Copies and 'inspired-bys'
Some designs are copyrighted and your jeweler might not be willing to reproduce them, or will make something similar, but not identical. Other jewelers have their signature designs, and do not wish to deviate.
On the other hand, my GF Valerie had some now out-of-production Cartier earrings reproduced perfectly when she was in Vietnam.
When resetting a ring, I asked my jewelers, Pam Chandler and Don Collins of Artworks Gallery, Toronto, to look at the web site of fabulous jeweler Lina Scarmuzzi of Lucifer Vir Honestus.
Don and Pam definitely have the chops to create this level of work. While they did not copy any piece, they absorbed the organic, luxurious vibe I wanted.
Setting a budget
The cost of a new piece is not necessarily low because you are supplying the stones. There is no magic ratio, but these artists are putting in a lot more work than you might think. You'll get the best value by providing your stones for an existing design. Truly one of a kind will cost more, and some fabrication and setting techniques are labor intensive.
If the estimate is higher than you anticipate, ask questions: What is the cost of the metal? Of additional stones? What substitutes might I make, such as chrome tourmaline for emerald- and where do I want the absolutely best stone, engraving, etc.? Some jewelers present options from the beginning, others need a little prodding to suggest less costly choices.
I was able to lower the cost of a ring by having a platinum shank made hollow instead of solid.
Your jeweler might break down the cost in stages, by initial design fee, providing a wax (a model of what they will make) and final production, or quote one overall price.
Protect all parties
Take a photo of your original piece before taking it to a jeweler. If you are providing a valuable stone and do not have a current appraisal, get one. This is important in case the stone is chipped or damaged in setting: did you supply it that way or did they do it?
I'm not saying this to scare you- I have had nothing but great results- but it's wise.
If you have a very valuable stone, you can get it gemprinted before giving it to the designer. This is a process similar to a fingerprint, and uses a laser to capture the unique 'sparkle pattern'. It ensures the stone you gave is the one you get back.
Singer Phyllis McGuire had her D-flawless 5 carat diamond swapped when she took it to a famous jeweler for cleaning. Her eyes were as good as her pipes, and she spotted it. Settlement undisclosed, but it must have been whopping. If you have stones under 1ct., relax. Jewelers handle them all the time.
Be sure to set a firm completion date; get it documented on the work order and on your receipt for your deposit.
Faith, trust and surprises
Finally, be prepared for the unknown. Commissioning work is an act of trust. The setting of a ring may change the look of your stone more than you imagined. Changing the style changes how a diamond performs. Your old prong-set round diamond, now in a bezel, might not look as large or brilliant.
There is an ineffable quality to stones, and to the setter's craft. Unless you see a piece and say "Make me one like that, but with my stones", your project will be a leap of faith. Your choice: to always buy production pieces, where what you see is exactly what you get, or enter into an artistic experiment.
I have occasionally had request that some detail be changed in order for the piece to be perfect. But I have never had a piece made that was not a delight. A fine jeweler is true artist, deeply committed to your satisfaction.
The prize: Your new piece
Here's a ring my friend Linda had made to celebrate her retirement, Anne Sportun's Pavé Disc ring, also sold on the Artfully Elegant web site.
Linda's was made with stones harvested from old diamond pendants and a few additional purchased stones.
Anne is a Toronto-based designer especially skilled in renovation projects; you can reach her directly at Anne Sportun Experimetal Jewellery.
She loves this ring, which has one diamond for each year she spent in her career as a special-ed teacher.