Customising your own unique jewellery pieces has been more and more popular in the recent years. In the past, bespoke jewellery was more reserved for a small group of people – usually the rich – due to their exclusivity and expensive craftmanship labour. But, with the proliferation of social media, more people are exposed to the world of bespoke jewellery, and many jewellers are more willing to offer bespoke services to reach a wider audience via the Internet.
With bespoke jewellery becoming more well-known, there are a few tips to take note of, especially if the purchaser is new to the market. Here are a few general guidelines to help you understand more about customising your own jewellery and start with a smoother bespoke jewellery process.
General Rule 1: Understand that each item is unique
Unlike mass produced, ready-made jewelleries where factories calibrate same size diamonds to make their items, customizing your own jewelleries means that you get to select the specific gemstone/diamond to make into a particular design.
In this aspect, unless they are calibrated round diamonds where size and cutting are easy to manage, each gemstone or fancy cut diamond is one-of-a-kind and it is not easy to find a second piece of the exact same size, shape, cutting and colour. Therefore, if you came across a design online, such as Titanic’s Heart of Ocean, it is not possible for the jeweller to find exactly the same size, same dimension, same cutting and same shade of blue tanzanite for you.
What a jeweller can do is to help you search for a similar size, shape, and colour gemstone. The designer will then proceed to propose his/her design ideas to you based on the gemstone itself.
At this point you may ask: how about big brands who can make multiple jewelleries using almost the same gemstones? Usually, the case is that big brands either have their own gemstones/diamond mines, or they collaborate with big names in the industry to source and secure all the gemstones/diamonds that they require. Then the rest of the gemstones/diamonds will trickle down to smaller players in the market.
General Rule 2: Unable to produce exact same craftmanship
Don’t be alarmed – it does not mean that the craftmanship may be of lesser calibre. The truth is, handmade jewellery items will differ from one crafter to another depending on each individual. For example, craftmanship from Jeweller A may differ slightly compared to craftmanship from Jeweller B despite working on the same design. Part of the reason is due to the gemstones that they are working on have differences (as mentioned above), hence the way they can craft the item may have to be slightly different too.
Another reason may be due to the skills and aesthetics preference of the crafter. Some crafters may feel that making a broader band to match the gemstone will look more beautiful, while some crafters prefer to keep it daintier and cleaner. Different preferences in the crafter may also result in slight differences in their end product, even if they are working on the same design.
Furthermore, even for the same crafter, each handcraft item will have slight differences too, just like the work on our handicraft (e.g., making resin coasters), which may come out slightly different depending on how much control we can have over the end product. Therefore, if the purchaser is really specific in the crafting, such as wanting the space between the 2 diamonds to be shortened by 0.05cm (0.5mm), it may be quite challenging to make such specific requests over a handmade jewellery item. Whilst there may be no new things under the sun, some possibilities remain. There may be highly skilled artisans available to work on very specific requests but usually they charge a premium price for their labour.
In general, handcraft items can never be “perfect”. Gemstones itself are already not perfect items – the cutting of the gemstone may also affect how the craftsman wants to place the prongs, as we have seen in some cases where the table surface of the gemstone is uneven. Hence, the craftsman has to create 1 side longer and 1 side shorter prongs to set the gemstone well.
Usually, machine-made mass-produced items are more “perfect” than individual handcraft jewellery The difference is most obvious when you compare modern jewellery to vintage jewellery made in the last century – we see more “imperfections” in their workmanship (such as uneven gold band) but that is precisely why people purchase them for their uniqueness.
General Rule 3: Crafting costs may differ from individual to individual
There is no fixed cost for making a jewellery piece. Jeweller A may charge more while Jeweller B may charge slightly less. But the rule of thumb is that, if the jeweller charges a premium rate in your home country, then expect the craftmanship and amount of gold used are more solid than other jewellers. The cost is always there – be it the gold or side diamonds – we cannot expect a crafter to charge a cheaper rate yet use a lot more gold and diamonds than the others. Usually, it is an untold truth that the more expensive the item is, either it is more difficult to make, the crafter is more skilled, or the number of gold/diamonds used are more.
General Rule 4: Bespoke will always be more expensive than ready-made
Contrary to some people’s belief, bespoke jewellery items actually cost more than ready-made items. It has been this case for centuries because ready-made jewelleries usually are mass-produced, they rely on selling more quantity to earn a profit. Whereas for customised items, jewellers can only earn their profit from making 1 item at a time, therefore, the price for bespoke jewellery will always cost more than their ready-made counterparts.
However, if the “ready-made” item is one-of-a-kind, meaning the jeweller can only produce limited quantities of the same design, or it has to be made-to-order, then usually that jewellery isn’t cheap either.
Why would some people have the impression that bespoke can be cheaper than ready-made? Usually, it is because some customers may approach some jewellers to make custom knockoffs from large well-known brands. The jeweller will usually charge a lower price than those brands and, hence, it may seem like bespoke items are “cheaper”. But without looking at the brands, if we compare the individual item itself in the market, bespoke jewelleries will cost more to make than mass-produced ready-made ones.
General Rule 5: Get ready for trial-and-error
Doing bespoke jewellery sometimes feel like opening a mystery box – the actual item may or may not meet your expectations. One reason being, if the customised item is a totally brand-new design, no actual item that exists before to allow for comparison. Drawing the design in 2D drawing will still be different than the 3D item which we received in hand. Furthermore, as different craftsmen may have different aesthetic preferences, such as whether to set the gemstones lower or higher, it may affect the end result too.
We would suggest customers keep an open mind and communicate more with the jeweller if you have any concerns or requests. We have met some customers who just go with the flow and are willing to try out different designs, even if the end product may not be exactly how they imagined it to be. However, we would definitely prefer a more controlled result and reduced any surprises, hence we’ll always suggest customers to confirm the design either through 2D drawing, wax casting or gold casting of the jewellery, so that edits can be done before proceeding to make the actual item.
Last but not least, we understand that each jeweller may have their own styles and preferences. Some people, for instance, prefer dainty, “Japanese” designs while some prefer thick, chunky, “Italian” style. Before engaging the jeweller, customers are advised to do more research to understand what kind of style the jeweller is and whether their style and aesthetic preferences are aligned with your own. This will help reduce the incidents where you wanted a chunkier band and wondered why the end product has a thin band that looks daintier.
Nevertheless, it is always helpful to ask more questions to understand more about the process and communicate what you are looking for in the end product. If what you are looking for is not possible to make, or beyond the ability of the craftsman, a responsible jeweller should inform you up front as well, and you can see if you need to make any changes before proceeding.
After looking into the five general rules of bespoke jewellery, we came to understand that no two bespoke items in the world can be exactly the same even if they are the same design, because the gemstones differ and the craftmanship can differ too. This is what makes bespoke jewellery attractive and highly popular among the rich – it gave the feeling that this piece is “the one and only”.
So, “what is the next step?” You may ask. In our next blog post, we will discuss tips for making your first bespoke jewellery. We will dive in deeper and guide you step by step through what you should take note of when you are starting to customise your own fine jewellery items.