Reading Reactions

Featured image is my father’s custom garnet ring, designed by Irene S. Sirois. Copyrighted design.

If I didn’t have to work, I would probably read. All day, most of the night, nonstop page-turning. Like most bibliophiles I have some preferred genres and authors, but if you put something with words on it in front of me, I’m going to read it before you’ve finished telling me not to (so please don’t). This means I have to practice extreme selectivity, because I simply don’t have time to read it all. In practice that translates to rationing my reading time, where my time currency is portioned out like my 8th grade allowance, with wild abandon sparingly and with great care.

So it might surprise you to know that I spend a daily allotment of what I lovingly call Industry Research Time poring over every blog, publication, article, Google Alert, LinkedIn Pulse, and Instagram post I can find. I take notes — actual, physical ones and purely mental ones — and attempt to connect the dots between what I’m reading and what I’m experiencing. I sift through opinions, corroborate facts, and weigh topics in an effort to determine what’s important, who’s talking about it, and how I think and feel about it all.

When you consume this much material, it’s inevitable to come across some things you simply don’t agree with. Most of the time this happens with op-eds and other opinion-based articles, and stems from having a very different perspective on the topic. Exactly such a case can be found in this article, published in the May 2016 MJSA Journal entitled “Is ‘Custom’ a Dirty Word?” which I encourage everyone to read.

The piece describes the challenges of defining what “custom jewelry” means — I subject I’ve discussed before — and goes on to describe how Lisa Krikawa of Krikawa Jewelry works around what she perceives as the extreme limitations of selling custom or customized jewelry. This workaround is to essentially remove the word custom from the conversation entirely, because she experiences the usual backlash of fear and distrust from clients who prefer to touch and try on their designs before purchasing.

To say that I sympathize with this position is an understatement, having sold both full custom and customized jewelry myself. And Krikawa’s actual conversations with clients reflect the realities of selling this type of product, in such a way that they feel heard and understood. This is exactly the right approach, and I couldn’t agree more with her process of offering examples from the showcase, hand sketches, and CAD models. It’s what I used to do, too, and it works.

In part, the solution to the touch me/feel me issue can be answered by the amazing technology I work with in my current profession. Using 3D printers to prototype quickly and cheaply gives the client a physical piece to touch and try on, even with temporarily seated gems so the full effect is present. Now the relevant questions — too tall? too thick? right size? in proportion? etc. — can be answered in real time, without the expense of fixing these issues after the fact.

My main argument with Krikawa’s approach is that by working so hard to eliminate a particular word from a client’s vocabulary, the opportunity to educate them about custom is lost. The process of qualifying a client for potential custom work does not need to turn them off or scare them away from a purchase; when handled with careful explanation, my nervous clients turned into my best evangelists for the custom process (hello, referrals!).

I have worked very hard to promote the idea of custom jewelry as the future on the industry, and feel that removing it from the conversation is counterproductive. I prefer to help the client understand and appreciate the opportunity, educate them as to the options, and explain how the risks are mitigated or eliminated.

There are few things I appreciate more than the people who expend serious time and energy making their clients happy, regardless of how they accomplish that feat. I hope the various opinions and theories about custom jewelry continue to expand and develop, especially as technology grows and offers more solutions to an often cumbersome process.

Please comment with your thoughts, I’d love to keep the conversation going!

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor(ly) Made

You have a secret. You’ve been carrying it around for quite some time now, and it’s starting to really get you down. You’ve tried to push it away, but it comes back like a bad penny every time you turn on the TV, walk through the mall, or flip through a magazine. It’s difficult to admit it, but… you just hate your ring.

Now don’t be alarmed that I’ve guessed your innermost thoughts. I’m not psychic — well, not entirely — I just know that look. You’re gazing at some of our beautiful rings, imagining what they’d look like on your finger, and you casually glance at the sentimental, formerly-fashionable piece of misery currently perched where that gorgeous double-halo with split-shank in platinum should be.

You sigh, or frown, or maybe even grimace. What can you possibly do? After all, someone very special gave you that ring. He or she (probably) thought long and hard before that purchase, and it (hopefully) made you very happy at the time. It still holds a wealth of meaning for you, and always will.

But times have changed, and so has your style. And recently someone told you that the shank was wearing quite thin, and the prongs are really not as heavy as they should be. It would be a bit silly to spend money on a fix when a whole new setting isn’t really so much more, wouldn’t it? And the new one would suit your style, and of course make you just as happy as the day you received the first one.

I understand. And I can help.

Give us just a little slice of time, and we can create the ring of your dreams. Rather than a symbol of the early days of your relationship, this ring will celebrate the love that has grown and flourished over time. It will honor your past and pay tribute to your future, and it will make you happy to look down at your finger all over again.

So give me your tired, your poorly made, your ugly jewelry yearning to be new again. It’s time.

**Speaking of a do-over, I spy… a whole new look for Karat Cake! Hope you like the mini-makeover!**

You Say Tomato? Custom vs. Customized

“An educated consumer is a good consumer.”

That’s a ripe old retail adage if ever I’ve heard one, but its staying power comes from the ring (hah!) of truth. In jewelry, it’s always clear to me when a customer is armed with knowledge because he or she feels confident in the value of the purchase before I’ve had to say a word. It makes the job of the salesperson easier, for sure, but it also increases both initial and repeat business. Value and trust are the cornerstones of this industry, and a customer’s perception of how well a business represents those factors will make or break the sale in the end. The educated customer has information confirmed, and so is far more inclined to trust.

You’re nodding your head, yes yes, we know this. Consumers buy expensive things based on trust when their knowledge runs out. How is this relevant to your pithy and not-very-inventive post title?

Where I work, we have a goldsmith. Correction: we have an amazing, fabulous, absolutely one-of-a-kind goldsmith who is capable both of incredible craftsmanship and innovative design. She works brilliantly with customers to morph their garbled, elaborate, and frequently contradicting design concepts into workable pieces of unique, wearable art. While I could write for days on how she creates these wonderful pieces (and believe me, I will in the future) I’d prefer to focus just now on her designs. Her custom designs.

At a custom appointment, customers might pull elements from existing pieces. Frequently it’s easier — and less confusing — for a customer to see/touch/feel what we mean by a split shank with bead-set diamonds and milgrain edge. (Try describing a bypass ring clearly and concisely to someone. Go ahead, try it.) But just as often, a design is created that is so unique, so deliciously original or specific, that it must be drawn and rendered in 2-or-3-D to demonstrate how it will look as a finished piece. The work our jeweler extraordinaire creates is, by definition, custom. It’s one-of-a-kind. Singular. Unique. Exclusive.

Do you know what it isn’t? A choose-your-own-ending, swap-in/swap-out, one-in-ten piece of jewelry that, while certainly beautiful, is in no way unique to the person who wears it. It’s customized.

That center diamond you changed out for a sapphire? Customized. Ordered the 6mm wedding band instead of the 7mm and brushed the center? Customized. Princess center with square halo not your fave, so you did a round center and cushion halo? With the halo set in rose gold? You customized that, my friend. It’s lovely, and it’s exactly what you wanted.

It’s still not custom.

Custom jewelry, in its uniqueness, carries a particular cachet. It’s typically the most expensive option — every cent of the design, casting, production, finishing, and appraising cost goes to one consumer instead of many — and it comes with its own special set of challenges (matching wedding band, anyone?).

Customized jewelry takes a central design and makes limited changes. These tweaks and alterations can obviously change the look of the entire piece, giving the impression of a unique item, but the fact remains that another person could be making identical changes in a store down the street. These customized beauties are no less valuable to the people giving, receiving, and enjoying them. But they should never, ever be confused with true custom work.

We face the question over and over: why is the estimate to make this custom ring X price, when this other ring in the showcase is Y price? Enter the aforementioned education. We take the time to explain in great detail the differences found in custom jewelry, and what makes the value of such a piece incomparable to a stock or customized item.

I refuse to turn this post into a rambling diatribe against jewelry stores that market their swap-style design changes as custom. It’s inaccurate at best and downright misrepresentation at its most insidious; customers looking around are unable to comparison shop with any kind of confidence. Or trust. And we know that’s a bad thing for all parties. But it happens a whole lot these days, thanks to the advent of various computer programs that trumpet their “custom” design capabilities.

In the end, the goal is a happy customer. Getting there through honest dealings, thorough education, and a touch of jeweler’s magic is how we choose to do it — and it works.