What exactly is the difference?
It's a bit of a personal pet peeve for us over here at MAKE MADE that everyone in town is trying to get you to buy your 'custom' engagement ring from them. Even the big box stores at the mall are promoting their 'custom' designs like crazy -- even when there's no designer or jeweler in sight (OR on staff)!
The reality of 'custom' is this: It's wildly popular, for good reason. Everyone wants to own a custom ring that no one else will have, that's personal and unique to them, and all the stores want to capitalize on the fact that you have your eye set on that. The hope is that once you're in the door, you'll be bedazzled by a slew of sparkly diamonds and overloaded with information. You'll simultaneously get swept up in the excitement of buying a ring NOW instead of focusing on what exactly it is she doesn't want about a traditional or mass-produced ring.
Unfortunately, most of the 'custom' jewelry you'll find at traditional store is more 'customized' than truely custom. While many stores provide the option to 'choose your stone shape and size', 'choose your setting', and even 'choose your band' and 'choose your metal color', the reality is that once you've made your selections, parts and pieces will simply be ordered and assembled (most likely elsewhere, and shipped to the store after a number of weeks). Choosing a diamond is the main event for this type of 'custom' ring, with simple design choices that follow -- carefully limited to a handful of tried and true options as to not overwhelm. There's not much that is truly unique or special about these products, and stores all over the country (and, world!) stock and/or order these made-to-order parts and pieces.
Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a ring that is traditional or is assembled from standard parts! We're not insisting that everyone need something truly custom, and there are plenty of women who want a simple, traditional 'tiffany style' setting and plain band.
However, for those that ARE seeking something one of a kind, designed purposefully, created for a unique individual -- that's an entirely different thing. That process looks quite different. That is who this post was written for.
What Makes a TRUE Custom Engagement Ring Unique?
True custom design starts with a one-on-one conversation and get-to-know-you session and then develops into sketches. It requires a design professional who has experience in both traditional design practices and and goldsmithing techniques. Similarly, it requires a good listener that is skilled at extracting what your desired style is as well as any personal details you'd like incorporated in your ring (real life examples from our clients: stylistic references to the church you met in, a hidden graphic representation of a fish representing a secret nickname you have for her, or antique-but-modern art nouveau styles combined with black vitreous enamel and heirloom stones).
A true designer will spend as long as it takes with you, get to know your desires and deal breakers, and talk you through endless options and guide you through stones, golds, and any other choices you'll need to make. They will also ask questions others may not -- like what she does for a living and what hobbies she participates in (this matters!), how she wears and treats her jewelry, and what type of band she'll want to accompany her ring later.
A logical next step is often to search for the perfect stone, as design restrictions, dimensions, and other specifics will rely on knowing the exact size and scale of the stone chosen. A knowledgeable designer will discuss with you the pros and cons of Diamonds vs. nontraditional stones or lab grown Diamonds or Moissanites, and will discuss the nuanced differences between setting styles for these stones as well as metal treatments (ex: polished, hammered, matte finished, or organically textured) and design styles both for complementary aesthetic purposes and for practical ergonomic or lifestyle reasons.
Once a designer has an understanding of your preferences and ideals and a stone has been chosen, they'll start sketching. They may reference images as well, in order to provide visual examples and gain understanding of likes and dislikes -- but the true sign of a designer are sketches. Sketches give you options, and an artist or designer will want to explore a number of them on their own in order to provide you with various versions of the same general concept. Sketches allow the designer to explore, but also work through small details in order to come up with sophisticated designs that incorporate all of the aspects you desire in a way that is cohesive and aesthetically pleasing. This creative process often results in new variations that neither client or designer initially thought of -- and often lead to client 'favorites' that are completely one of a kind designs. The next step, following the sketches phase, is to either produce a wax carving by hand or move into a computer aided design phase, creating a CAD model and then printing it as a prototype.
A CAD rendering of a design realized in the computer for a client
(finished ring pictured above)
After a wax model or prototype is created, the customer will be invited back in to try on the model, discuss any tweaks or changes, and possibly discuss any options, variations, or additional thoughts or ideas that may have emerged during the design and prototyping phase. Often during this time we're able to fake 'set' the stones into the design so that you can best visualize what the ring will look like once it's completed.
Once you've signed off on this step of the process, you'll have to endure the hardest part: patiently wait until completion! This phase can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks depending on the complexity of the piece, the processes it must undergo, and the amount of stone setting and finishing work is required. We at MAKE MADE do all of our casting, finishing, and stone setting in-house, and it's most often the same designer who delivered your sketches and CAD designs that does the hand work on your precious piece. This is in contrast to many of the 'customized' designs found elsewhere, as those may be 'made' in-house, in-town by another jeweler contracted, out of state, or even out of country.
A 3D printed prototype (left) next to the cast ring (right)
Enameled, sanded, and pre-polished, but prior to diamond setting.
(finished ring pictured above)
To say it simply -- you can think of a good custom experience as the anthesis of something that is assembled: it's absolutely not 'that head' set on 'that band' with 'that texture' or an obvious mash-up of different parts clunkily thrown together.
It is, instead, a unified piece that represents all of the desired characteristics executed in a way that feels authentic and natural, created by someone you've built a personal relationship with. It's truly a collaborative process that is exciting for the client and rewarding for the designer! There's nothing like being a part of the process and knowing your future heirloom is a true reflection of you, and most importantly, of her