Commissioning jewellery

17 04 2013

A number of pieces in my own jewellery collection, and some gifts for my mum, have been privately commissioned. Commissioning jewellery, and working one-on-one with the maker, is such an amazing experience.

The experience can be as simple as spotting a piece of jewellery you want but asking for it to be in a different size or with a very minor adjustment, up to creating something entirely unique. If you’ve not commissioned jewellery before, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • In the simple case of spotting a piece of jewellery you want but asking for it to be in a different size or with a very minor adjustment, this is likely to happen through a gallery and is pretty easy – though do keep in mind that you’ll need to wait three or four weeks for the new piece to be made to order.
  • If you’d like something in particular and you’ve got a few ideas about what you’d like, though know of no jewellers yourself, you can spend lots of time on the internets going through the many websites (check out my Links page). There are some great sites around! Though I would caution that some makers, even some of the most celebrated, don’t have their own websites and can only be seen in galleries. Therefore I’d strongly recommend visiting galleries as well as websites.
  • An advantage of going through a gallery is that you can chat about your ideas with the staff and they can recommend which of their jewellers may be an ideal match for your ideas. Further, gallery staff are usually makers themselves and are experienced in distilling what may feel to you like rather vague ideas about what you want into something a little more defined.
  • If you’ve seen the jewellers’ work in a gallery, or on a gallery website, it’s good etiquette for you to commission through the gallery. It’s considered quite poor form to find a jeweller via a gallery and then contacting them independently. You may think that you’ll receive a lower price for the work this way, however all makers value their gallery relationships and it’s usual industry practice for makers not to undercut their galleries.
  • If you have found a maker outside the gallery system, perhaps through blogs or friends or websites or recommendations, then for sure contact them!! I can’t imagine any jeweller ‘forcing’ you through a gallery if you’ve found them via other channels.
  • Understand that the designing phase can take some time, and it’s important for both you and the jeweller to talk about every aspect of the design – it’d be a shame for you both if all the work is done and it’s not quite what you wanted. An alternative approach is for you to give the artist broad boundaries and then trust them to make something within their own creativity – this is likely to be for more experienced and confident collectors, and requires you to know a lot about the maker and their oeuvre, and to trust that whatever they make you’ll love. Expect a little to-and-fro with the designing process.
  • Plan ahead! Independent makers generally have many projects running in parallel and require a reasonable lead time. If you want something to give in just a few weeks, don’t let that stop you – definitely ask and you may be lucky and the jeweller may have a gap in their workload; though I am saying the more time the better. My recommendation is a minimum of a month, but if you’re unsure exactly what you want it’d be best to allow two months or even more. Why? Makers are not cookie-cutters and you are asking for a custom-made artwork. If the materials need to be special-ordered, it may take weeks for just that to happen (eg. I recently made cufflinks with platinum cloisonné wire and this is a special order manufacture, and can take up to a week to make and then there’s the time for it to be posted etc). Further, if the jeweller is also sourcing stones especially for you, it can take time to find the right one(s).
  • Enjoy the process – you’ll appreciate the piece so much more!

Please do comment and add any other tips.

Commissioning is so much fun!



2 responses

17 04 2013

Great post Karen!

17 04 2013

Thank you Melissa!
The more tips for our potential clients the better I hope. I think some fear the process, and I wanted to lay a foundation of understanding and so to encourage more commissioning.

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