When shopping for engagement rings or any kind of jewelry for that matter, the word “custom” has many negative connotations to it. Some are fearful of the design not coming out the way they imagined, and even more assume the cost associated with custom is out of their range. Many will opt to go with the e-commerce option and buy their ring online, a market which is expected to double by 2020.
While the online purchase might provide convenience, it comes with its own drawbacks. Will the jewelry look different than how it looked online? Will I now see my engagement ring on a Google search for the rest of my life? Or worse, on someone else’s finger?
The surprising value of custom
The truth is, if you’re looking into having a custom designed piece of jewelry created, an experienced and reputable jeweler can get your dream piece created for the same cost or even less than a piece out of the case in a retail store.
Many consumers are wary of custom-designed jewelry, but once you understand the process, the experience can be quite carefree and even fun. Technology advancements over the past couple of decades have changed the game for custom work, making it accessible to most everyone.
So, what is the process for creating a custom-designed piece of jewelry?
Step One: Find what you like
Start by getting some ideas of designs you like. Some customers go to the big-box chain stores to try on rings and explore current styles and designs. Others gather online images from Google, Facebook and Pinterest. Even if the designs you like are varied, this is a necessary first step to figuring out what you want and communicating it properly to a jeweler.
Step Two: Find a custom jeweler
Once you get some ideas, choose a private jeweler and schedule an appointment with them. Private jewelers are more than just jewelry sales people; many are jewelry experts. Share with them your preferences for designs, band color, diamond shapes, prong styles and more. If you’re looking to have a custom-designed engagement ring created, you will want to pick out your center stone first before finalizing anything regarding the setting.
A big part of jewelry design that gets lost in custom work is the proportioning of the setting with the size and dimension of the main stone. This is where a private jeweler’s expertise is crucial.
Once the stone is picked out and the general design ideas are determined, most jewelers will collect a down payment for the price of the stone (which sometimes is a percentage of the cost of the center stone), and then take the stone off the market. Then it’s time to let your custom jewelry expert go to work.
Step Three: The CAD design
At this point the jeweler will map out the design using CAD (computer-aided design) software. This allows jewelry designers to create 2D and 3D diagrams of each piece to ensure they have it right before beginning the actual creation work. Depending on the jeweler and the difficulty of the piece, this process could take anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks.
It looks bulky at first
Once the CAD is complete, you should receive renders of the designs to make sure that you and the jeweler are on the same page. A render is an actual computerized image of the jewelry, and while it might look realistic, it is not a completely accurate representation of the final product. If created properly, the rendering might seem bulky, with large prongs and edges that are sharper than you might like. This is perfectly normal and will help assure that your custom piece will be made properly. More on this later.
Step Four: Creating the ring
Once the client approves the rendering, the CAD design is created in wax, or sometimes a plastic substance, often using a 3D printer. These printers create the wax layer-by-layer and could take anywhere from 10 minutes to sometimes a full day depending on the extent of the details of the design. Back in the early days of jewelry casting and wax carving, a lot of jewelers would show the wax model to their clients to try on, however because it is so fragile, many jewelers do not like sharing the wax model with their clients.
The wax model is then usually covered in a plaster-like medium known as “investment” and then heated in a furnace where the wax is vaporized, leaving an outer shell of the piece. Molten metal, which is metal heated to its melting point, is poured into the investment shell of hollow space. Once cooled, your casting is complete. Again, most consumers will not see the casting.
It doesn’t start off beautiful
Next is where the artistry of bench jewelers comes into play. The casting, which does not offer the attractive properties of the shiny silver, gold, or platinum that it will become, is pre-polished. Any diamonds or gemstones going into the piece are already calibrated (measured and matched for size, dimensions, etc.), matched for quality and on hand.
Your custom-designed piece is almost complete! All that is left is setting the stones, polishing and finish-out of the piece. During polishing, there is usually metal loss. This is why the rendering needs to show the design with excess metal. Without excess metal, your piece will not hold up and could be too fragile, which can result in breaking or stone loss.
Step Five: Pick up your custom ring!
Your piece is now complete and ready for you to pick up! Once you cover any balance you may have, prepare to be wowed as you see the ring for the first time, presented in a beautiful box. If you feel the quality of the box does not match the cost and quality of the piece created, never be afraid to ask for other options!
With the right jeweler, custom jewelry design is a fantastic option for many budgets and will help you get that unique ring that get compliments and looks. How you feel about your ring will be different knowing that it has no history other than the history you give it. When it comes to significant jewelry such as engagement rings, that feeling can be priceless.