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Custom Tool Kit

Here’s how to add another profit center to your business.

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How can I express myself in custom design and make the clients happy, too?

Clients will have preferences about gemstones and metal type, but beyond that there is room for artistic freedom and design direction, says T Lee, ringleader at T Lee Custom Designer Jewelry of Minneapolis. It’s also important to understand who your customers are and what they will likely want. Susan Gray of WyoBranded Gems & Jewlery in Douglas, WY, cultivates a Western vibe in her store. “Many of our customers are hunters,” she says. “We have a huge request for custom elk ivory jewelry, and with our Western theme, our customers feel comfortable requesting this type of jewelry design.” On the other hand, Douglas Elliott at Marisa Perry Designs is creating engagement rings for residents of New York City, who are looking for thin bands and delicate styles.

How can I make the custom process an experience?

When Steve Frisch built a new Drenon Jewelry location in Independence, MO, he focused on the store’s tagline, Artists Crafting Dreams. Before the store was built, he had spent years analyzing the business’s strengths and weaknesses. “We realized that one of our greatest assets was our ability to create jewelry from scratch and make our customers a part of the experience,” he says. That’s how the idea for the glass-encased 1945 Design Studio was born. Now customers can watch everything the jewelers do, and once the item is ready to be cast, customers are invited to watch as their piece is being made.

How can I tell if custom clients are serious?

Becky Bettencourt of Blue River Diamonds in Peabody, MA, always tells customers that custom requires a certain entry-level price commitment. “If that doesn’t scare them off, then I’m happy to continue having a conversation with them, but the thing you don’t want to do is waste your time designing and CAD-CAMing a project, to find out a customer has an unrealistic budget for it,” she says. “Custom is so time consuming, and time really is money, so it has to be worth it.” Bettencourt also suggests getting a deposit for a resin or wax sample and having clients sign contracts along the way approving all design choices as well as itemizing the costs of the project. That helps to explain what goes into the process of customizing and the value associated with that.

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What does custom mean?

Custom design can mean anything to shoppers, from choosing a separate diamond and setting to sitting with a bench jeweler with pad and paper or CAD software and having a real hand in the design of their ring. Most custom jobs lie somewhere in between. Shoppers want to be able to tweak their rings with a different color gold, a different shaped diamond, or a slight twist to the setting style. About 85 percent of the business at Blue River Diamonds is custom in some way and about 40 percent is custom from scratch. “I think it’s important to have styles that can be easily modified,” says Bettencourt, who advocates prototype selling systems such as Stuller’s Ever & Ever. “Most customers need to have something to visualize, so having a variety of different styles that customers can try on is so helpful in narrowing down the process and makes it easier to design.”

Is it really OK to use the word custom for a simple tweak?

“’Custom’ is one of those emotionally positive words like ‘homemade’ that conjures an image in the mind of the customer that enhances desire,” says Larry Johnson. “I see no reason NOT to use the word when talking about ‘custom matching a diamond to a semi-mount to make a custom-created piece.’ I would think I’d pay more for a ‘custom’ piece than an off-the-shelf piece, but my belief is that I am getting something special just for me with my preferences built in. A truly custom designed and created piece is a different item, obviously, but I have no issues with applying the word more liberally.”

How can I make custom work if I’m not a jeweler myself?

“If you’re a designer but not a jeweler (like me), it’s crucial to have a really good master jeweler,” Bettencourt says. “Some custom jobs are straightforward, and some take a little ingenuity, so having a master jeweler that you can communicate effectively with and who can come up with creative solutions is imperative.” If you’re not equipped for in-house customization, partner with a responsive supplier who can tweak designs for you.

The Custom Jewelry Design Niche Lets You Express Yourself and Make Clients Happy, Too

At Drenon Jewelry in Independence, MO, customers can watch the entire in-house custom process.

How can I protect my work?

Any original work of artistic expression qualifies for copyright protection. If a jewelry designer creates earrings in the shape of a bumblebee, for example, the designer can’t stop someone else from creating their own interpretation of bumblebee earrings. But a copyright can protect the specific design. The copyright is automatically secured when the work is created and fixed in a tangible medium. Notice of copyright is not required in the United States, but filing for registration with the copyright office will help prove you had the design at a certain date. JVC has published a guide titled “I Have An Idea! JVC’s Guide to Intellectual Property Law.”

What is the best way to communicate with a custom client?

“Expect them to be fairly well educated, but be ready to add to their knowledge base,” says James Doggett, owner of Doggett Jewelry in Kingston, NH. It’s better to entertain their questions than to let them make any inaccurate assumptions. And ask them a lot of questions in return to cut down on misunderstandings in the future. “The best thing about custom clients is if they are happy, they will return again and again,” Doggett says. Christine Lupo, a private custom jeweler in Washington, DC, likes to ask clients the following questions to get the ball rolling: “What do you have in mind? How do you plan to wear your new piece? Do you have style or design preferences?”

What’s a simple way to boost value?

“If you are a silversmith and a goldsmith, add a little gold to your silver creations,” says Bob Moon, owner of Once in a Blue Moon in Barrington, IL. “The perception of value increases more than the cost of the gold.”

How do I market my custom specialty?

Cathy Miller of Caleesi Designs Jewelers in Austin promotes custom design work primarily through social media and the website. Her website includes not only items that can be purchased, but many photos of custom designs. “But our reviews are what really sets us apart,” Miller says. “People will do their research and look online for custom jewelers, and happy customers that relay their happy experience is gold!”

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How can I use social media to promote redesigns?

Kelley Jewelers of Weatherford, OK, owned by Kim Ingram, coined the hashtag #TransformationTuesday as a weekly feature across their social media platforms. Through this hashtag, they highlight how their team of custom design experts works their magic to bring customers’ unworn, broken or dated heirloom jewelry back to life and into pieces they will cherish. Weekly before and after posts have brought more awareness to existing customers and new followers about the endless possibilities they have when it comes to Kelley’s team of in-house design specialists.

Is it possible to design virtually?

Kristen Baird of Savannah uses the Loom platform, a video screen recording software, to record information for her clients they can use as a reference. She will talk about different versions of a design she has sketched, and they can follow up with a call or email to discuss them. It also serves as documentation of what she proposed. “I’ve had multiple customers say this made the process so much fun,” she says. “They can send the link to family members for input. That creates a positive experience.”

How in the world do custom jewelers stay organized?!

Here’s one idea. Jennifer Farnes, owner of Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO, who’s typically juggling 70 to 90 custom projects at a time, created a color-coding system for the custom process that ties to a tasking whiteboard in the workshop. It creates a visible workflow chart that anyone on the team can read. Black is for pre-CAD; blue, CAD; green, wax/resin; yellow, casting; and red, finishing. “We had a good system before, but we implemented the color-coding of our work folders to the whiteboard, which helps the whole team know what phase each custom job is in and where to find the client’s assigned folder if we get in gemstones, or if the client is coming in to review their prototype, or even if something is scheduled to cast, and what the estimated finishing date should be,” she says.

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