Purchased by me (BIG TIME)
When Hugo passed away last year, I wanted something to remember him by and though I looked through countless pieces of “pet grief” jewelry, ultimately I wanted something that was also relatively pretty and didn’t feel too cheesy. Luckily, I work at a wonderful Canadian establishment called Birks that offers a custom design option called “Birks Bespoke” that allows you to create a piece from scratch like I did or transform an existing piece. I thought I would share my experience as I receive the question often at work as well as help clients with their custom design pieces.
The Birks Bespoke process, on paper, is fairly simple: make an appointment with a sales associate, tell them what you want, receive a hand-drawn sketch and quote, finalize design and then wait for your piece to arrive!
To fill in the blanks to that, the custom design team is in Toronto and not in the Birks stores so the client does have to go through a sales associate who acts as a middle person between the client and the design studio. This requires a knowledgeable sales associate who can guide a client on their design so we do provide training as custom design is not the easiest thing to grasp for everyone as it can require knowledge about how jewelry is made and what is possible or impossible in terms of engineering. Ideally, you also do not want to go back and forth with the design team too often as the SAs job is also to manage client expectations.
One thing that I encounter with clients who are new to custom design is that custom is generally never going to be cheaper than buying out of the showcase so if you are trying to copy something from Harry Winston or Tiffany’s, you are most likely going to pay at least what it is in the showcase or more. This comes down mostly to the fact that custom is made just for you and getting a piece from a store is mass produced (to a certain degree). There is just one wax/mould that is made for your piece vs. multiples that are made for a retailer which means that costs are amortized over many vs. your one custom piece absorbing all of the costs.
The next piece of advice I tell clients is to keep an open mind when it comes to the process and the final product as there are always three versions of a custom piece: what YOU have your mind, what the designer has in their mind and the FINAL product! So, if there is a client who is trying to replace a lost piece and says “I won’t be happy if it’s not identical”, this is probably not the ideal scenario for Birks Bespoke as they are final sale and it is challenging to make major changes once the piece is finished.
So, with all of this in mind, I set off to design a ring that would honour Hugo. Since he was born in August, I decided that a birthstone ring might be nice and then when I remembered that both Hugo and Hemingway were born in August, I wanted a ring with two stones to honour the foster brothers I adopted together in 2015. Hemingway LOVED being with Hugo so much and they were often together whenever I came home from work so it made me smile thinking they could be “together with me” in this way.
When choosing a design, it is best to have actual photos to send to the design studio. This photo was sort of the base design and when I got the quote back to have pave diamonds on the band I had to rethink because I wasn’t planning on spending $10,000 on a ring. I was aiming more for $5000 which led to the third option circled below.
Initially, I had also been thinking of doing a more asymmetrical look using one pear-shaped peridot and one oval-shaped spinel (both August birthstones) to represent each of the boys, but upon reviewing I decided to keep them both the same stones. I do not own any peridot rings so I thought it would be more unique to have a green stone ring. There was quite a bit of back and forth and eventually, I decided on two 0.70ct pear-shaped peridots that would be surrounded by pave diamonds. I chose to have the ring made in 14K white gold vs 18K or platinum to keep the cost down. This wasn’t going to be an everyday ring so I knew that going with white gold wouldn’t be too much of an issue when it came to the rhodium coming off (when the rhodium wears off, white gold jewelry looks yellowish). Platinum would have been around $1000 more and because I went with a predominantly metal-showing design, as platinum wears, it gets a bit of a brushed finish (white gold stays shiny) which I did not want.
Once I decided on a design, the ring took about 6 weeks to make plus a few extra weeks to have an appraisal done for insurance purposes. I started the design process in September and picked up my ring and documents in November. The big question was – did I LIKE how it turned out? I did, but let’s say it was definitely different than what I expected. The first thing that caught my attention was how much metal there was in the “twist” portion. I was not expecting it to be quite as thick as this, but it kind of made the ring look super fancy especially because the peridots looked so large! I am in the stage of my life where bigger is better so it kind of worked out, but this would not have been something I would have liked 10 years ago. It didn’t take long for me to make peace with the vision I had in my head and what was on my hand, but this is sort of what I mean when it comes to keeping an open mind.
I only really wear my ring at work (never at home) and take it off whenever we are opening or closing the store as firstly, peridots are not a hard stone so they will CHIP! Secondly, After about two weeks of having this ring, I wore it while opening the store and ended up catching it on the side of a wall because I wasn’t use to having a chunkier ring and ended up dislocating one of the pears AND chipping the culet of the stone (bottom of stone)…I had it repaired and it looked brand new, but as someone who has only had one jewelry repair in her 16 years of working at Birks, this was a wake up call! Now, I am very careful and remember to move slowly when I have it on because you don’t even realize how active you are with your hands until things like this happen and it doesn’t take much! I give this advice to all clients, especially with regards to their engagement rings, as those should be taken off at home and not worn 24/7 and I should have listened to myself!
Would I do Birks Bespoke again? I would, but maybe not for a ring. I was considering doing it again for earrings or an insect or cat brooch, but I would need to think about it more. All design studios are unique and have a certain style too so definitely do your research, but overall if you are open to the process and results and have a good SA to guide you, it can be a really fun process. I would also try to have a budget in mind especially if you are designing something with stones as there can be ranges based on colour intensity for coloured stones i.e. there are sapphires that are darker (less expensive) and sapphires that are the colour of the sea (can be so much $$$). I have worked with clients on some spectacular pieces and it is so satisfying seeing their faces light up when they see the final product!
Have you ever custom designed a piece of jewelry before and did you enjoy the process?
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