by Jim Leeds
Food is grown on farms. Cars are built in factories. But where does jewelry come from? Some days I wish there were magical jewelry elves, but guess what? There are not. Yes, much like superheroes and America, each piece of jewelry also has its own origin story. So this week, we’ll talk about how to decide on a custom piece, as well as how that piece makes if from concept, to production, to you.
Deciding on the right piece of jewelry can be hard…really hard if you consider the near-limitless possibilities given the technological advances of the last 15 years. But here are some things to consider:
Style: Whether it’s classic and sophisticated, or modern and bold, just remember you will be wearing this for a while, so try to imagine whether you’ll still like it 10 or 20 years from now. To get some ideas, most jewelers will have cases full of intricate jewelry to browse. Catalogs and pictures from the Internet are also great indicators of what it is that you’re after and will help you (and the designer) conceptualize your perfect piece.
Functionality: Jewelry isn’t just a matter of beauty, but also of function. Another benefit of first browsing through showroom jewelry is that it allows you to see how a piece “performs.” For example, let’s say you’re a nurse who puts on and takes off surgical gloves all day. Well, in that case, perhaps the super tall ring with 30-prong set stones isn’t the right ring for you. Or perhaps you’re a new mother considering creating a beautiful set of dangly earrings. Perhaps, given a child’s active hands, something closer to the ear might work better. Point being, it’s important to figure out not just what you want your custom piece to look like, but also how it will work for you.
Stone Type: Simply, I’m speaking of stone durability (we’ll save other “quality” factors such as grading and price for a different discussion). When choosing a new stone, keep in mind that not all stones are created equal. Durability (hardness), as well as how susceptible a stone is to conditions such as sunlight or chemicals, can vary greatly. Diamonds, for instance, are considerably more durable and scratch-resistant than, say, coral or opal. There are several educational materials available on the Internet regarding this, but you can always ask your local jeweler (i.e. Jack Lewis) as well.
Metal Type: Similar to stone types, there are a variety of metals (albeit a much shorter list than available stones) to consider with different performance factors. Varieties of gold, silver, platinum, and lesser known metals such as palladium are all possibilities. Simple design aspects such as, “Do I want a white metal or yellow metal,” can certainly narrow things down, but different metals have different degrees of durability and monetary value. For example, gold being more pliable than platinum can make for easier repairs, but less durability over time. White gold being rhodium-plated can lead to the wearing of the rhodium over time, exposing the raw white gold alloy and giving an off-white appearance to the metal which might eventually require re-plating (purely cosmetic, of course, but often desired).
So how is jewelry made? Conception is the first step of our origin story. Before we start casting the piece, we want to know what it’s going to look like. This can be done using the older method of hand-drawn sketches, or the more modern way of CAD/CAM software and digital rendering. Here at Jack Lewis, we use both depending on the piece and its intricacies.
Once the design is determined, based on the factors discussed earlier, a wax will then be hand-carved or “grown” -a similar concept to a 3D printer. (Additionally, viewing the wax before it is cast might be beneficial to make sure proportions are correct and that this piece is exactly what you expected. So just ask your jeweler.) Once the wax is complete, it is placed in a mold (often plaster or rubber) and burned away leaving the voided space to be filled with the predetermined molten metal. Once the casting process is complete, the goldsmiths get to work semi-polishing the piece, setting the stones (if needed), and lastly, final polishing and detailing until…Voila’! Your piece is finished!
It was a long process to get from the Earth to your hands, but now you have a completely customized piece of wearable art! Enjoy it! And enjoy the journey from concept to production to finished piece. After all, everyone loves a good origin story.