What is Custom Design? From Modified Designs to From Scratch Design

Car Customization and Custom Designed Rings

Multi Textured Multi-colored sapphires Ring in yellow gold by Calla Gold

Unique Shapes, Textures and Colorful Sapphires Are CeCe’s Dream Come True

What is ‘custom’ anyway? With a little help from my jeweler friend Gary Dawson of Gary Dawson Designs in Eugene Oregon, and founding member of the MJSA (Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America) Council of Custom Jewelers, let’s talk custom design.

Gary says, “It can be confusing. When you order a custom automobile, for example, you pick a model you like and then you get some choices.  Exterior and interior color might be part of that, automatic or manual transmission…maybe; leather seats?  You will likely have some choices in trim and detail.  And that’s about it. All of your choices will be limited to what the manufacturer already has in production and only assembled to your preferences.  You cannot go to the car dealer with a sketch of the dream you had about an outrageous car design and have her make it from scratch.  You CAN do that with custom jewelry!  That’s HUGE!”

Let the Confusion End

From Drawing to Finished Ring

Different jewelers call custom designed jewelry by different terms. They call it things like ‘special order,’ ‘custom designed,’ and ‘modified special order.’

This can cause confusion when three different jewelers call what you are asking for by three different descriptions. But thanks to the MJSA and work by jewelers like Gary Dawson, differing levels of custom have been given terms to share with jewelers everywhere.

I for one love this and introduce it here as the new language of custom design! This is great for jewelry lovers everywhere. It’ll help you choose the best custom designing jeweler to work with you.

Let’s unpack what MJSA and the Council of Custom Jewelers have codified for jewelers and jewelry dreaming clients everywhere.

MJSA and Defining Custom Design Options

Logo of MJSA

Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America

Custom jewelry is, at its core:

Jewelry designed and produced by a jeweler for a specific client, almost always with the client’s input, and adhering to the highest standards of quality craftsmanship.

MJSA and the council are also promoting a three-tiered system in which custom design projects can be grouped according to the level of design involved. The three levels are:

Full Custom Design: A jewelry design made from scratch specifically for a customer.

Semi-Custom Design: Existing designs that have been modified to alter their shapes or appearance.

Made to Order: Existing designs manufactured by request, modified only by sizing and choice of metal and/or gemstone.

Examples of Full Custom Design

Full custom design

An Orchid Ring Done With a Full Custom Design

Wayne called me to design an Orchid ring for his lady love, Robin. “She love orchids. I want to give her the most beautiful orchid ring I can.” It turns out that there are a lot of different types of orchids.

This full custom design started with my creating a Paint document with many choices of orchid leaves to find out her favorite kind. Once various petal styles were chosen, my wax carver Peggy Croft made the first of three versions of Wayne’s gift ring to her.

I showed each of the wax model iterations to Robin and Wayne. There was enough detail going on that having them be involved at the various steps was a must.

I offered various places we could set her diamonds and we picked an asymmetric location for the largest diamond.

When a custom design is very complex expect to pay more for that level of service.

Once the final touches were made for the wax we cast her ring. The polishing and setting were carefully done and her finished unique ring stops traffic.

Full custom design creations in jewelry run the gamut from specifying the width, depth and design of a man’s wedding band of a style your jeweler has not previously designed, to dreamed up amazing creations like Wayne’s gift to Robin. What they have in common is the start from scratch element.

Examples of Semi-Custom Design


Three Rings Semi-Custom Designed

The semi-custom design, seems to me to be the most mis-understood level of custom design. When a project is started by choosing a design I have already done, the front end time is shortened.

I need to do a CAD (Computer Aided Design) and a wax model for the size and shape of the gemstone I’m working with. However, I don’t have the added time of coming up with a brand new design idea. Or two or three to choose from.

The top ring to the left is the original design. It contains pave set tiny diamonds, hand engraving and a black rhodium finish.

Wendi’s Garnet Ring

When Wendi saw the original ring, she visualized her long saved emerald cut garnet in its split shanked openness on her hand. She loved the basic design with the tiny diamonds curving around and down the ring’s shank. She decided she didn’t want any hand engraving or black rhodium.

Wendi’s ring looks unique, even though it has its inspiration in a previously designed ring. Wendi’s ring was less expensive to create than a Full Custom Designed ring. This is because the basic foundational design had already been done.

Charla’s Emerald Ring

Charla also loved the openess on the side of the original design. One of the reasons she loved that openess was that her emerald was lovely and deeply cut. She wanted it’s deep side to be able to get light and to be visible.

Charla loved the idea of the curving surface of diamonds accenting her emerald. She also adored the lacey hand engraving. However Charla is a yellow gold kinda gal, so her ring needed to be yellow gold. She also wasn’t feelin’ the black rhodium.

Each ring was made one at a time for the gemstone it held. It incorporated the elements my client’s loved best. Each ring after the original ring was created is a semi-custom designed ring.

The costs of a semi-custom-design fall between full-custom-design and made-to-order.

Examples of Made To Order

Two Made-to-Order Rings Using the Same Original Design

Sometimes a client has a gemstone to be set and they want to see options of ways to set it that already exist. Or they want a style by the designing jeweler because they like their style. In either case, I show designs I have done that would accommodate them.

Once they find one they like, we figure out their finger size and what metal they’d like it in. And any gemstones I’ll add to the complete the piece.

This style of custom order will often be the least expensive as there are no changes to the design itself, just simple modification of size and metal.

What do I Offer?

Three diamond ring with filigree side view

The Architect’s Ring in All it’s Rule Breaking Beauty. This is a Full Custom Designed Ring

Happily I offer all three. I believe there is a jewelry designer inside each one of us and as jewelers it’s our job to draw that design from your mind and make it real.

One of my favorite designs was  written about in an article called, “The Architect’s Ring.” Coincidentally enough it was published by the MJSA. My client provided the vision for this beautiful ring, however it broke design rules. Big time. I needed to figure out how to translate that dream and make it work in the real world.

Personalization and Custom Jewelry

Express Yourself With Jewelry

Whether it’s a car, a wedding invitation, photo face underwear or a ring, custom design and our desire to personalize will remain strongly with us.

Many years ago I chose jewelry as my way to personalize life, achievements and love.

I wish you great joy in personalizing your life’s journey with jewelry.

Your Personal Jeweler,

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About Calla Gold

Calla Gold is a Personal Jeweler and Author who takes pride in working with clients one-on-one to integrate their personal sense of style and taste into custom designed jewelry and repaired jewelry pieces.   Unlike typical Santa Barbara jewelry businesses, Calla Gold has no brick-and-mortar location. Calla Gold comes to you, bringing you the jewelry collection you want to see and collaborating with you to create unique custom jewelry. Calla also works with at-a-distance clients.

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