By Shawna Kulpa
For Greg Stopka of Jewelsmiths in Pleasant Hill, California, the true sweet spot of his business is not custom design. It’s custom redesign.
“Custom redesign is a lot more personally satisfying because people get jazzed,” Stopka explains. He notes that such projects usually involve sentimental items, and that emotional attachment makes for a more involved customer.
It also makes custom redesigns a little more stressful for the jeweler—after all, the customer is entrusting the jeweler with things that are precious to them, and no jeweler wants to be the one to ruin a treasured item. The stress only increases when what the client wants is outside the jeweler’s wheelhouse.
Stopka remembers one such custom redesign project well.
The couple had done a lot of traveling, picking up a few special mementos on some of their trips. Among the items was a beautiful oval sapphire they had purchased in Thailand with the intention of one day having it set in a special piece. On another trip, the husband had given his wife a white gold princess-cut diamond accent band, which held a lot of sentimental value.
They were coming up on a special occasion and would be going to a dinner dance event. The wife had spent a great deal of time selecting a low-cut gown, and the husband viewed it as an opportunity to have a nice custom pendant made to accessorize it. He was particularly interested in creating a piece that would serve as a reminder of some of the trips they had taken together.
“He came in a couple of times by himself,” remembers Stopka. Knowing how much more emotionally fraught redesign projects are, he suggested that the husband bring in his wife. “I said if it’s important, you might want to bring her in too.”
When he met with the couple, they talked about some of the trips the couple had taken together and the things that they had brought back with them, including the sapphire and the diamond band. As they talked about their travels, they also mentioned the spiral koru shape that they had fallen in love with on a trip to New Zealand.
As Stopka discussed ideas with the couple, they settled on a pendant design that would incorporate the sapphire from Thailand, diamonds from the wife’s ring, and a repeating koru pattern. Stopka mentioned an idea for a long, linear pendant that he thought would make a nice presentation when the client wore her low-cut dress. But first, the husband wanted to think through a few other ideas.
“Because he was an engineer, he wanted to know as much about the project as possible,” says Stopka. “He’s very detail oriented, and I knew I was going to have to step up my game on this project.”
Stopka tried another design with more movement and flow, but setting the princess cut stones on an angle or curve would be difficult. After a few more sketches, they settled on a contemporary two-tone pendant design.
“The design was to be a channel pendant to set all 20 of the square-cut diamonds from their white gold ring, and at the bottom they wanted the large oval sapphire to be set with double prongs,” Stopka explains. “The undercarriage was designed to incorporate a continuing scroll of the koru design.” He also included a circular space within the undercarriage to serve as a hidden bale for the piece.
While the basic channel bar would be made in palladium, other parts of the design, such as the koru scroll and the sapphire’s prongs, would be made in 18k yellow gold to create a nice contrast be-tween the elements.
Stopka took his sketch into CAD to fine-tune the design. In addition to printing out a complete model of the pendant to show his customers, Stopka printed a second version with all of the elements broken out separately.
“I printed it as one piece so she could try it on,” he explains. “It allowed her to take her omega chain, loop it through, and get a better perspective.”
He then showed them the separate pendant parts to demonstrate how they would all fit together, something that the detail-oriented husband particularly enjoyed. “This gave them the concept of how everything was to be cast, polished, and installed together.”
Once the customers signed off on the design, Stopka cast the separate elements in their respective metals. After cleaning up the components, Stopka installed the scroll elements within the bar. He then hand fabricated the four 18k double prongs. Finally, he channel set the 20 diamonds before setting the sapphire.
The couple was thrilled with the final piece.
“They really got into the project because they were emotionally connected and wanted to implement their ideas, like the koru design,” says Stopka, who admits that this type of piece was a little more complicated and over the top than his usual designs. “Like most design studios, we’re geared more toward bread-and-butter designing—halo designs in bridal. I don’t do these kinds of pieces every day, but I love them.”