How to Choose a Custom Jeweler

Certainly, I hope this article will lead you to choose Gary Dawson Designs as your custom jeweler.  Why would I write an article that would advise you to choose a custom jeweler from my many competitors? I may have my reasons to be generous, “We all do well when we all do well.”, right?…read on.

So, why would you pick me over any of the other custom jewelers available to you both locally and on-line?

And what if you are dedicated to shopping locally and you are 5 states away?  I’m glad to help that guy or gal get your business. I understand local, and hopefully this article will be more than just a promotional piece.  I hope it will help you understand just what custom jewelry really is, both in breadth and scope, and how you can make wise decisions regarding just who will help you achieve your dreams in custom designed jewelry.

What is Custom?

It can be confusing. When you order a custom automobile, for example, you pick a model you like and then you get some choices.  Exterior and interior color might be part of that, automatic or manual transmission…maybe; leather seats?  You will likely have some choices in trim and detail.  And that’s about it. All of your choices will be limited to what the manufacture already has in production and only assembled to your preferences.  You cannot go to the car dealer with a sketch of the dream you had about an outrageous car design and have her make it from scratch.  You CAN do that with custom jewelry!  That’s HUGE!

But some jewelers, in the same manner as car dealers, call the way with limited choices…”custom”.  It is confusing when both of those methods of working with customers are called custom jewelry with no real explanation of just how custom, custom can get!  And there are even more variations of what can be legitimately called custom jewelry.

I’m proud to be a founding member of the MJSA (Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America) Council of Custom Jewelers.  We have come up with an answer to that potential confusion and we have worked to define custom jewelry and various levels of custom work.

We say custom jewelry is, at its core:

Jewelry designed and produced by a jeweler for a specific client, almost always with the client’s input, and adhering to the highest standards of quality craftsmanship.

MJSA and the council are also promoting a three-tiered system in which custom design projects can be grouped according to the level of design involved. The three levels are:

Full Custom Design: A jewelry design made from scratch specifically for a customer.

Semi-Custom Design: Existing designs that have been modified to alter their shapes or appearance.

Made to Order: Existing designs manufactured by request, modified only by sizing and choice of metal and/or gemstone.

From my perspective, these definitions may still be a work in progress, but it’s a great start.

Advice: Be aware! Before you go further find out if your jeweler is offering choices within existing parameters or designing from scratch. 


To drill a little deeper into additional things you might consider when you choose your custom jeweler, we’ll talk about reputation and value.

Choose a Custom Jeweler for their service!

Choose a custom jeweler for reputation, value, and the integrity of their designs.


It is easy to research reputation these days and nearly everyone starts there.  There are multiple on-line sources to find out what other people say about any business, jewelers included.  I think that reputation goes hand-in-hand with integrity.  The more positive reviews any given business has the more likely you are to have a good experience with that business.  But bear in mind that new businesses many be absolutely fantastic but have not had the time to build that all-important on-line reputation…yet!  Also, nobody can please everybody all the time so don’t let a bad review or two scare you away from a business that otherwise looks good to you.

Advice: Do your on-line, preliminary research but don’t stop there, there’s more. 



Value vs. Perceived Value

Mass marketers in jewelry industry began shooting themselves in the foot, (and the rest of us in the head) when they adopted the practice of marking their things up to unrealistic prices.  And then they never sell them at that price because they never intended to sell them at that price.  Continuous deep discounting has become the scourge of the industry and this practice has gone a long way toward devaluing jewelry and eroding trust for anyone in the industry.  Personally, I rarely have a sale of any type.  My creations are worth what they are worth and that’s that.  Now, that’s not to say I won’t negotiate a little sometimes.  Heck, I’m human and the mortgage payment comes regularly.  And if you have already purchased valuable things from me I may even offer the “family” deal.  But any discount from the asking price will be small because I do not have outrageous margins to begin with.  I price fairly.  I price fairly so both of us will be happy when a transaction is complete and I’ll still be here when you come back.

Advice: Beware of continuous sales and drastic mark-downs.  

Representative Pricing…

This is my term for making my prices understandable and to represent the actual value of what you are purchasing.  Example:  I have a competitor that tells his clients that he will make a new design for them for $40…and then marks his gold up 10 times to make up the difference.  I hate that.  It is misleading in several ways.  Yes, I mark up my materials, that’s the nature of business.  But I do so fairly and my design pricing honors my expertise and the work I put into each design and the integrity of my execution of that design.  My final price will probably be pretty similar to my buddy down the street but the breakdown represents each part of the piece honestly.

Advice: Ask for a price breakdown and see if it makes sense to you.

A Final Word about Value…

It is likely that “Full Custom Design” will be worth more to you over the long term than other categories because you participated in the design and it is uniquely yours.  It will be more meaningful to you (have more value) but SURPRISE, IT MAY NOT COST MORE!  Why is that?  Couple of reasons. A competent designer will likely only be sourcing raw materials (lower cost to him than commercially produced parts) and your Full Custom Design concept may not require superhuman effort to create.

Let me explain.  Even though most of my projects are full custom design, I still do have pricing tiers based on the level of complexity in any give piece.  And all of these pricing tiers include providing a rendering of your concept and giving you the opportunity to provide feedback for modification if necessary!

Full custom design might be, in some cases, a simple band of a width, thickness and shape that you choose, and maybe include a symbol of importance to you.  If your symbol is simple, that may not cost much at all!  The next level is a mid-tier design.  It will still be something completely new and made for you, more complex than a simple band but not a lot more difficult to execute.  This will likely cost more than the simple band but still be relatively inexpensive to design and produce.  Then there is the superhuman effort category.  Certainly, this will cost more than the other two tiers I commonly use.

Advice:  Don’t assume you cannot afford true custom design.

Choose a Custom Jeweler

Local or Remote, it’s still good business (and maybe even good karma)! In working with a custom jeweler on-line or local you will be dealing with a real person.

The key benefits to you?  Your piece will be made to suit your taste, size, color and budget for starters.  But there’s more…

Most custom jewelers will be smaller, family owned business and working with them locally will keep more of your money in your community.  And if you choose to work with an on-line custom jeweler that is remote, your money will be spent helping to support a family, and not investors in corporate profits.  Real people working with real people is where it’s at these days and only good things can come of that.  You will get a better, more tailored and well crafted piece of jewelry, and you will be participating in a community-type economy rather than simply being a consumer cog in a big machine.  Thank you for considering this in all your shopping! 🙂

Advice: Have fun with your custom design project!

Call us up!

I will be delighted if you choose your custom jeweler to be Gary Dawson.  I am also interested in helping you make the right choice if  you would like to work with a custom jeweler near you!  Well-connected throughout the industry, I may be able to provide recommendations in your area for someone I know will serve you well.  Either way, call today at (+1) 541-729-2531 or contact here for a rapid response to your query via email.

My CAD skills are showing continuous improvement...kaizen in action!

My CAD skills are to the point that I teach to others…kaizen in action!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *