• Kate Seow

Bespoke Jewellery and Commissions 101

Have you ever thought of getting a piece of jewellery made specially, but didn't know where to start? Perhaps you didn't know quite what to get, or felt that this was only an option for the ultra-rich and famous... On the latter point, I can assure you it's not, and on the former point, I may be able to help.

First of all, what's the difference between "bespoke" and "commissioned"? When I talk about a bespoke piece, I'm referring to an item that is based on a piece that I already make that has been customised in some way. Below are two examples of bespoke pieces - the Villefranche earrings in 18kt gold with lapis lazuli and malachite beads on the left and the Paris necklace and bracelet with graduated green onyx beads on the right.

A commissioned piece is not directly adapted from any design that I currently make. It is usually a unique piece based on a specific request from a customer. Below are two examples of commissions - the one on the left is a ruby and 9kt gold ring that was made to replace one that had been lost many years earlier. The one on the right is a cross-over ring in silver with two saltwater pearls, made for someone with a daughter called Pearl.

Before we get into the detail of how bespoke or commissioned jewellery comes into being, it's worth thinking about why you might want to commission a piece. The most obvious reason is so that the wearer has something that is special and unique - giving a gift that you have designed for a loved one is a wonderful way of confirming just how special your loved one is to you and demonstrating just how well you understand them. This is why commissioned jewellery is very popular for special occasions such as engagement and wedding rings, or significant birthdays and anniversaries.

Another reason for commissioning a piece that is often overlooked is the opportunity to determine exactly where the materials have come from. For example, it is possible to ask for Fairtrade or Single Mine Origin (SMO) gold for your jewellery (both gold items shown here have been made with Fairtrade gold), or have a gemstone that can be traced back to the mine that it came from - you might even know the name of the miners and stone-cutters who produce it for you and be confident that your gemstone has been sourced as ethically as possible.

This stunning New Lander turquoise cabochon has come from the New Lander Mine in Nevada, USA.

So, how do you get a special piece of jewellery made? It starts with someone contacting me with an idea. Usually, my customer knows what sort of jewellery they are looking for, such as a ring or a necklace; they may also have a specific gemstone in mind. Next, I will ask a few questions to get an idea of the wearer's likes and dislikes, preferred styles, size, shape, textures... It is sometimes helpful to have some images to work from - a picture paints a thousand words, after all! Thinking about the sort of jewellery that the recipient of the piece tends to wear helps too.

Once I have a few ideas of what my customer would like, I make some sketches and come up with some designs (and price ranges) that we can work with. I usually try to suggest three different designs that my customer can give some thoughts on - I never mind if one of the responses is, "I don't really like that!" This is helpful as it starts to narrow down the options. From my experience, this is the stage where my customers who started out by saying "I have no idea what I want..." start to discover that they know exactly what they would like! I will also guide my customer through working out the correct size if necessary. Below are two examples of sketches - the one on the left shows two quite different designs at the start of the process; the brief was for a pair of silver and garnet earrings with a simple, elegant design with a twist. The one on the right shows a couple of suggestions for a necklace once we had narrowed down the design idea to an oval purple kaleidoscope quartz stone (see below for the finished piece).

It is not unusual to have quite a long discussion at this stage. Commissions in particular have a great deal of emotion and sentimentality attached to them, so it is really important to me that we get the design exactly right - I find the time we take to discuss it is always time well spent. A number of customers prefer to have face-to-face discussions for this, which is why I am happy to arrange a video call for any customers who are at a distance. I'm even happier to meet for tea and cake with customers who live a bit closer!

Throughout this process, I give an estimate of the cost for each design so that we can work within a specific budget. Once we have agreed on a design and my customer is happy to proceed, I provide a quote and ask for a 50% deposit to cover material costs. I do not charge for working through the various options with my customer, but instead charge a slightly higher hourly rate for making the pieces to cover the cost of my time.

After I have received the deposit, I order any materials necessary and get to work. It usually takes 6-8 weeks between receiving the deposit and completing the order, although it may take a little longer if a customer has requested something special such as laser engraving, as I will need to send it away to a specialist laser engraver. Once I have finished the piece, I send a number of photos to my customer for their approval before requesting final payment and sending the piece to its new home.

"I love my new necklace. As it is custom made, it is a perfect match for me and I therefore find myself wearing it all of the time (rather unusual for me and jewellery). A little bit of sparkle that cheers me up every time I put it on :) It was great fun to help in the design process and so exciting to see the end result when it arrived in the post." - Jodie

“Just got home after a busy on-call and opened my earrings. Wow! Now I am smiling from ear to ear. They are so beautiful. I absolutely love them! They looked good in the photos you sent, but they are even better when you see how the light reflects off the gold spirals. Such a lovely warmth and a sense of fun. Thank you so much for using your very impressive skills to create such a fantastic pair of earrings." - Caroline

Above are pictures of two recent commissions along with comments from their recipients. I hope this gives you an idea of what to expect if you were to commission a special piece of jewellery from me or place a bespoke order. If you have any questions or would like to go ahead with discussing a special piece, please get in touch with me - you can email me at, use the contact form on my website or call me on +44 7484 137174.

If you would like to commission a piece of jewellery in time for Christmas this year (2019), please note that my deadline for enquiries is Monday 4th November - this is so that I have time to order any materials, have the finished piece hallmarked and do your special piece justice in the workshop. If you miss the deadline, by all means get in touch - depending on your requirements, I may still be able to make your piece in good time.

Most importantly, if I promise to get it to you by Christmas, it will get to you by Christmas.

Until next time!

Kate xxx

P.s. If you would like to know when and where I will be in the run-up to Christmas, please sign up to my mailing list. You will also receive 10% off your first order (which can be used for a commission or bespoke order...)

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