Customized, Custom Made, & Custom Jewelry – What Does it All Mean?

The word “custom” gets tossed around like confetti with very little understanding or appreciation for its nuanced meanings and layers. I have brought up this topic in the past and, at that time, focused on two main ideas: customized jewelry and true custom jewelry. In the time since then, there have been developments in the industry that have further refined the concept of custom jewelry and what it means to have a piece of custom designed jewelry or custom made jewelry.

Customized Jewelry

Let’s get started with a more streamlined approach to a custom piece of jewelry: the idea of customization. With a customized ring, or customized pendant, or customized earrings, what you’re doing is essentially swapping out one thing for another. What you are not doing is materially changing the piece of jewelry itself.

For example, I have a gorgeous yellow gold cocktail ring with a trillion cut deep purple amethyst. What if someone saw this ring in the showroom, but didn’t want an amethyst? What if they wanted a citrine (which I agree, is stunning set in yellow gold) instead? We could, very likely, take out the amethyst and replace it with a citrine. That is customization. We are not custom designing the ring from the sketch pad up. We are taking an existing piece of jewelry and making small alterations to create a piece that has been customized to the client’s tastes and preferences.

White gold ring shown with three different center diamond heads
White gold engagement ring shown with three center diamond customization options.

If you are a foodie, like I am, think of the customization process like going to a fast casual restaurant. You ponder the menu and you think to yourself, “Gosh, I would love that sandwich, but I would like provolone cheese instead of American. And I would like mustard instead of mayonnaise.” No problem, right? Your sandwich still has cheese and condiments, just different ones.

Customized Jewelry Benefits and Drawbacks

One of the benefits of customization is that the time to completion or delivery is much sooner than with custom made pieces, because there are numerous steps that we, as jewelers, have already done (we’ll get to those later). With customization, we’re already starting with a complete piece of jewelry and we just need to make small changes to things that don’t affect the design.

The obvious drawback to customization is that it provides the fewest options for really spreading your design wings and letting your imagination loose.

Custom Made Jewelry

You might find that maybe you can’t quite find exactly what you’re looking for, but you see elements that you like in this ring or that ring. This is where the shift in jewelry design technology comes into play. Jewelry retailers who use certain suppliers have access to CAD (computer-aided design) software from those suppliers that contain all the design components the supplier uses to manufacture their pieces. The jewelry designer at the retailer can then sit down and choose which components they would like to have put together, creating a custom piece of jewelry for the client. Is it custom made? Yes, it is. But this type of custom work is limited to what that supplier has molds for and can cast. If the components aren't in their design library, they won’t be an option.

Going back to a restaurant example for a moment, think about a pizza chain where you can build your own pizza. You can choose the size, the type of crust, the sauces, cheeses, toppings, etc. You can have all the polarizing pineapple you want on your pizza. Want anchovies? You got it. Olives? Sure thing. Jalapenos? No problem. Someone to share your pizza? … You’re out of luck; no one wants to eat that but you (haha! Just kidding. No, I’m not kidding. That pizza sounds inedible). The point is this: you can customize till your heart’s content, as long as it’s within the parameters of the pizza chain’s options. If what you want is a cauliflower crust, but the pizza chain doesn't have cauliflower crust...well, you will not be getting a cauliflower crust.

Jewelry designer uses CAD software to design jewelry.
Jewelry designer uses CAD software to create custom made jewelry.

Custom Made Jewelry Benefits and Drawbacks

The supplier-backed CAD software do have the advantage of having a digital library of content, which means a reduced turnaround time to delivery. But what you are saving in time, you are sacrificing in freedom of design and creativity. The resulting piece of jewelry is custom made, but with only so many design options available, and the designer not truly doing the designing, is it really fair to call this method of creation custom designed?

Custom Designed Jewelry

That brings us to my favorite of all custom jewelry methods: custom designed jewelry. Custom designed jewelry means we are literally starting from scratch. At your design consultation, you meet with the designer. You're not meeting with a salesperson; you're meeting with the designer. The designer spends time with you, talks to you about what you want, why you want it, helps you understand your options, and guides you to the best decisions. With the custom jewelry design cultivated, the designer gets to work. They spend time in a third-party, free-form CAD software, which allows them to make whatever they want, which is to say, whatever you want.

Relating this to our culinary examples, have a piece of jewelry custom designed is like going into a fine dining restaurant, going through the menu, seeing things you like about each dish, being inspired by some of the ingredients, but ultimately deciding that you want something not listed. So you ask to speak to the chef/owner of the restaurant. After describing to them what inspires you and makes your mouth water, you come to an understanding about what they are going to make you for dinner. This dish is not on the menu and components have to be made from scratch. Your dinner takes a little longer to arrive than people who order off the menu. But when you receive your meal, it’s exactly what you hoped it would be. That is how custom designed jewelry works too.

A jeweler sits at a table with earrings, a ring box, a loupe, and a spread of diamonds.
Jeweler discussing all the client's options during a design consultation.

Custom Designed Jewelry Benefits and Drawbacks

Custom designed jewelry is the most creatively expressive of all the methods. If you can dream it, we can probably make it. If you’re like me and you have some ideas about what you want in a custom designed piece of jewelry, it’s helpful to have that written down, whether in words, sketches, drawings, or printed pictures. There is no pressure to bring in sophisticated drawings; anything will work. A sketch on a scratch pad. A doodle on a napkin (no lie, that’s how my wedding band design started). A full-color illustration from the computer. A collage of jewelry pieces cut from magazines that you find inspiring. Whatever it is that lights the fire of imagination and creativity in your soul, bring it to your consultation.

A drawback to the obvious benefit of having this creative freedom is timing. The truly custom designed piece of jewelry frequently takes longer than the other two methods of creating jewelry, but is always worth the time and effort.

The AFJ Approach

At Andre’s Fine Jewelers, we want to make sure that the design we create is what you had envisioned. We will send you a full-color, 3-D rendering via email so you can really get a feel for what your finished piece will look like. Once you have approved the design, we print the wax for casting. We don’t ship the CAD file out to a third party for this step. We print the wax directly on site. The wax is cast, rough-finished, polished, set with gemstones or diamonds, and given a final polish all on site by our expert jeweler. We are not just a retailer; we are a one-stop, start-to-finish custom designed, custom made, and customized jeweler. There is a difference. For more about our custom design process, visit our website.

No matter how deep with custom work you are looking to go, you don’t need to look any further than Andre’s Fine Jewelers. Visit us in our downtown Brighton, Michigan showroom to design your dream jewelry, or call to schedule a consultation with our designer at (810) 225-1414.

So happy to be back,


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