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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Custom Work II

The follow up to the last posting on custom jewelry design is what should you, as a customer, expect from the jeweler. True custom work can be a tricky business. Often a customer will think they are explaining themselves clearly about what they would like to see in a design but the jeweler is hearing something entirely different. Individual jewelers will also put more, or less, of themselves into the process impacting what the final result is. Sometimes the customer, not being a designer themselves, will have absolutely no clear way to describe what they want and this leaves a lot up to the interpretation of the jeweler.

Personally I want my customers to be happy with the final result. I want this for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is just in my nature. The second is that if the customer isn't happy with the piece then they won't wear it. If they don't wear it, no one else sees it and no one can ask them where they got it. It doesn't do anyone any good if a beautiful piece of jewelry ends up stashed in a drawer somewhere gathering dust. I'm not a big believer in owning something you'll get absolutely no use from.

As a customer you should find out FIRST what the jeweler's policy is on custom work. Will they redo the job if you don't like it? Do they show you drawings, models, computer renderings, etc. first? What will happen if they can't make a piece you're happy with? Personally I'm not a sketch artist so I don't do drawings. But I do show the customer a model of the piece in metal (usually, although sometimes it will be in a wax) so they can see what the final result will look like. I find this works better than any other method because the customer can actually try on the piece and see how it appears on their finger. Sometimes drawings or computer renderings of rings don't accurately reflect how it's going to look on YOUR finger. Ultimately, it's going to be on your hand, not on a flat piece of paper. I also offer to make up to three models without an additional charge. Over this I may add extra charges, but usually this is only if the customer has changed directions entirely and it isn't just some minor modifications of the design.

You should also ask around, or check some of the places where reviews are written (Yelp, etc.) to see if anyone has had any experiences with the jeweler you've chosen. While it isn't possible to make every single customer happy, the majority of what you hear should be on the positive side. This however is no guarantee that your taste will coincide with the taste of the jeweler, or the other reviewers. (Try reading restaurant reviews on line sometime for a few places you've been to and liked. Some people will love the food, some will hate it, and some will think it's mediocre. Everyone has different tastes.) If you don't like the way the work in the shop looks, you could probably assume that you aren't going to get something made that you're happy with. You also want to watch for these things when working with a jeweler: Are they actually listening to what you are saying? Do you feel comfortable with the jeweler? Do you feel confident in their abilities? Are they looking at the practical nature of what you want (i.e. do they warn you when the design you want will be too fragile, or the stone you want might be damaged in the way you want to wear it)? If you answer no to any of these questions, then I would always recommend you look elsewhere. A jeweler who might be a great match with one person might not be with another.
The picture at the top of the posting is a custom piece for a regular customer for whom the three aquamarines held some significance. If my memory serves me right there was also supposed to be a certain number of wires on the piece to represent something else. She knew that she wanted something with the three stones, the particular number of wires, and an irregular shape, but she wanted me to do something that was consistent with my usual look.
The two pictures posted in the middle and bottom of this post were of an aquamarine and diamond engagement ring. In this case the customer knew he wanted an antique looking ring and the general idea was pulled from pictures of antique rings. The specific lines were worked out by me and a computer design program was used in conjunction with this.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Custom Work

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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Heat Treatment of Sapphires

The question that surrounds the entire issue of heat treatment of sapphires (or other gem materials) is: "What should I buy?" Personally I believe that if you see a stone you like and that the treatment is within the norms (i.e. heating as opposed to diffusion or dyeing) you should buy it. While it is nice to be able to say that your stone is completely natural, the fact of the matter is that man plays a role in the entire process whether treated or not. The stones are mined by man and cut to achieve their maximum beauty by man. If you want something completely natural you could always get a sapphire crystal, but most of them are really pretty ugly. I have given Kathy, my wife, both natural and heated sapphires. My concern is that the stone be beautiful, well cut and pleasing to the eye. The rest of it is moot. I don't want to own an ugly stone just because it hasn't been heated.

Years ago there was very little difference in the price between natural and heated sapphires. The general public had very little knowledge of what was being done to stones before they reached a retailer. Today, thanks to organizations like the AGTA and forward thinking retailers like myself and larger firms like Tiffany's, the public has been given the right to know what is being done to their stones. This has, in fact, led to a premium (in some cases a significant one) being placed on stones that can be proven to be natural color.

Unfortunately, there are still far too many jewelers out there who either don't understand what is being done themselves, or don't care about informing their customers (in some cases illegally). The FTC states that treatment of gem materials MUST be disclosed if the lack of treatment results in a significant price difference. Regrettably they don't define "significant" but a good lawyer could argue that even a 5% difference could be construed as that. Technically what this means is that fine sapphire that has been heated will need to be disclosed but tanzanite treatment would not (because ALL tanzanite that comes on the market has been heated). Personally, however, I have always believed that ALL treatments should be disclosed as the public has the right to know exactly what they are getting and acted accordingly.

So to answer the question posed at the beginning of this post, buy what you like! Just make sure that you are informed about what it is you are actually buying.
Pictured above: Natural color sapphire.