As I have often said in this blog I like to make and sell my jewelry in good part because of the meanings behind it for my customers. It's great to know how important a part I play in many of my customer's lives. Unfortunately some days are more bittersweet than anything else.
The other day one of my long term customers came by the shop and told me that she had terminal cancer.
She had never been married in her life and had no children but she had a number of nieces and nephews. She told me that she had already designated how all of her jewelry (most of which was pieces of mine) was to be passed on to the individual relatives. But then she said to me that she wasn't passing on her favorite piece (also one of mine) to anyone. She told me she had made arrangements to make sure that she was buried in my moonbeams necklace.
This is actually an old pin I made but Valentine's Day is coming so I thought it appropriate to put it out. I wanted to say a couple of things before I get into the main topic of my article today. First of all I wanted to thank all of you who have emailed (and called) me recently about my postings. It's great to hear from people who live all over the world who like (and have learned from) what I write. I'd like to encourage everyone who finds me to please share any or all of my articles with your friends (real or social media) as it helps Google find me better if more people are looking at my articles. And please if you find one article I've written helpful then read some of my other ones. I've been writing this a long time and I have a lot of information (and just some fun things) to look at. There is a directory for some of my articles you can link to on the side of the page (called My Blog Directory) that will sort some (not all as I only update once a year or so) of my articles by topic so if you are looking for some specific information it may be easier to find it.
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.
Please let me know how you like my articles. You can leave a comment below or email me. Thanks so much for reading!
I know I've been absent from my blog these days and I apologize. I was extremely busy this past holiday season and I was working pretty much non stop. On top of that I managed to come down with a plague right in the middle of it but had no time to stop working. I'm actually still working fairly hard but I finally managed to have a couple of days off (Christmas and New Years) so I'm starting to recover a bit. Unfortunately when you run a small business it doesn't really matter what time of year it is. I'm still hard at work on taking inventory and catching up on all the paperwork I neglected last month. And I still have a number of jobs in house to work on. I will however be closing for about a week and a half to take a small break. We are going to have some workmen in doing renovations on our workshop space while I'm on break but we will not be open again until January 20.
But let me first wish everyone a Happy New Year and I hope you all had a great holiday. It's always nice to start a new year out on the right foot and my holiday sales helped me to do that this year. If any of you are reading this who helped contribute to that I'd like to thank you. I really do appreciate all of the business that people bring my way. It's not easy being a small businessman sometimes but I love how much people still come in to work with me. And I especially like it when I hear things like what an elderly couple said to me the other day after they brought in a minor repair job for me to work on. When they were leaving and I was thanking them they said "Oh, we wouldn't think about going anywhere else for this! You're the only one we trust". Even though it was a simple job, I appreciate the compliment!
This is all I have time to write at the moment but I promise when I'm back from my break I'll be writing more regularly. If you live in the Northeast enjoy the lovely spring weather we're having!
I've been making and selling jewelry for 40 years. For 20 years I was one of the partners of Spirer Somes Jewelers. In 2004 I opened my own store with my wife Kathy. I have a Graduate Gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America. Everything sold in my store I make myself.