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Commentary: The Business

Peggy Jo Donahue: Custom Design Builds Relationships



There’s romance in the journey, not just the destination.

[dropcap cap=W]e all know that selling jewelry is about making people’s dreams come true. [/dropcap]

But when you’re a jeweler specializing in custom design, the dreams are limitless — and so are the challenges. A designer has to be a keen listener to understand a customer’s interests and taste — not an easy task. Plus, even if a jeweler has obtained approvals for the design at every point, a customer may still look at the finished piece and not like it.

So why would any jeweler choose to go this painstaking and often lengthy route to a sale, when you could just show finished jewelry?

Well, for starters, it’s a process that’s catnip to an increasing number of consumers. Who wouldn’t want to take part in designing a piece of jewelry? I think jewelers forget sometimes what an almost mystical process jewelry-making can seem to the uninitiated. When I first tried CounterSketch Studio, the computerized custom design system by Gemvision and Stuller, I noticed that even the most jaded journalists at the press preview were squealing at their creations (including me).

Also, due to advances in technology, people can customize everything these days — and want to. It’s probably no surprise that at the peak of the Great Recession during 2009, the one category of jewelers that enjoyed an increase in median sales (+3.1 percent) in the Jewelers of America Cost of Doing Business Survey was “designer/artist/custom.”


I suspect there’s another reason jewelers like custom. They do it because, as Bogey famously said at the end of Casablanca, it “could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship” between them and their clients.

Custom designers recount their clients’ stories as though telling their own. From the meaning of symbols on rings and the vacations and hobbies those clients adore, to mountains they’ve climbed and grandmothers who left them a special gem, it all goes into the process.

To do custom work, you really have to be interested in people, as well as have endless patience. But the blood, sweat, tears, and challenges are what make a designer feel like a real jeweler.

One designer told me she likes to add little secrets to her clients’ custom designs. She once made a platinum ring for a client, using her beloved grandmother’s diamond. Knowing the ancestress had been religious, the jeweler suggested using yellow gold from the original setting to fashion hidden crosses inside her client’s ring. The young woman was moved to tears, and I suspect, became a client for life that day.

For a custom jeweler, that’s the stuff of dreams.

[smalltext]Peggy Jo Donahue is the editor of MJSA Custom Jeweler, a quarterly publication for the retail members of MJSA, the association for jewelry makers and designers. Information: or (800) 444-6572[/smalltext]


[span class=note]This story is from the March 2011 edition of INSTORE[/span]



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