Sunday, January 16, 2022

Custom-Made Jewelry



Richard Alan

An increase in the demand of high-ticket items this past holiday season was all the proof I needed to assure me that many of my predictions came true. Certainly, my personal experiences in a small jewelry business located on a quiet little island sitting in the Gulf of Mexico can’t possibly be a national or world-wide barometer?

I hit a threshold this past September; I simply got tired of trying to figure out what the public wanted. For the past five years or so, the cost of precious metals prohibited many folks from buying even something as simple as a gold neck chain. That made fine jewelry that consisted of nice quality diamonds and precious gemstones more than out of reach. Funny thing though, women love jewelry, and the demand was still a factor. Before I knew it, silver became the new gold.

Many famous gold jewelry manufacturers “smelled the coffee” so to say, and re-tooled, redesigned and manufactured silver or super-lightweight, low-quality gold jewelry pieces.

Guess what happened to those who didn’t change? Many of these companies are no longer with us. The market became flooded with lackluster alternatives. Now, jewelry is made from stainless steel, bronze or even copper.

At first, I hesitated, and before I even realized it, I had two stores on the island packed with the stuff. You know what? It just didn’t feel right in my gut. I found myself buying more gold from the public than they were buying from me, and even when a customer was interested in an inexpensive piece of jewelry, it required an hour of decision making on the purchase of a $15 piece of junk jewelry (O.K. I said it!). It’s a waste of time.

In September, I cleaned house. Gone are the cheap jewelry and watches. What is back in stock (thanks to lower precious metal prices) are beautiful, quality-made jewelry, watches and quality diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires — to name a few of the old favorites.

And, this brings me to the subject of this story.

What is custom jewelry? First of all, it is not to be confused with “costume” jewelry. That is at the other end of the spectrum. Second of all, the services of a competent goldsmith will be required.

In a nutshell, if you could design a piece of jewelry of your dreams what would it be? A designer/goldsmith can help you achieve that dream. A cutting edge design mixed with fine diamonds or a magnificent precious center stone created exclusively for you and you alone.

Many of my custom-created pieces are one of a kind, meaning I only make one and throw the mold away, especially if it is a really special masterpiece. My customer does not want to see her dream piece duplicated and on someone else’s finger.

One must also understand commissioning a goldsmith to create custom-made jewelry is a time-consuming and many times a costly experience. It’s not for everyone. Most jewelry you purchase in any jewelry store is mass-produced and certainly not one of a kind. That’s for everyone else.

In my custom-made process, there is a lot of face-to-face time to get the design just right and having the customer involved in the process from start to finish. Also, there is no room for error in custom jewelry. A goldsmith can’t just erase the finished piece and start over, so customer involvement is 100 percent.

Today, custom jewelry is high tech. There are now computer-generated designs that can duplicate the design in wax or plastic for the customer to see in 3D before creating it in precious metal and setting all the gemstones. It can reduce costs compared to the hours of work involved carving a model by hand.

A goldsmith’s art is still required; the process of casting, hand-forming, stone-setting, finishing and polishing is very time consuming. As they say, “Rome was not built in a day.” Custom jewelry can take two to three weeks to complete from start to finish, and that depends on how much the goldsmith has on his plate at the moment. I regretfully had to refuse commissions even in the beginning of December because I knew completing them in time for Christmas gift giving would be impossible. Always figure plenty of time in advance if it is a deadline gift, especially in the holiday season to avoid disappointment.

My experience has taught me to refuse to do a custom piece if it is needed “yesterday.” The proper time is required to create a truly nice piece of jewelry.

I personally use both old school and new school methods to crate jewelry, custom or otherwise. Nothing is more beautiful than a totally handmade ring or pendant; most antique jewelry is living proof of this. A handmade piece can cost up to three times more than a cad-cam (computer generated) piece. Sometimes, I combine the two worlds to accomplish the finishing of a particular piece.

Nothing is more rewarding than the thrill of presenting a finished custom piece to someone and experience the reaction of joy in his or her face. Only two weeks ago, I completed a customized piece, which was a re-do of an existing engagement ring, and presented the improved ring to who I thought was the young fiancé. As I was handing her tissues to dry her tears of joy, I was surprised to hear she wasn’t the bride-to-be but the sister-in-law-to-be!

A Golden and Happy New Year to all!


Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and owner of the Harbor Goldsmith of Marco Island at Island Plaza. He welcomes your questions about all that glitters 239-394-9275 or

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