Ted Lafiteau and his wife, Janine, spent two years searching stores as near as their home in Matthews, N.C., and as far as the Caribbean islands, in search of Janine’s dream tanzanite earrings.They couldn’t find them. Until, that is, the Angie’s List members, who collect the blue-purple gemstone, commissioned the original jewelry piece from their long-time jeweler Lorenzo Caputo at the highly rated Jewelry & Watch Doctor in Pineville, N.C.
After Janine, an art teacher, sketched her idea and brought in the loose stones and diamonds she wanted placed in the drop earrings, Ted says Caputo put together beautiful custom earrings for her.
“It appraised at about three times what I wound up paying,” Lafiteau says, adding he spent about $800 total, including the price of the stones they purchased separately and about $180 for the service. “He’s worth his weight in gold.”
Jewelry — often given to mark a special occasion, such as commissioned anniversary rings or one-of-a-kind engagement rings — can be intensely personal, and Charlotte,N.C., jewelers say as many as a quarter of their customers come looking for unique rings, bracelets, necklaces, watches and other custom jewelry that is one-of-a-kind instead of one-size-fits-all.
“We can do anything our customers want us to do,” says Stan Greenberg, owner of highly rated The Jewelry Stop in Charlotte.
He says the price of custom jewelry pieces usually compares to something in the display case, or may cost just 10 to 20 percent more than jewelry in the showcase, depending on the materials. His jewelry store usually requires about three weeks lead time for original jewelry pieces such as custom engagement rings or craftsman-made wedding bands.
Chuck Smith, owner of highly rated Morrison Smith Fine & Custom Jewelers, says his Charlotte shop specializes in original custom jewelry made by in-house craftsman. He employs 14 people, including seven craftsmen who specialize in different areas of the jewelry business, from engraving metal and bead stringing to certified gemstone appraising.
“We offer full jewelry service as well as diamonds, diamond jewelry and custom-made pieces,” Smith says.
Custom jewelry designers at Morrison Smith’s often draw pieces on CAD programs based on customers’ ideas, often from a catalog of past commissioned jewelry pieces or even lately from Pinterest, Smith says. It typically takes jewelry craftsman four to six weeks after the one-of-a-kind jewelry is designed to create the piece. The jeweler requires less time to modify an existing design and more during high demand periods, such as leading into the holidays when custom jewelry is a common gift.
Beyond original pieces, Smith says a quarter of his work involves repairing or upgrading existing jewelry pieces. Customers commonly request jewelers restore heirloom rings or remake ugly heirloom jewelry to match modern tastes.
“You’re just paying for labor and materials to get a fabulous new piece of jewelry for not a lot of money,” he says, adding prices vary depending on the metal and gemstones chosen.
That type of heirloom jewelry restoration led Angie’s List member Claudia McGrew from her home in China Grove, N.C., to The Jewelry Stop. After 39 years, her wedding band had grown too tight to take off, and one of the two heirloom diamonds had fallen out.
While being repaired, the jeweler took the time to make the piece into an even better custom ring. She says the Charlotte jeweler replaced the missing diamond, added a third slightly larger diamond and added more gold to the band — in the same intricate filigree design — without costing her any money because she traded in old gold rings, which offset the $500 cost.
“When I saw it in the store, under the beautiful lights, I almost cried,” she says. “You cannot tell it’s been repaired — it looks perfect.”