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How Should I Choose A Jeweler To Create A Custom Setting?


Gracetrump
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I am shopping for a diamond and hope to find one soon. When I do, I will want to have an Edwardian style double halo setting made in platinum. My concern is that I do not know who I should go to to create the setting. I found two fairly similar settings that I like and I want to find someone who will create something in a similar style ( the design will need to be modified to fit a larger stone than the original design) and deliver good craftsmanship.

Should this be done by my local jeweler? He's reputable and I can be involved in the design every step of the way. If there's an issue down the road, I can easily take the ring to him for repair.

 

Or should I have the setting made by the vendor I source the stone from? I will very likely buy from an online vendor ( not sure which one yet) and it seems every vendor I speak to insists that THEY should make the setting if I purchase their stone. Some vendors are geographically far away though one told me she would send a silver version of the wax.

 

How do I know where to go? Every jeweler, it seems, insists that he or she excels at designing and manufacturing ring settings. The setting I want is intricate and includes around 1.0 ct of stones along with milgrain.

I appreciate your advice.

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There are good reasons for shopping locally, and there are good reasons for keeping the main stone and setting purchases with one vendor. The two are quite finely balanced, particularly in a case like yours where you want a relatively complex setting.

 

The only valid (IMHO) criterion for choosing is to see the quality of the workmanship. This is obviously more easily done with local sellers, but any jeweller who is serious about doing custom work will have good quality photographic evidence that they are (or are not...) good at doing they type of thing you want; bear in mind that good craftsmanship is not cheap.

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In the case of local jewelers it’s actually fairly easy.  Visit the store.  Ask them to show you work that they have done.  Nearly everyone will have some things in the cases that are examples of work they’re proud of.  This is not so much a question of design, you already have your design in mind, it’s an issue of craftsmanship.  Inspect a couple of items carefully.  Are the stones set straight?   Is it polished in places where it’s supposed to be polished?  Look between the prongs or inside the shank for example.  Is it symmetrical in places where the design indicates it should be?  By the way, be polite about this.  Compliment more than you criticize and most jewelers love to show off. 

 

While you’re at it, get a feel for how well you work with the people.  Are they eager to show off their work or are they irritated that you might spot something and that you're wasting their time? Is their ‘style’ the way you like?  You’re not really looking at design at the moment because this is a custom project mostly designed by you but complicated jewelry has a significant engineering component.  Even though you know what you want, they will need to work with you to put together something that both holds together and is on budget.  That’s sometimes tricky and not all ‘get it’. 

 

Talk to your friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers about their own custom experiences.  Jewelry is a subject that most people like to talk about after the fact.  They went through this process, found a guy or gal, and they love to tell people about it.   As with the above, this isn’t so much about whether you like their stuff, that’s their call and you don't need to dig much deeper than the fact that THEY like it or not, but check out the craftsmanship and listen to the stories about their experiences.  Positive referrals are worth a lot.

Lastly, try to avoid the tendency to do this on price alone.  Everyone has a budget, of course, but the cheapest craftsman is rarely the best.  I can’t tell you how much to spend but squeezing every penny here can bite you in ways that are less than obvious.

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If you are certain to purchase your stone through an online vendor but are seriously considering going with your local vendor for the setting, I would recommend you discuss the situation with him first.  Many local jewelers do not like to work on "outside" stones.  Many are more enlightened and have no problem with it.  I would hate to see you show up with a stone only to find out he won't do the work.

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My advice for you is different than the above gentleman as for having to go offline, I disagree. 

 

Some of the finest designs are produced by highly gifted CAD designers and use 3D printing. Id say the majority of fine engagement rings are done with computer aided design. This falling in both jewelry making and technology - Id say the online companies have a much better handle and are at an advantage over retail jewelers because an online jewelers production relies heavily on CAD and custom manufacturing. 

 

Retail jewelers for the most part buy mountings, castings and pre-made rings (for the most part) and delve into production less than their online counterparts.

 

The majority of online jewelers are already using CAD - and your local jeweler does not necessarily do any of it in house, and sends it out (at least thats how it is in NY and most jewelry stores I visit). 

 

Id say try both online and offline vendors so you can get competitive quotes and learn the process from various vendors, let them tell you what they know about making custom rings. 

 

Send photos of what you are looking at to a few vendors, get quotes/estimates/renderings. 

 

If they are positive in their ability to help you with what you want - they will create renderings for you, whether the jeweler is online or offline.

 

Make sure the renderings are exactly what you want, and they should give you specs/estimates of diamond and metal weight, and should give you measurements of rings as well. 

 

DONT put down a deposit or payment until you're satisfied with their work. 

 

If they demand a deposit and you feel comfortable making one, my advice is to make sure is refundable.

 

 

The jeweler should be able to provide you with specs as such:

 

post-133086-0-79502200-1414528460_thumb.jpg

 

 

And renderings as such:

 

post-133086-0-89728700-1414528459_thumb.jpg

 

 

They should make these available to you before you make a payment or deposit. Ive seen so many people get their arms twisted by jewelers and end up loosing their deposits (outrageous in my opinion) because of what I see as a bait and switch. 

 

Oh and make sure they color match the side stones to your center diamond, offer a warranty on their work (lifetime!), use high quality VS+ sidestones, as SI stones tend to chip over the years and fairly quickly.

 

GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING

 

Good luck and let me know if you have any questions about the process of making custom settings! 

 

 

Edited by Joshua Niamehr
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The devil is ALWAYS in the details.  This kind of work is almost always done with a CAD system, no matter where you get it, but the hardest part of CAD is in finishing the metal, assembling if it's needed, and setting.  Online jewelers are no different than local jewelers in that regard.  They're located in someone else's neighborhood.   To be sure there are some capable casters, finishers and setters in New York,  but there are definitely some hacks as well.   The same is true pretty much everywhere.  It's not the address that makes a good jeweler good.  The question at hand is how to tell the difference, and mostly it's not in the rendering or even the wax.  

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No doubt Neil that the devil is in the details, and the finished product is all that matters.

 

Some of the more reputable online retailers even offer to send prospective customers high-quality CZ samples of their works so customers can get a better sense of the quality, level of craftsmanship, and so they can see and feel the product. One such retailer that my account hints at, may even happily send a prospective customer 3-5 sample rings of their choosing to "try before you buy".

 

The irony is, many traditional brick and mortar retailers are actually displaying CZ samples in their showcases.

 

So apples to apples, the conversation here is really more about what a person feels most comfortable with. Many early adopters (and more every day) have realized the benefits and incredible value of buying online. For others, they require the in-person peace of mind.

 

Even though BN brought the business online in 1999, as of today, in the words of the great Jeff Bezos, "it remains Day 1" for online jewelers. 

 

Best of luck to you in your search Gracetrump. Love the uniqueness of the style you've selected, gives me a very Downton Abbey feeling!

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Thank you. This is exactly the advice I need. It particularly helps to know what to look for in a quality made setting and thanks for suggesting that I not make a deposit until I'm sure I like the design (I thought I would have to pay in advance to have the jeweler come up with a rendering). And GeorgeDi you are right that some vendors do not want to work with outside stones.  The two setting designs that I like (pictured below) are both only available if I purchase stones from the setting designers. 

 

I could not find anything similar to these designs in a stock setting, which is why I think I will go with a custom platinum setting. Because the diamond will be around 2.75ct or so, I will have to come up with a modification to either design, such as eliminating the inner halo, to make the finished ring narrow enough to fit on my finger. (The center diamonds in each of the photos is around a carat). I am hoping the jeweler will have some ideas that would preserve the overall Edwardian look while eliminating some width. I don't have any idea how much it will cost to create, but I'm certainly willing to pay for good quality in the design, make, and materials.

 

If it is impossible to design a setting that bears resemblance to these settings, then I will go with a stock design such as the one in the third photo. Either way, I am hopeful ithe finished ring will be pretty.

 

Thank you again for great advice. post-134604-0-84960100-1414551926.jpgpost-134604-0-04676200-1414551938_thumb.jpgpost-134604-0-13980400-1414551947.jpg

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Mostly I think Victor Canera doesn't do CAD and casting type work.  Those rings are fabricated out of metal.  That's a fairly unusual talent and there's a pretty good chance your local jeweler isn't prepared to do it.  It's a decidedly high skill and labor intensive job.  I think you're right that doing that with a 2.75ct center stone will be tricky.  

 

The one with the emeralds is a much more straightforward job but it's VERY different looking.  There's certainly no problem with that but it's important to end up with what you want.

 

There's actually a LOT to be said for buying the whole thing at the same place and I second your original idea of looking at your diamond seller.  It saves on problems of fingerpointing if something goes wrong at the end.   This is an expensive project and you want everything to be right.  Why do you want it to be two separate companies?

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Thanks for the thoughtful response. I don't "want" it to be two different companies; I'm just not sure that I will find the diamond I want from a place where I will want to have the setting fabricated. What if I find the diamond on Blue Nile? I'm not sure if they make custom settings.

 

Also, I'm not sure how the logistics will work. If I purchase the diamond from an online vendor, they will send it to me to see before I agree to buy it. Then, I will have to pay to ship the stone back to them (probably costs a few hundred dollars to do that) and then work with them online and via phone calls to come up with the design for the setting.  And then I would need to receive wax models of the ring in the mail....etc. I am thinking that this sounds very complicated and perhaps it would be much easier to use a local jeweler for the setting. Is this bad reasoning? Maybe I'm missing something - although I do understand the benefit of having one vendor handle the whole thing, especially in case something goers wrong.

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It'll be a LOT easier to find a diamond than to find someone who can make that ring.

 

Nearly every stone available on Blue Nile is available elsewhere although there are individual exceptions in their 'signature' series.  Any jeweler who wants to can match their price or come reasonably close to it.  Whether or not they want to is a different question but it doesn't hurt to ask.  

 

I'm pretty sure Blue Nile does NOT do custom work.

 

At least in the case of the two VC pictures you posted, there is no wax.  Those aren't castings.  That said, the logistics you describe is about right.  Shipping may be a little cheaper than you're expecting and FedEx offers pretty fast service, especially if you're in the US.  Realistically, shipping is a tiny tiny portion of this project even if we're talking international.  

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Thank you. This is exactly the advice I need. It particularly helps to know what to look for in a quality made setting

My short list of things to check:

 

* Are all viewable areas of the ring finished and polished?

* What about areas that are difficult to reach or view in normal circumstances (e.g. the back of the stone seats)?

* Is the finish/polish regular and smooth? Any marks of filing or dull areas?

* Are joints neat, graceful and soldered accurately? (Enough solder to cover the whole joint, but not too much that it overflows)

* Are parts that are supposed to be symmetrical actually symmetrical? How regular are patterns/repeating elements?

* Are there extra decorative/finish details - even in places that aren't supposed to be noticed?

 

The list may give you some ideas of what to look at, if not the standard to look for. If you want to find well made pieces to get a bearing, I'd start looking at branded/named jewellery from the 1910s-1950s - labour was significantly cheaper, and the average level of craftsmanship was much higher than today. This is not to say that all pieces from that period are well made (or that everything made today is worse); but it's easier to find well made jewellery in that period.

 

As an example, take this pair of emerald and diamond clips (American, early 1930s):

 

IMG_0558_zpsa74f0ce6.jpg

IMG_0565_zpsf2443a94.jpg

 

and some of the details that show the quality of workmanship:

 

Rolled-up/undercut channels for the clip fitting:

IMG_0566_zps7a1e07dd.jpg

 

Drilled fitting (something you can't see in the photo, and isn't very relevant for a ring, but once the fitting is in place and the clips closed, the whole lot feels absolutely solid, as if it were soldered together):

IMG_0571_zps1667be00.jpg

 

Curved and galleried pavé surfaces (also note how the tab for lifting the clip is smoothed and chamfered):

IMG_0573_zps2a1db786.jpg

 

Shaped tabs and honeycomb setting:

db4b1b6c-5341-48e5-a4e1-c1007231fd50_zps

 

And a few other things, like the way in which the clips are sprung, the neatness of the corners, the complex and flowing nature of the design etc. Bear in mind that some of the photos are magnified 50+ times; the whole piece is less than 2" diameter (42 mm).

 

Note that some of this is a combination of design AND execution, however I'm sure that a lot of the details were not actually specified by the designer, but left to the maker's skill, taste and creativity. This is why I (and I guess Neil) insist on the need to see things. Renderings are fine for some things, but they don't tell the whole story.

 

and thanks for suggesting that I not make a deposit until I'm sure I like the design (I thought I would have to pay in advance to have the jeweler come up with a rendering).

It all depends on who you choose. Some people are happy to produce renderings/initial designs "for free" (or at least without asking to be paid upfront); others will demand a downpayment before they even start that phase.

 

While the willingness to do things at "no charge" and investing in building a customer relationship is great, to me the ability to deliver a finished product that actually looks like the rendering is far more important; don't discard someone just because they ask you to be paid for their time upfront (which in many cases of skilled artisans is as valuable when drawing or using a CAD package as it is welding a torch or a wax chisel).

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Really? I did not know that there was any other method than wax. Are you saying that the designs I like are too complicated? Or is there some other reason they could not be made that way? Should I choose another style of setting? If not a wax casting, then what method would be used? BTW, just one is a VC design. The other I found on a site based in Australia. I just thought the styles were pretty on both/either of these but I did not intend to select something that would be out of the ordinary to have made. I had no idea. I didn't mean to do anything complicated!

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Davidelevi, thank you for the list and the beautiful example. And no, I don't mind paying someone reputable an upfront portion of the cost for design work. I just don't want to pay someone only to find that their work/design is terrible. Perhaps after hearing what denverappraiser said I will change my mind and go with a stock setting. I am feeling overwhelmed by all of this. If the style I like cannot be made with a wax casting, then will I need to find someone who specializes in some other method of manufacture? I was not trying to do anything difficult or out of the ordinary.

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I assume your questions are directed to Neil, but since timezones are what they are, I'll start with my answer to them:

 

1. There's plenty of jewellery making methods other than lost wax casting. The main families of methods are casting (pouring molten metal into a shape) and fabrication (starting from a metal wire, bar or pipe which is brought into shape by hammering, cutting, drilling, sawing, filing, heating and soldering, but without melting the metal). Pretty much all pieces of jewellery involve some fabrication, but some are made exclusively through fabrication.

 

2. Some techniques are more suitable for some purposes/design than others. Casting techniques are usually cheaper, particularly if you need to produce more than one identical piece. On the other hand, fabrication is usually more robust and "flexible" - in particular in building complex shapes with lots of stones. Just eyeballing the designs you like, it would be quite tough to build them in a single casting preserving the fineness/"weightlessness" of an Edwardian design.

 

3. There is nothing wrong or "too complicated" about them; the fact that you can find them being made is by itself a guarantee that they are feasible. They just demand a different (and nowadays less common) set of skills than just (CAD-driven) casting.

Edited by davidelevi
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Gracetrump, this should not be a stressful process (I know, easier said than done). You're not reinventing the wheel here. There are many jewelers who can make these designs with ease (relative). From the customer side, I wouldn't concern myself too much with the casting method. As the previous posters mentioned, the finished product is what matters.

 

IMHO, it would be more challenging, time consuming, and significantly more expensive to find a skilled artisan to make this kind of piece by hand.

 

Using CAD, a skilled designer can recreate these designs with minimal effort. The type of rings you're looking at will likely require a the setting to be printed, then cast, and later, the detail finished by hand. Meaning, a jeweler would finish the ring with the milgrain, antiquing, etc. This depends of the design as many 3D printers can now handle milgrain effortlessly.

 

There are many reputable jewelers who manufacture this way. This is a much better value proposition for the customer. At this point, most jewelers offer complimentary shipping (cost is factored in to sale price) and 30-day return policies. I would recommend you only work with a jeweler who is happy to keep you updated and seeks your approval throughout the manufacturing process. 

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Davidelevi, thank you for the list and the beautiful example. And no, I don't mind paying someone reputable an upfront portion of the cost for design work. I just don't want to pay someone only to find that their work/design is terrible. Perhaps after hearing what denverappraiser said I will change my mind and go with a stock setting. I am feeling overwhelmed by all of this. If the style I like cannot be made with a wax casting, then will I need to find someone who specializes in some other method of manufacture? I was not trying to do anything difficult or out of the ordinary.

I think you need to reverse the process you are thinking of; the jeweller doesn't need to demonstrate everything just by using the piece they will be making for you. If anything, I'd argue that "design skills" are the least of my concern:

 

First find someone who can build a design like what you want. It doesn't need to be identical to the examples you posted, just similar enough that it gives you confidence they could tackle something else that is also similar. Check what people have on their websites or shop windows.

 

Second, vet their skills. Ask them to show you - if they are any good, they'll only be too pleased to demonstrate. A CAD design is not proof of skills at anything other than using a CAD programme. Physical access to pieces of jewellery made by them makes things easier, but good photos, conversations over the phone, access to referrals are all useful and if used well sufficient.

 

Third, vet their character. Are they people you can work with? Do they have ideas and suggestions that you like? Do they listen to your ideas and suggestions?

 

Fourth, get them to work with you on a design you like. This could be via CAD renderings, sketches on paper or whatever else you (and them) find useful. If they ask for an upfront payment, consider it - the risk of having something terrible coming out is significantly lessened if you have done your homework.

 

There is nothing dramatically unusual about the designs you like. As yet another example, this is a ring I bought for me (actually for my wife). It started with this stone:

r3857ad.jpg

 

it went on with this sketch:

r3587sketch.jpg

 

It ended up being fabricated like this:

uber2.jpg

 

And it looks like this once finished:

r3857ra.jpg

Edited by davidelevi
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Great content from Davide above.

 

The process he’s describing above is called metal fabrication.  That’s welding together sheets and wires to make the piece (these are called mill products).  The biggest advantage to this is that pieces are more durable and they can make a more lacy and lightweight pieces (or components).  They can do a better job of finishing in difficult places like between the stones or underneath the gallery.  The downside is mostly with cost but there are actually a few others.  CAD is relatively easy.  Lots of people can do it, it’s fast and comparatively inexpensive.  Fabrication is a decidedly unusual talent and people who are good at it charge more for their time and skills.  Add to that that it’s significantly more time consuming and you find the prices to be quite a bit higher.

 

Sometimes it’ll be a combination.  People will fabricate things using a combination of cast, milled and die struck parts.  A traditional ‘solitaire’ setting, for example, usually is assembled using a cast shank with a die struck crown. 

Deciding what are the proper techniques and materials to use is part of what you’re asking the jeweler to do.  They’re supposed to know what the best way is to get to a particular result that you want.  If what you want is an engineering challenge or poses a durability risk, explaining that as well as what your other options might be is part of the design process.  As Davide pointed out above, this is part of the process, it’s part of the skill and yes, it’s entirely appropriate they be paid for it although its’ usually bundled with the rest of the job into one final charge.  The world has changed a bit but 20 years ago when I was doing this sort of work on a daily basis, I would not even begin a drawing without a ‘non-refundable’ deposit.   I put non-refundable in quotes because it wasn’t entirely correct.  That’s what we called it.  I asked for it because I didn’t like people taking up my design time and then having it made by someone down the street who would quote a cheaper price but who was a crappy designer themselves.  Even worse was when people would take my design somewhere cheaper, they would do a crappy job, and the customer would come back and ask me to ‘fix’ it.  If it turned out that I couldn’t end up with a design they liked or we otherwise just  didn’t get along, I’d refund it and they would go somewhere else. 

 

You’re probably looking at buying something like a $30k-40k center stone here.  There are literally hundreds of them available and nearly any jeweler out there will be thrilled to talk to you about it.  Assuming you’re careful about your shopping, it’s not actually all that hard to get what you want.  Budget is usually a problem but they can all do the job and they can all come fairly close on the price.  That’s not the way the mounting goes.  You’re going to spend $3,000 to maybe $10,000 on this and, depending on what you decide on, many of them CAN’T do it.  The craftsmanship differences are vast and subtle questions like what we’re discussing have a tremendous affect on what you end up with.  The labor component for the guy/gal who makes your piece is likely to be less than 10% of your budget but it’s 75% of your stress.  I don’t know who your local jewelers are but start there.   Tell ‘em what you are thinking and hear what they have to say.  I assure you, you are not the first to want to bring in an outside stone and have a piece made.  If they really don’t want the job, they’re either fools or they've got more work than they can do.  That's a nice position to be in but I assure you, most jewelers would like more customers.  Yeah, they may charge extra for setting it, and you may need to buy your own insurance, but so what?  Now we’re haggling over the price but, unlike the diamond, it’s highly unlikely that price is really the problem. 

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Although intricate in its design, this particular style is well within the ability of many CAD or more traditional creators.  This ring, for example was created using a CAD.  There is very little a CAD cannot do.  By the same token, a good bench jeweler can create the most amazing work as well, but it will require more effort ($$) than using a CAD system.

post-109884-0-22664800-1414592481_thumb.jpg

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Wow. That is an incredible ring!

Thank you again for the advice. It is very important that I work with someone who is easy going and willing to explain things to me and work with me.

One thing I've found just in the process of looking for a stone is that there are some people I would not feel comfortable making the ring for me. For example, an exclusive jeweler in our town showed me a really terribly cut stone - it was a GIA triple Good - cut very, very deep. When I said that I thought the stone was too deep he became defensive. When I mentioned the HCA he told me that it was nonsense and that he was an expert gemologist and his word was better than anything.

 

I politely left. The jeweler I want to work with is not arrogant or unwilling to hear my concerns (even though I am clearly to an expert). He is also not trying to sell me a really awfully cut diamond while telling me it is "ideal."

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