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Custom Crunch Time

Custom designing

Tips for handling last-minute custom requests

By Shawna Kulpa

It happens like clockwork every year. A few days before Christmas, someone wanders into your store. Perhaps he peruses the cases and nothing catches his eye. Or maybe he already knows exactly what he wants. Regardless of how it happens, this last-minute shopper wants a custom piece of jewelry that he can present to his loved one on Christmas Day…and he wants you to make it happen.

You don’t want to risk losing a potential customer, but you recognize that there’s no way you’ll be able to deliver what he wants in time for the holiday. To help you figure out the best way to respond to these requests, we checked in with members of MJSA’s Council of Custom Jewelers to see how they handle the inevitable last-minute shopper.

Jim Tuttle - Green Lake Jewelry Works

Jim Tuttle
Green Lake Jewelry Works, Seattle
“We deal with this every year. We set up a soft cut-off, usually around Thanksgiving, for a complex job. This is tight for Christmas delivery, but doable in most cases. Then we go case-by-case for another couple of weeks before it is just too late.

We also cast some popular rings and keep them semi-finished, so we can do semi-custom [i.e., alter an existing design’s appearance] in a couple of days by adding filigree, melee, and hand engraving.

Finally, if none of that works, we will grow a resin, set a stone in the presentation mounting, and deliver [it with] a nice sketch, which is a popular option year round. Most clients understand when you explain what it takes to do a full-on custom piece.”

Dawn Muscio headshot

Dawn Muscio
D. Muscio Designs Inc., Newfield, New York
“I have a soft cut-off at Thanksgiving for Christmas but I do consider each project individually based on complexity. You cannot rush fine craftsmanship, and I make sure to stress this to my clients. Give me the time to do it right and you will not be disappointed.

If we cannot make a deadline with a finished piece, I often have several other suggestions for my clients. If there is a stone purchase, we will gift wrap the stones with a gift certificate for a custom piece. Or a beautiful concept sketch to be presented with the anticipation of the finished piece as the gift. How special knowing something is in process and being made just for you! And a beautiful drawing as a keepsake is an added bonus many love and cherish almost as much as the piece itself.

[Since our business is] a two-person operation, my clients understand the length of time needed to finish an extraordinary piece, and they are willing to wait. I do not believe that I have lost a client because of not being able to hit a holiday deadline.”

David Dorian headshot

David Dorian
Dorian Jewelers, Watertown, Massachusetts
“Custom and semi-custom pieces are taken on a per-case basis depending on complexity and timeframe. A rendered picture is always a must for custom jobs that are not able to be completed. I have the stores [I work with] put the renders in a box and gift-wrap them. This facilitates the customer having something tangible to give as a gift and brings the recipient into the store to complete the design. Getting the recipient involved in the design process can turn a small job into a much larger one, and the recipient gets what they want. For me, this is far better than rushing to make the piece, only to find out the recipient doesn’t like it.”

Klaus Kutter headshot

Klaus Kutter
A Jour Jewelry Inc., Bristol, Rhode Island
“I play it case-by-case, as some custom jobs can be turned around faster than others. What usually happens, though, is that customers are very understanding and do not expect holiday delivery. I don’t like to be rushed for custom orders; I think it diminishes the value of our work. I have never lost a customer because a job could not be done for a certain deadline. A clear, reasonable explanation goes a long way. And a ‘no’ once in a while does wonders as well and is good for the heart.”


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