These days with advances in metals manufacturing almost any design is possible. However, not all designs are compatible with traditional techniques. I thought it would be useful to create a guide for people who are not metalsmiths to help with requesting custom handmade jewlery.
Detailed, Specific Designs
If you already have a complex design like a logo or other emblem and want it reproduced on jewelry, your best options will be in casting or etching. Keep in mind that the small scale might still require modification of the design and loss of detail. There are lots of commercial manufacturers that offer this type of customized jewelry, so custom handmade might not be your best value if your budget is tight.
Stones and Settings
If you have a stone in mind, be aware that the type and cut of stone will affect the setting options. here are some general guidelines:
Round faceted stones: can be set in bezel settings, prong settings, flush set or channel set. All faceted stones need an open back so that light can pass.
Marquis, Oval, or other shaped faceted stones: Prong settings are probably your best bet; sometimes bezels or other settings can be made to work.
Cabochon (stones that are flat on the back with a rounded top): Cabochons are usually bezel set. prong settings can be used on a flat backing. If the back is polished then it can have an open back on the setting.
Irregular or raw stones: The setting options will vary quite a bit depending on the size and shape of the stone.
I see a lot of requests that don’t have much info at all, other than the person wants a ring, or a pendant. If you really are not sure what you are looking for, then try to find some pieces that show what kind of styles you like and a little about why you want the piece made. This can help a jeweler know whether it is a project that they are able to help with.
Types of Jewelers
Not all jewelers make all kinds of jewelry. Jewelers usually specialize in one or two techniques that make their work unique. Keeping this in mind will help you find someone with whom you can collaborate well. Here are some techniques people specialize in:
Casting: Making designs in wax or another medium and reproducing the design in metal.
Etching: Making a design in black and white and transferring the design to metal, with the background metal removed through a chemical process, making a low, flat relief.
Engraving: Using hand tools to carve metal. Floral and abstract designs are most common. Hand engraving is time consuming and expensive, but the results are beautiful. It makes the metal sparkle much more than a cast piece with a similar design.
Chasing and Repousse: Using hand tools to push down/raise up the metal into a relief design. This is a technique I specialize in. Time consuming, but beautiful. Not recommended for high detail. Read more about Chasing and Repousse in my blog post about it.
Stone Setting: Some jewelers mainly use metal as a platform for creating designs with stones. If you want a large number of stones, be prepared for a high cost; as custom settings for stones (as opposed to mass produced cast settings that jewelry stores carry) is rather time-intensive. Some jewelers will specialize even further, working specifically with stone inlay or carved stones.
Fabrication: Hand fabricated jewelry includes cutting, forming, and joining metal. Saw cut designs are possible when the design is large enough. Fabrication is usually a base for a piece that includes other techniques, but beautiful complete pieces can be done using only fabrication methods.
There are a lot of other methods, but these are some of the most common. Other techniques gaining in popularity and use include electroforming, enameling, metal clay, and wire wrapping.