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Jewelry History: Bejeweled Skeletons


I came across an article about beautifully bedazzled skeletons the other day, and can’t help but post it here. Like a lot of golden objects, these jewel-encrusted corpses belong to the Catholic church. Found in the catacombs of Rome in the 1500s, the identities of the bodies remained a mystery for years. I can’t help but admire how well dressed they are in their afterlife. You can read more about the mysteriously beautiful skeletons here or pick up the book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs.


jeweled-skeletons  Jeweled Skeletons  jeweled-skeletons




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Jewelry History: Mourning Rings and Hair Jewelry


As Halloween and Dia de los Muertos creep up on us, Custom Jewelry thought it would be a good time to take a look at one of the more macabre and eccentric jewelry traditions: mourning rings and hair jewelry. Now, this style of jewelry has a very special place in my heart. I’ve been fascinated by hair jewelry since I learned of it’s existence in high school. So throughout the years, it has been a surprise to me that so many people are unfamiliar with it — and incredibly creeped out by it once they do learn of it.

OK, I get it. Wearing someone else’s hair as a decorative ornament, if taken objectively, is creepy. But, in its truest forms, mourning rings and hair jewelry were simply used to remember loved ones who had passed on from the wearer’s lives. And many times, it was worn while the person was still living as a token of love and affection. See, not as creepy as originally thought, right? No takers? Bueller?

Mourning jewelry has been around for some time, but really started to come into fashion in the late 1600s, early 1700s. At its start, there was little to no hair involved at all, but rather dates, names, and miniature portraits of significant people. It wasn’t until the reign of King George that miniature portraiture jewelry took fashion by storm as a way for the gentry to show support of the ailing king by wearing his portrait on a ring or brooch. Eventually the portraiture of King George gave way to a more commonly accepted practice of wearing portraiture of loved ones, and jewelry makers started creating pieces more customized to their buyers. Then, during the Victorian era mourning jewelry became fully mainstream and branched out into other types of memorium jewelry, such as the crosswork hair mourning rings, bracelets, and the rock crystal memorial rings people are more familiar with.

While slightly macabre, I’m fairly certain my fascination with mourning jewelry (and especially rings) stems from how much these little artifacts tell us about the everyday people who wore them. Each piece generally has a wealth of symbolism that goes with it, as well as most every piece is marked with the names and dates of the person who has been memorialized. It’s like getting to glimpse into history while simply shaking someone’s hand. And even now, whenever I come across another great example of mourning jewelry, I can’t help but wonder who wore it, and why they found it so important to memorialize the person for whom it was worn. It’s beautiful really.

With that, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite mourning rings outlined above — and even a picture of the one I have in my own jewelry collection. While not as fancy as the others shown, I love it, as each day it reminds me that someone was loved enough to have a ring made to remember them.

Mourning rings, clockwise from top left:

Skeleton Hair Ring, Hair Ring with Blue EnamelCrossbones Mourning Ring, Blonde and Blue ring, Victorian Hair Locket Ring, The ring from my personal collection, Wheat Hair Ring.



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Hot off the Bench: Past Meets the Present with a Coat of Arms Wedding Band


Part of what I love about working at Custom Jewelry is getting to merge the past with the present. In a custom jewelry and repair shop, this can happen in many different ways. Sometimes a client will bring in an old worn out ring and want to restore it to it’s former glory. Other times, a person will bring in old earrings that have sentimental value, but they never wear. So we make them into cuff links or rings or another accessory they love. And then there are times like this ring, where we create a completely new piece of jewelry, but get to tie it into the past.

Men's-lion-family-crest-wedding-bandOur client needed a wedding band. He didn’t want a traditional, plain men’s wedding band though. He figured that if he was going to wear a ring for the rest of his life, he wanted it to remind him about where he was from. So, he came to us with the concept of incorporating his family’s coat of arms into the band. He brought us pictures of family crests and the coat of arms that had been passed down to him, and Lee started to work his magic. He designed a simple band that would fit a truncated version of the arms. Once created, the ring and the picture of the arms were handed over to our wonderful engraver, and he started to weave his magic. When the ring came back it got a coat of rhodium plating, was shined up, and then presented to it’s owner. The white gold and lions rampart really give it an antique feel, and bring a little bit of one family’s history to the present for it’s next generation.

Men's-lion-family-crest-wedding-bandMen's wedding band 4           Men's-lion-family-crest-wedding-band

So how do you stay connected to the past in your family? Do you have a special family heirloom that has been passed down over the generations? Let us know in the comments.

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Bench Tips: Basic jewelry repair and maintenance


Jewelry repair may seem like the less glamorous side of a jeweler’s daily grind, but ring repairs–and other forms of jewelry repair work–are important steps to restoring and preserving your jewelry for many years to come.

So, what should you know about jewelry maintenance in order to minimize jewelry repair time and ensure your beloved engagement ring or your grandmother’s antique earrings have a long and happy life? We’ve collected a couple tips and insights about basic jewelry maintenance and repair that any jewelry lover should know.

1. Jewelry should be serviced every so often. Having someone scrutinize and adjust your treasured opal pendant or mother’s sapphire ring could put you on edge, but just like the dentist, a regular check up can prevent long-term heartache. A yearly cleaning or inspection with your jeweler will allow him or her to look for potential long term problems, such as loose stones, worn prongs, or a thinning band. Along with receiving a bright and shiny cleaned piece of jewelry upon your return, you’ll also get peace of mind knowing that your engagement ring or anniversary band can be worn with confidence for another year.

2.  Proper jewelry storage is your friend. No one is going to have a velvet-lined Fort Knox in their closet. But, figuring out the best storage places for specific types of jewelry can help elongate the life of your pieces and limit your need for jewelry cleaning. For example, silver is naturally going to tarnish over the years due to oxidization. However, if stored in airtight containers, you can actually limit how often you need to shine your silver jewelry. Also, ensuring your jewelry boxes are large enough to set pieces down without touching one another, will cut down on scratching and therefore rebuffing. So, while you may not be able to give every piece special storage treatment, pick out a few you love, do some research about their best possible homes, and find them a cozy spot in which to live.

3. Soap, water, and a soft cloth works wonders. There are a million fancy jewelry cleaners out there claiming to work better, faster, harder than the others. Some promise to clean your jewelry, but not harm them. Others are “tough on tarnish.” But the reality is, most of the time, they are unnecessary. Strangely enough, for most precious metals — silver, gold, platinum — polishing with a soft cloth and your own arm strength will bring back their shine. If your jewelry is really dirty and set with hard stones –like diamonds or sapphires — that you want to see shimmer, one of the easiest and best things you can clean with is a little soap and water. I’m not kidding. Use a mild hand soap, like Dawn, diluted in a little water. Then, dip a very soft worn out toothbrush in the solution and gently scrub your jewelry in a circular motion. Once done, simply rinse in water and air dry on a towel. You’ll be surprised how much your jewelry will shine, and how much money you save on fancy cleaners.

4. Sometimes the best repair is not what you would expect. Repair work is inevitably going to happen, and when it does, be prepared that it may not look exactly as it once did. If a clasp breaks it could need to be re-soldered together or replaced completely. If a ring shank splits, it may be salvageable as is, or it may need extra metal to fortify it from future breaks. If your stone cracks, don’t immediately despair that you will have to buy a new one. You may be surprised that it can simply be re-cut and reset as good as new. So, keep an open mind and take your repair work to someone you trust.

So go forth and adorn yourself in your newly shiny, shimmery accouterments, and tell us about your own jewelry tips and tricks in the comments.




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Tips for Shopping for a Custom Engagement Ring: Part Two


Welcome to the second installment of our two-part series on shopping for a custom engagement ring. This week, we’ll be talking about timelines, process, and hopefully giving you some good advice about how to expedite your engagement ring process.

Part Two: Process & Timelines

Most of the other questions we get revolve around how long something will take or what you, as the customer, needs to do in order have a smooth designing process. I’ve taken some of the top behaviors we see and turned them into a few tips on how to ensure that your proposal with a custom ring will go as smoothly as possible.

5. Set a proposal timeline. One of the questions we normally get is “how long will this take?” and the answer is very dependent on the type of ring you want to create. Intricate design work takes longer than a simple band, and if the jeweler has to outsource some of the construction — like hand engraving — then that will also add to the timeline. So, the best thing to do is to decide when you want to propose, and then start shopping around a few months before that date. Most custom rings will take around 4-6 weeks to create, but some definitely take longer and you want to give yourself enough buffer for unforeseen circumstances (like your jeweler getting sick). So ask yourself when you’d like to propose to your loved one. Are you a Christmas lover, and want to ask over a bonfire? Is there a special anniversary coming up you want to take advantage of? Once you know when you’d like to do it, then you can work backwards from that date to start shopping around. Ideally you’d give yourself a 2-3 month buffer: enough time to get a few price quotes, have the ring created, and finalize the details of your proposal after the ring is completed.

6. Remember your jeweler is human. Sometimes metalsmithing and jewelry creation seems like magic to me. Somehow someone takes a lump of raw material and turns it into a beautiful, shiny adornment. But behind every intriguing piece of jewelry was a very skilled (and very human) hand molding it into what it is. Like with most things nowadays, I’ve become so accustomed to a “right here, right now” lifestyle that I forget sometimes that real artisanship takes time. So when you’re shopping for Custom Jewelry, don’t be in a rush.  It’s like the old adage says, sometimes the slower you go the faster you get there, and a jeweler should only go as fast as the speed of art. The reason we love handmade is because it is unique, individual, and has the artisan stamp of one person’s viewpoint at a single moment of time. So embrace slight imperfections and don’t expect fine work to be done in a day. Keep an open mind, and remember, your jeweler is human. But he or she is going to work to keep your business and wants to make a piece for you that stands the test of time — even if it’s going to take some to create.

7. Know the ring size. You’d be surprised how many rings we’ve created without having an accurate ring size. Here’s the thing. You don’t have to have it.  But it is soooo much better if you do. Here’s why: When you propose, your beloved is going to want to wear the ring. Right then. Right there. And they do not want to worry about it falling off or not going on. The other reason is that when the jeweler designs a ring, they take specific dimensions into consideration. The size of a person’s hands and fingers is one of them. A 5 mm width looks different on a size 5 finger than a size 7 finger, and fine tuning your design to be as beautiful as it can be is something you can only do with exact dimensions. Most good jewelers will plan rings with the ability to size it up or down by 1 size, but having to drastically change an intricately designed ring can get really hairy, really quickly. So our advice: figure out the ring size. Doing so means not having to come back to the jeweler after you propose, and allows you to end up with a complete and fine-tuned custom design. Not to mention, your beloved will be ecstatic when it fits like a glove the first time.

8. Find a jeweler you trust. This may be obvious, but it is also the best tip we’ve got. While ideally you’d have all of our previous tips in mind while shopping, working with a jeweler you trust is worth it’s weight in gold (pardon the pun), as they can walk you through the process. As I said in my last post, good jewelers have your best interest at heart and will give you options to fit timeline, budget, and scope of the work you want. They are happy to answer your questions and want to create something beautiful with you. So if all thus fails, find someone who you connect with.

With that, I’ll leave you with a few more of the beautiful engagement rings we’ve had the pleasure of creating. We hope they inspire, and happy designing!

  Bezel-set-sapphire-engagement-ring  Blue Topaz Tree Ring  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA