passed away, a special necklace for mom on Mother’s Day, or even just a special sustainable earring set developed for your personal collection.
Who Creates Custom Jewelry?
Custom jewelry can be developed by a single jewelry artisan working from a home studio, or a large manufacturing house managing large scale production. Usually, however, high-quality custom jewelry is produced by a small-scale custom jewelry studio.
A custom jewelry studio is ideal for this kind of work, as it’s specifically equipped to accommodate private clients and offer more personal attention and guidance. Unlike most other jewelry producers, custom jewelry studios are also experts in their niche, and are the most capable of producing detailed and/or 3d sculpted jewelry work for their clientele with a fast turnaround.
Typically, a modern jewelry studio has at least one 3d designer, a bench jeweler, and a diamond/micro-pave setter. More often, a busy studio would have at least a small team of 3d designers to keep up with the workload, and likely a team of jewelers as well. Ideally, the more personal environment of the studio allows you to consult with someone who will actually be directly involved with your custom piece, and not just a salesperson. If you have an opportunity to work one-on-one with the 3d designer developing your piece, that’s usually best.
While custom jewelry services are available at big retail jewelry outlets, it’s rare that you’ll actually get to sit down and talk with a 3d designer about your piece, i.e. the person that will actually be creating it. Instead, you’ll talk to a salesperson or middleman who will then pass along your specifications and design notes to the designer. In reality, most big retail stores don’t actually produce their own custom engagement rings; instead, they outsource the complex design work to an expert jewelry studio! They’ll also usually charge a very high markup on the final piece.
What is the Custom Jewelry Process Like?
Although the jewelry creation process is relatively straightforward, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of how it all works before you sit down with a custom jeweler. That way, you’ll know any technical terms they refer to and you’ll be able to better understand your invoice as well.
First, custom jewelry creation begins with a quick sketch, design or reference image. Of course, that’s not always possible, so a brief discussion on the customer’s goals or ideas for the piece is fine as well. Once the designer has a better understanding of the envisioned piece, they’ll create an initial 3d model and present it to the client. If they like it, the designer will continue to refine the design and then confirm its approval. If not, the customer has an opportunity to have an in-depth, extended conversation with the designer and continually critique the design until it’s developed to their liking.
It’s important to note that not every jewelry studio or designer operates in this way. While the best custom jewelry studios will always honor their clients’ vision and make sure the finished project matches their ideal, some studios or jewelers will only offer a limited number of revisions.
Some services, such as the custom jewelry service you might find at a jewelry chain, may not even give you the opportunity to request revisions to the final product. This is all to say that it’s always important to choose a custom jeweler you feel comfortable with and you feel can dedicate the right amount of energy and resources to developing the final piece.
After the design phase is complete and the 3d model is approved, the studio will print the model as a 3d wax, so you can view the physical shape of your jewelry before it’s cast into metal. Again, this kind of attention to detail and openness of the manufacturing process is usually only found in a small jewelry studio.
If the wax model is approved, everything is set to go and production will begin. Assuming the client is concerned with the carat and clarity of the diamond (for instance, for an engagement ring) or there are important or expensive gems in the piece, the jeweler can assist the client in selecting and buying the diamond or precious stones. Alternatively, the customer can provide their own heirloom or purchased stones and drop them off at the studio to begin assembly.
At this point, the customer’s involvement in the production process is minimal. Most pieces will only take about a week or less to actually manufacture, and will pass through the hands of a head jeweler, perhaps their apprentice, and then to a diamond setter, enamel artist or other specialists, and finally to a polisher to make sure the metal shine looks perfect.
For more detail on each step involved in modern jewelry manufacturing, check out our useful blog on the subject here.
What Are the Main Benefits of Custom Jewelry?
Custom jewelry has some obvious benefits, such as increased freedom and control over your jewelry’s appearance. But it also has some less apparent advantages.
For instance, going the custom route gives you access to actual professional jewelry creators. This is a big difference compared to dealing with a salesperson or retail store owner. Not only will communication be much easier, but you’ll be involved with the journey of your piece from start to finish, and this adds to the jewelry’s sentimental value.
Choosing custom jewelry allows you to specify ahead of time if you want a special kind of gem, a sustainable or hypoallergenic metal, or other preferences. In other words, you don’t have to settle for less, or spend months endlessly searching for the right jewelry that matches all of your unique specifications.
You also have greater control over the price when working with a custom jeweler. For instance, you can choose your perfect sized diamond that matches your specs without breaking the bank, explore more affordable colored gem options, or lower the metal thickness in the 3d model.
Finally, you have accountability on the part of the jewelry studio. You know for sure your jewelry isn’t being produced in some far off factory, but in a high-end studio that cares about its workers and clients equally. They can also provide you with a GIA certificate, certification of recycled metals, and other proof of authenticity.
What Are the Main Disadvantages of Custom Jewelry?
The only real disadvantage you have with going the custom route is the amount of time involved. Even then, it doesn’t take as long as you might expect. Most of the time spent depends on the design phase; if the client approves the design immediately, the development of the piece from start to finish can take a week to 10 days.
If the client requests many revisions, the project could potentially last a month or longer. Overall, the average development time is around 2-3 weeks. Considering how laborious the process of custom jewelry creation was in the past, this is a surprisingly fast turnaround!
Is Custom Jewelry More Expensive?
Not necessarily. As with the turnaround time, you might be surprised how affordable your quote for a custom piece is. It really depends on the complexity of the 3d design. For an engagement ring with some embellishments but no major sculptural 3d modeling, you’ll likely end up paying much less than what you would find at a traditional jewelry store. Retail stores mark up their engagement rings 2.2x higher on average, but markup could be as high as 3 or 4x, or even more depending on the brand name.
If you’re looking for a pendant shaped with realistic features, the price can quickly rise. With these kind of custom jewelry pieces, you’re paying for the expertise of the 3d artists and their ability to craft your reference image into a fully three dimensional piece of jewelry.
If your jewelry involves diamonds or other gems, your custom jeweler can find you insider deals and special prices on quality gems, which may lower your price significantly.
Your custom jeweler will always make sure you know how much the project will cost before you commit. In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to view an itemized invoice with each element of your project, so you’ll never be surprised with hidden items or fees. Of course, this also depends on which custom jewelry studio you choose. Make sure your chosen jewelers operate with honesty, integrity and transparency, and you’ll find that custom jewelry is one of the few consumer options where the customer has so much freedom, control and financial flexibility.