Finding the Right Jeweler cover

Finding the Right Jeweler

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Within every trade, or industry, not everyone is created equal, and this insight certainly applies to the jewelry trade. The following article is not about how to tell which jewelers are better and which ones are worse by citing some simplistic criteria that supposedly separate goodies from baddies. More helpfully, it is about shedding light on the considerations involved in finding the jeweler who is likely to be most suitable for your needs.


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Finding the Right Jeweler

Not All Are Equal

Within every trade, or industry, not everyone is created equal, and this insight certainly applies to the jewelry trade.

The following article is not about how to tell which jewelers are better and which ones are worse by citing some simplistic criteria that supposedly separate goodies from baddies. More helpfully, it is about shedding light on the considerations involved in finding the jeweler who is likely to be most suitable for your needs.

Is It For Me?

Is It For Me?

This question has befuddled many a jewelry customer.

The resulting mismatch between the customer and the jeweler they chose in the end has sent many a potentially costly project south, causing frustration, dismay, and worse.

An exquisite contemporary design by Tiroler Goldschmied of Dorf Tirol, Italy, featuring 18k (750) yellow and white gold, diamonds and “Grandeln” (German: deer molars, typically the molars of red deer stags)

Photograph courtesy of © Manuela Prossliner/www.tirolergoldschmied.com

Restaurants

One comparison that illustrates the matter quite well is restaurants.

Take a look at the business model of the archetypical fast-food place. Industrially pre-packaged food components have rendered obsolete the armies of skilled chefs and other kitchen personnel a large chain might need to satisfy demand. Instead, employees with limited skills deliver fast and affordable service.

They are drilled to turn over quantity while perpetuating their brand across states, nations and continents, with little or no difference between the menu, be it in towns of Springfield in Massachusetts, Missouri, or Oregon.

Opposite Ends

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the fine specialty restaurants that require higher-skilled employees to deliver quality before quantity.

Here, you would expect the waiter to provide sound advice on which wine will go with which menu item on any given day. They may or may not be easy to find in the local press and online, but will typically take years to build a reputation among those who value the finer things in life.

Aepli Zodiac Leo

Aepli Zodiac Leo

His designs of fine jewelry and ecclesiastical implements for the companies of Burch-Corrodi and Trudel in Zurich (Switzerland) made the late Kurt Aepli world-renowned among his peers and collectors alike. The skillful stylization of the lion in this pendant from 1975 in 18k (750) pink gold and lapiz lazuli testifies to the designer's skill as much as it does to the executing goldsmiths.

Photograph courtesy of The Estate of Kurt Aepli.

Different Strengths

In the real world there are the countless shades of grey in-between the two extremes, including an abundance of outlying regions.

Just as there are family restaurants that, say, offer grandma’s home-cooking, there are independent jewelers and chain stores that buy and sell the standard commercial items from souvenirs and zodiac charms to mainstream bridal jewelry. Some of them might provide a reliable repair service and do basic alterations, all at a more or less reasonable price and acceptable quality.

Rare Breed

But back to our typical high-end fine French specialty restaurant.

It will interpret the term haute-cuisine in a decidedly non-negotiable and literal manner. If you were to order bouillabaisse, you would have to do so the day before, because the chef will buy the fish right off the boat before dawn the next morning while you are still asleep.

Likewise, a similarly rare breed of high-end jewelers might have the capacity to advise you on everything, from the stones to the metals and the actual design of a potentially complex project.

Contrast

Contrast

The contrast between the contemporary design of 18k (750) white and pink gold set with diamonds, and the primal-organic look of a warthog's tooth could hardly be more osé. A daring necklace by Tiroler Goldschmied of Dorf Tirol, Italy.

Photograph courtesy of © Manuela Prossliner/www.tirolergoldschmied.com

Service And Sophistication

Since the preferences of their patrons range from the eclectic to the exotic, such studios will have established a network that allows them to procure stones and similar goodies from all over the world just for you to indulge in.

Clearly, this is an entirely different business model from the commercial one mentioned earlier. Such service and sophistication is anything but mainstream and involves time and expertise, and both have their price.

Specialties

Against such a background of wide and rich variety, it becomes easier to imagine that only very few studios have sufficient demand to specialize in hunting and wildlife jewelry exclusively, for example.

Your best approach is not to assume anything at all, as it is likely that the vast majority of jewelers never had a request for that magnificently executed animal motif, or a custom order to create a stunning objet d'art with a customer's trophy.

One Of A Kind

One Of A Kind

A highly unusual design with an equally unusual choice of materials by Tiroler Goldschmied of Dorf Tirol, Italy, featuring 18k (750) yellow and white gold, diamonds, deer antler and “Grandeln” (German: deer molars, typically the molars of red deer stags) Photograph courtesy of © Manuela Prossliner/www.tirolergoldschmied.com

Trial And Error

It is a very special kind of challenge to gain a firm grasp of the subtleties of animal anatomy, and all but the most talented professionals will be able to succeed without a solid background in the arts.

“There were many years of trial and error—mostly error”, Richard Koskovich of Homer, AK recalls in a disarmingly down-to-earth way. Taking the subject further by creating a truly successful artistic alteration or stylization poses the ultimate demand upon the executing craftsperson’s skills.

Extensive Research

Madeleine Kay of Littlerock, CA confirms,“I have an extensive research file I started in 1975”.

In a world where the mainstream definition of fine jewelry tends to be along the lines of precious metals and diamonds, possibly some colored stones and pearls, most commercial jewelers are likely to tell you their return on investing in such manner of know-how is simply not warranted.

Madeleine Kay Marco Polo Sheep

Madeleine Kay Marco Polo Sheep

This pendant of a Marco Polo Sheep in yellow gold and diamonds by Madleine Kay of Littlerock, CA, impresses as much with its choice of materials as it does with its close attention to detail. It is certainly not what you would expect to find at even the highest-end fine jewelry store.

Photograph courtesy of © Madleine Kay.

Organics

In a scenario where wildlife jewelry contains organic materials from trophy components, or what gemologists refer to as organics for short, there is a whole other set of challenges.

Contrary to gemstones and precious metals, organics are porous. This imposes limits on standard processing, cleaning and maintenance procedures. As a result, you and the jeweler entrusted with looking after your valuable finery need to be informed about the potential pitfalls that come with organics.

Hunter's Spin

Hunter's Spin

Signet rings were proof of authority in ancient Egypt three and a half thousand years ago, and there have been uncounted variations since. Tiroler Goldschmied of Dorf Tirol (Italy) puts a hunter's spin on the theme by keeping the 18k (750) yellow and white gold as understated as possible so as to keep the focus on the deer antler.

Photograph courtesy of © Manuela Prossliner/www.tirolergoldschmied.com

Research

Once you feel like you have honed in on a viable candidate, don't be afraid to ask whether they have a lot of demand for wildlife jewelry and other organics.

It certainly doesn't hurt to chat them up a little about their background to get a better idea of the breadth and depth of their expertise. “I had already been a practicing wildlife artist creating paintings and sculpture and wanted to add fine jewelry to my repertoire”, Dan Toledo of Toledo Wildlife in Whittier, CA explains.

Toledo Golden Tusker

Toledo Golden Tusker

Starting out as a sculptor and an artist, Dan Toledo of Toledo Wildlife in Whittier, CA studied wildlife anatomy at an academic level. When he moved on to create fine jewelry, it was only natural that he apply his considerable expertise to this medium. This elaborate necklace features 18k (750) and 22k (917) gold, diamonds, rubies and Mammoth ivory.

Copyright © Dan Toledo

Have Fun

Ask for photos of work a potential prospect has done in the past for you to “ooh” and “aah” over.

Not only will you gain a better idea who you are dealing with, but great work is also pure fun and enjoyment to look at and discuss.

Remember, in the digital age every self-respecting studio keeps photographic records of what they produce, and the real pros typically carry a smartphone or a tablet computer souped up with all the memory it can handle for the sole purpose of having their extensive photo gallery on them at all times so they can proudly present it at the faintest of cues.

Up To You

In the end it is up to you to distinguish between those who are competent in that area and filter out those whose experience and talents lie elsewhere.

The few studios that specialize in wildlife jewelry are not likely to be high-profile brands, and therefore harder to spot, whether you are looking in glossy magazines, on the web, or combing a city’s main strip. The majority are one-person enterprises that serve a select crowd on the basis of word-of-mouth, nowadays perhaps word-of-text.

Training

Training

Robert Ackermann, G.G. is an award-winning goldsmith, jewelry designer, gemologist, and teacher and lecturer. The photo above is the prestigious goldsmith workshop Burch Korrodi in Zurich (circa 1934) where Robert trained. He welcomes your comments and looks forward to your questions at robertackermann@hotmail.com

Photo by Foundation Meinrad Burch-Korrodi and Hedwig Maria Burch Wyser, Obwalden

(CC BY-SA 4.0)