The Beauty of Custom Design


Bespoke hunting jewelry, reinterpreted: a falconry hood made of 18 karat (750) yellow gold, south seas pearl, diamonds, lizard leather and stingray leather. Photograph courtesy of Tiroler Goldschmied, Dorf Tirol (Italy)
Bespoke hunting jewelry, reinterpreted: a falconry hood made of 18 karat (750) yellow gold, south seas pearl, diamonds, lizard leather and stingray leather.
Photograph courtesy of Tiroler Goldschmied, Dorf Tirol (Italy)

At a time when people might be frowned upon for not joining the action with more social networks than their busy schedules allow, personalization and individuality become notions that pervade societies across the globe, regardless of their cultural heritage. Marketers have long picked up on this development and are nurturing, fostering and driving it with every means at their disposal. This cultural shift is making more and more potential jewelry customers turn their backs on prêt-à-porter goods and turn to custom-made pieces.

For many jewelers, this transition creates the need to adapt their business model and evolve from being retailers and resellers to becoming providers of services and manufacturers. During the millennia preceding the industrial revolution, jewelers typically served their elites, designing and manufacturing goods that were as much about financial security as they were about their customer’s identity, position and authority. Only now in the digital age is the circle being closed and the jewelry trade returning back to its roots.

Digital age technologies such as CAD have become an essential part of the tool set of even the most traditional of jewelers. With the right skill set, even unconventional pieces like this falconry hood can be developed. Photograph courtesy of Tiroler Goldschmied, Dorf Tirol (Italy)
Digital age technologies such as CAD have become an essential part of the tool set of even the most traditional of jewelers. With the right skill set, even unconventional pieces like this falconry hood can be developed.
Photograph courtesy of Tiroler Goldschmied, Dorf Tirol (Italy)

Up front developments like CAD (computer aided design) and rapid-prototyping are supported by technologies like laser welding. Together, they are product development facilitators. Technology’s alliance with the upgraded value of individual self-perception is progressively narrowing the gap between commercial jewelry’s traditional economies of scale and specialized, small-scale operations. As in other industries, some jewelers are embracing these developments. Others, who find them hard to reconcile with one of the oldest trades in the history of mankind, and are less willing to adapt.

Customization means different things to different people. It is a very relative term indeed. “Custom designing a piece of jewelry opens the doors to possibilities,” says Breanne Wittrock of Gunderson’s Fine Jewelry in Sioux City, IA. Hannes Gamper, Managing Director of Tiroler Goldschmied in Dorf Tirol (Italy) observes, “I like being inspired by different cultures, their art and their interpretation of architecture, and the influence it has on my creativity and my style.”

Reproducing a piece from the jeweler’s showcase in a different metal, say, in yellow gold instead of white gold may just be a matter of working out a delivery date. Since yellow gold is potentially a little less expensive than white gold of the same purity, there might even be an accordingly small reduction in price. But when you’re bringing in something as unique as a hunting trophy for the jeweler to design an entire piece from scratch, a whole interlinked set of variables comes into play that involve time and skill to process.

A look inside the goldsmith’s studio at the assembly of a khanjar made of Damascus steel, Sterling silver, various precious and non-precious stones and stingray leather. Photograph courtesy of Tiroler Goldschmied, Dorf Tirol (Italy)
A look inside the goldsmith’s studio at the assembly of a khanjar made of Damascus steel, Sterling silver, various precious and non-precious stones and stingray leather.
Photograph courtesy of Tiroler Goldschmied, Dorf Tirol (Italy)

The bigger the job, the more thoroughly you want to do your homework to find the right jeweler. Is their sense and style of design for you? Is their quality of execution adequate? Thanks to the web, you can establish a short list relatively quickly with regards to the first question and take it from there for the second. Perhaps you’ll want to send the remaining candidates a picture if a hunting trophy is involved, or one of the stones and enquire whether they are comfortable working with what you have. Perhaps there’s a photograph or a sketch you want to attach to your email to share your vision of the project and see what comes back.

Typically, jewelers who do custom work provide a free first consultation. The purpose of such an initial meeting is to get to know one another and it’s a chance for you to get a closer look at their goods, verify their sense and style of design, assess their quality of execution and familiarize yourself with their terms and pricing. You want the jeweler to get a solid grasp of your project. Expect some old-fashioned sketching and serious note-taking to take place. “I usually do at least three drawings in different configurations,” says Madleine Kay, an independent wildlife jewelry designer from Littlerock, CA. At the Montana Watch Company, where bespoke watches are the specialty of the house, owner and founder Jeffrey Nashan approaches it this way, “every custom Montana Watch Company timepiece begins with an in-depth conversation with the client, exploring their design preferences, including preferred metal, hand-engraving styles, gem setting and many other options for customization.”

This hand-fabricated khanjar is absolutely stunning and makes for a handsome objet d'art. Damascus steel, Sterling silver, various precious and non-precious stones and stingray leather. Photograph courtesy of Tiroler Goldschmied, Dorf Tirol (Italy)
This hand-fabricated khanjar is absolutely stunning and makes for a handsome objet d’art. Damascus steel, Sterling silver, various precious and non-precious stones and stingray leather.
Photograph courtesy of Tiroler Goldschmied, Dorf Tirol (Italy)

The next step is developing an accurate rendering of the finished project based on the sketches and notes from the first consultation. “Once preliminary design ideas are established, the process progresses with a series of Photoshop mockups, providing a visual representation of the finished piece for the client, and allowing them to make changes until the final design is achieved and approved”, explains Nashan. Depending upon the size of the project, the jeweler might ask the customer to make a commitment in the form of a deposit or a retainer. There’s a wide range of custom-design scenarios: there are a few variables with a standard three-stone ring, while a custom piece designed from scratch with numerous, unique components is quite another matter.

Sometimes a model or maquette is made besides the rendering. It is these presentation materials that are necessary to make all calculations as to the materials, the labor and possible outside services involved before presenting you with an accurate customer quote and scheduled date of delivery.

From the CAD model, the parts for this ring were made individually, assembled, and the stones set. Green tanzanite is a rare variety of the mineral zoisite and together with the pink diamonds set in pink gold, this fabulous ring is truly a collector's piece. Photo Courtesy of Gunderson’s Fine Jewelry, Sioux City, Iowa
From the CAD model, the parts for this ring were made individually, assembled, and the stones set. Green tanzanite is a rare variety of the mineral zoisite and together with the pink diamonds set in pink gold, this fabulous ring is truly a collector’s piece.
Photo Courtesy of Gunderson’s Fine Jewelry, Sioux City, Iowa

It is usually a historic moment for both sides when a piece of fine jewelry is ready for delivery. Be sure to check that every aspect of the project is the way it was planned, and that the execution is on par with the other goods you’ve seen from this jeweler. Many businesses will have a maintenance schedule as part of their marketing and customer relation efforts and may even feature a webpage on their site on how to keep your fine jewelry looking its best.

Fine bespoke jewelry is making a comeback and is here to stay, enabled by both contemporary technology and a general trend toward the individual and the unique. Consumers are enjoying greater access and choice as jewelers are responding to this development. In order for a design project to succeed, however, it takes more than just a competent jeweler, professional, artisan or craftsperson. He or she needs to share their sense and style of design with your very own, or you may find have different visions of the same project. A little research in this area will go a long way in making this a thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable experience, and Breanne Wittrock enthusiastically calls it, “the moment where a customer can highlight an event or a special moment in their lives that is uniquely theirs.”– Robert Ackermann, G.G.

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