|18k pink and yellow gold pin with ruby|
Anyway, a number of requests have come in to me recently that makes it very clear to me that many people have no idea what is actually involved in making up a custom piece. I believe part of the problem lies in our Internet age in which people are used to pushing a couple of buttons on a computer and the next day a book or something else shows up at the door. The other part I believe lies in what many jewelers claim is custom work. Many jewelers think that if you come in to their shop, pick out a piece from a catalog they have and tell them what stone you want in it that that is custom work. That isn't custom work. The piece is already designed and in existence and picking a stone option just really doesn't mean it's custom.
Custom work means either that you are developing an entirely new design from scratch or that you are working with a customer on a new design, either based on what you already make but different from everything else you have out. So if a customer comes into my shop and says I love that ring design but I want a ruby in it instead that isn't custom work. If, however they come into the store and say I want you to either 1) design a ring with little dinosaurs playfully leaping around the band or 2) I like this look you do but I want you to use my stones and change these particular elements of the style, these things qualify as custom work.
So how long should custom work take? Well let's take a look at the idea of little dinosaurs running around the ring. After we've determined which dinosaurs you want, how wide you want the band, whether there should be borders or not, the type of metal to be used (two colors might be nice on this idea), and your ring size and whether or not this will actually work on your finger, I then have to go and actually make the band. There are a couple of approaches. If it's all one color and I think it might work better I might hook up with my Cad/Cam person and work out details with her on doing it up on the computer. I'm not a big fan of Cad/Cam for this type of work because I think it takes away the handmade look but if I am going to use this process here's what happens:
My Cad/Cam person and I have to meet and discuss the project. She has to put my order in line with her other jobs. She is NOT going to stop everything else she is doing and put my order first even if I am incredibly charming. Two weeks minimum before we get something to look at on the computer and then I have to decide if it's what I want. If not she has to go back and rework it. That could take a few more days. Then I have to show the computer rendering to the customer who also has to approve it. If you don't like what I've done then we have to go back in and depending on how much rework we need it could take anywhere from a week to two weeks. After final approval it has to be sent to the caster to be cast. That takes a week and a half to two weeks. When I get it back I have to do all the final finish work on it which can run anywhere from a day or two to a week (in part because I'm usually working on multiple jobs at once). The best case scenario on this is 5 weeks. The worst case is 8 weeks or more.
Now let's say you've decided you want the band in yellow gold and the dinosaurs in white and pink gold. This means I will have to hand build the entire thing. I have to first order the metals which can take up to a week to get in the case of my white gold. In this example I also have to either draw up the dinosaurs myself or find some pictures of some that you like that we can work off of. If I'm drawing them that's a minimum of a week. Then I have to get the drawings approved (which means you have to come in and look at them on your schedule--if you get in right away that's great, if it takes you a week that slows it all down). Once that's happened I have to actually cut out the dinosaurs. Something as complex as this can take another week or two. Then you need to see them in real life because they never look exactly like the drawings (unlike in the Cad/Cam process where they look just like the computer rendering). Then I actually have to construct the entire band which can take another week, or if something goes wrong (and trust me, stuff often goes wrong) two to three weeks. Then you get to come in and look at the piece and if you like it hooray but if you decide you want some more changes I could either be right back at the beginning or at least needing some more time to make the changes. Again best case scenario is 4 weeks. The worst case is 12 weeks.
Now mind you if you're just having me alter some design I already make or if you're picking out an existing design with different stones I can often get the turnaround time down to 2 weeks (again depending on the piece) to 4 weeks. But remember these things: 1) I have to actually make the piece. Anything hand built does not just pop out of a computer. 2) I am always dependent on my suppliers. If they have a problem I have a problem. 3) I'm not a machine. 4) Your order isn't the only order in my shop (and a good thing too because if it was I'd be out of business!).
Other custom jewelers work in different ways. Many now do their own Cad/Cam which can speed up the process a bit. But if they are making up a quality piece of jewelry it still isn't going to be done in a week or two. So planning is important when you're thinking about making that purchase. If you're on a deadline then you need to plan appropriately. Leave more time than is necessary because no road is completely bump free.
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