What exactly is custom work? Unfortunately many jewelers (especially more traditional ones) seem to think that picking something out of a catalog from one of their suppliers and sticking your stone (or one you're purchasing from them) into it is custom work. In my book, however, custom work means creating a new design for the customer. If you come into my shop and see a piece I have made and say "That's lovely but I really want it with one of those natural color fine blue sapphires you have" that isn't custom work as it's just using an existing concept. On the other hand if you come in and say I want that design with a sapphire but I want you to change the way all of these wires are placed, that IS custom work. Or if you come in to me and say I want you to build an octagonally shaped design that measures 2" across and has a diamond set in the middle for earrings, that would be custom work.
I have been doing true custom work for 25 years and I have covered the full gamut of possibilities. I have set pieces of the Berlin Wall, rocks from the top of Mt. Everest, human teeth, canine teeth, metal pieces that were removed from healed human bone material, tyrannosaurus rex teeth, shells, found rocks, etc. I have worked on designs that customers have brought me sketched on pieces of tissue, done in fine detail on a computer program, or that they have dreamed of and relate to me verbally. I have worked on pieces that have meaning for people in some way or another, whether it be a mountain range they are fond of (Mt. Monadnock, the Grand Tetons, the Adirondack), ocean scenes, and even a tree that someone grew up with.
Custom work can be both challenging and interesting. It often requires me to stretch my skills to new levels. By far and away the stuff I have the most fun with, however, is the work that I do based on what I have out in the case, especially when the customer allows me to just go with the flow. The piece pictured here is one I recently finished that utilized a customer's tanzanite and assorted diamonds.
Next blog: More on custom work.