Custom Jewelry Then and Now

Custom Jewelry for the Millennium Generation

Forty years ago when I started making custom jewelry, it was a brave new world. In our part of the country, there just was not anyone else trying to make a custom piece of jewelry except for some of the traditional jewelry houses in Chicago. Back in those days, making custom jewelry was a long, laborious process. It began with sketching a hand drawn design based on the customer’s thoughts and ideas. The design was adjusted until it was approved by the customer.


Once approval was received, a wax model was hand carved based on the design. Now the jewelry designer changes roles from designer and artist to sculpter. Sometimes, the wax carving was done more than once because the scale, lines, or design features were not correct the first time. Once a wax model was completed, it was surrounded by a material called investment and burnt out over night. The void that was left will become the new piece once it is cast into metal. Casting involved a centrifugal casting machine that spins around shooting the hot metal into the void left in the investment. From here, the artist and sculpter changed roles again and becomes a metal worker and gem setter. Once cast all of the finishing details, polishing and stone setting takes place. The amount of labor on the upfront part of this process was substantial.

However, now (2014), the process is streamlined by the implementation of computer aided design. These programs are very user friendly. The custom jewelry design process at this point has been sped up saving time and in turn, money! Since the computer aided design is now in essence the original model, the next step of milling or 3-D printing the piece allows the creation of an exact model. The best part of this new process is that if you want to duplicate the piece say 2 or even 100 times, there is no need to make a mold of the original. Each piece becomes its own original and is created off of the original design. This was not possible using a rubber mold process of duplication. When a piece is molded, the parts that you get out of the mold will not be as crisp and detailed as the original. Some of this is lost in the molding process.




The balance of the custom jewelry making process is the same as before. We still execute many of the same finishing details, polishing and stone setting techniques. The process has contoured so that in many cases we can produce a piece for the same price as one that has been mass produced. When multiple pieces are created using the same design, the pricing becomes even more competitive. Custom jewelry design is now the leading edge for the new millennial customer!

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