Custom Jewelry Design Process
Kimberly Arpaia collaborates with highly talented and revered members of the trade to share knowledge in a quest for excellence in luxury jewelry design and fabrication techniques. Marrying old-world goldsmith methods with ultra high-tech innovations in the jewelry industry to create exquisite heirloom designs with museum-grade quality and craftsmanship that are comfortable wear is the standard at Arpaia Jewelry.
Your Happiness is Our Inspiration
Creating your vision in a breathtaking piece of jewelry is our greatest joy and achievement. We want you to enjoy the custom design experience and be satisfied with every aspect of our performance and services, including the value of your finished piece.
Kimberly Arpaia works directly with you through all phases of work to ensure that your one-of-a-kind piece is exceptional. We utilize the finest goldsmiths in hand-fabrication and stone setting, and take advantage of the best in CAD and high-tech casting and manufacturing in the United States. We are proud to work with brilliant specialists around the country who are continually developing the most revolutionary alloys and cutting-edge technologies that result in superior precious-metal castings for our luxury jewelry.
Below we describe the custom design process and include several actual projects. We hope you will consider Arpaia Jewelry to create your special piece!
The Custom Design Process
Call Kimberly Arpaia for an Appointment
Contact Kimberly by phone (203) 772-4643 or send email to info@ArpaiaJewelry.com to schedule a meeting in the New Haven, Connecticut area; phone chats can be scheduled for clients who are out of area.
At the initial design consultation, we discuss your ideas, look at images you might provide, and make recommendations for the creation of your special piece, all with appreciation for your budget and lifestyle.
The initial consultation and our time spent discussing your project with you are complimentary. It is important that we understand your vision and that you are comfortable with the custom design process.
Price Quote, Fabrication Details, and Expected Time Frame
We are able to estimate cost, describe the fabrication process, and propose an expected completion date once the design is sufficiently developed and we know all gemstones and metals to be incorporated into your piece.
Sometimes we can provide cost and time details at the initial conference. Usually, we must do follow-up work to ascertain expenses and time expenditures. For example, we may need to research technical issues, obtain pricing information from suppliers and manufacturers, develop the design concept further, or bring in gemstones chosen just for your consideration. In these cases, we ballpark a figure once major costs are known - this way you get an idea of the price point we expect your project will fall. Then, we move toward a more refined estimate as all cost factors are determined.
Gemstones are paid for at time of selection. Balance of project cost, including Arpaia Jewelry's design fee, is usually divided into two installments, with 50% payment due before work commences and final payment due upon completion (at time of pickup or shipment).
For most projects, our actual fee will match our estimate.
A price adjustment might occur with a design or material change, or to reflect a cost difference from time of quote. We promptly address any unforeseen expense or pricing error.
Complex projects typically involve more intricate design elements and time-consuming fabrication steps. As a result, complex projects require cost flexibility and latitude. Variances are explained up front and closely monitored as the project progresses.
Once gemstones and materials are selected, some pieces can be finished in a few weeks, while others might take months. Most projects are completed within 2-6 weeks. Prior to beginning work, we let you know about how long your custom design will take to complete. Our goal is to meet all expected time frames; if we run into a snafu, we let you know immediately.
Time Sensitive Projects Are Given First Priority
Most custom engagement and wedding rings fall within the 3-5 week time frame. When possible, we will accommodate pressing time limitations for commitment rings.
Firm due dates for commitment rings and special occasion gifts are given top priority in our work schedule – we do everything we can to meet these deadlines ahead of schedule.
For every custom design valued at $2,500 or more, we prepare a complimentary written appraisal stating the full replacement value for insurance purposes. The appraisal is ready with the finished piece at time of pickup or delivery. We also provide a Jewelers Mutual brochure and, if desired, a completed form to request a free no-obligation insurance quote.
While every custom design is unique, we hope you will find the below selections informative and insightful as to why we find custom jewelry design so engaging and memorable. For visitors who wish to read more, we included drop down screens revealing step-by-step project details.
Project Sample I:
Platinum Diamond Engagement Ring with Matching Wedding and First Anniversary Bands
A one-of-a-kind engagement ring is the ultimate declaration of love.
This 3-month project is a good example of the leeway time that is sometimes needed to select just the gemstone(s) for a custom piece. Here, the desired gemstone was a rare diamond. Diamond selection took a full 2 months, and ultimately, the diamond was hand-cut in NYC. Then, once the diamond was procured, the ring design was completed and the ring fabricated within 4 weeks.
Initial Design Consultation
During our first meeting with the clinet, we got an excellent sense of the ring. This was our best opportunity to listen to what the client was looking for and have a back and forth discussion to go over questions and confirm specifics, right down to the finger size. We listened to the actual adjectives used by the client to describe the diamond he wanted (“special,” “good size,” “very sparkly,” “brilliant”) and about the ring style (“elegant,” “simple,” “not too much metal”). The client also relayed that his intended fiancé liked platinum and that she prefered a solitaire to a multi-stone ring.
After discussing budget and time frame, we focus on the diamond. What shape? The client indicated he was looking for something other than a round diamond. He wanted something more unique, yet very classy. We looked at fancy-shaped diamonds from the more contemporary, like the asscher, princess and radiant cuts, to the more classic fancy shapes like oval, emerald and cushion cuts. The client was most intrigued by the graceful soft romantic pillow outline of the classic cushion cut. As he was looking for a bright stone, we showed him a very high quality classic cushion cut diamond from our inventory. Right away, he noticed the billowy facets that yielded magnificent fire and sparkle. He wanted the exact same diamond but “four times bigger.” Since we did not have that diamond in our inventory, we promised to bring in several GIA-graded diamonds for his consideration within the week.
Next, we turn attention to the style of the ring and look at “streamlined” designs since the client did not want a lot of metal. The client liked our concept to have a thin long tapered baguette flank each side of the center diamond so that the face-up view of the ring on the hand would be almost all diamond. With classic step-cut tapered baguettes, the ring would still be simple and the band would show less metal. Also, the baguettes would enhance the overall elegance of the ring and not detract at all from a magnificent center diamond. The client seemed pleased with the design concept. We decided to put off actual design of the ring until the diamond was selected.
We wrap up the consultation by summarizing our objectives and next step. Everyone is on board and in a good place.
Diamond Search and Selection
We started the diamond search. While some diamonds are selected at the outset, that is not our typical situation, as happened here. Most custom jewelry involves a treasure hunt, whether the design revolves around the gemstones or the gemstones are dictated by the design. For us, the gemstone discovery process can be one of the most exciting journeys afforded by the custom design process.
Over the next 3 weeks, we brought in diamonds for the client to see. There were several contenders, but “the one” seemed illusive. We were not discouraged with the passing time, but we were beginning to feel pressure to find the “perfect” diamond for this client.
We continued the search, and after exhausting our usual resources, we called upon a renowned diamond cutter in New York City who specialized in high quality classic cushion cuts. These rare diamonds were hand-fashioned (another rarity given today’s automated diamond-cutting procedures) and absolutely exceptional. We were told to wait, so patiently we did. We were confident in the cutter’s time frame and pleased with the projected price. We had a very strong intuition that this diamond really would be the one.
We felt so much relief when the spectacular diamond finally arrived and it possessed all of the qualities that the client was looking for. We were so proud to show it to him, and we were probably beaming as bright as the diamond. Looking back, we could have been more reserved, but we were just so "gem happy", which is difficult to contain – we were smitten. The client had a big grin too, and with his cheerful “wrap it up!” we immediately went to work on the ring design.
With diamond selection taking 2 months, we only had a month to design and fabricate the ring. Going back to the proposed basic design, we developed the major elements and then met with the client to review.
Now that the design was fleshed out, we were ready to retain the technical services of a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) specialist to prepare computer renderings of the ring for the client’s approval.
The CAD stage took about 12 days in rush mode. We supplied several renderings to the client to show how the ring would look at different angles (below). We also briefed the client on the visual differences that would occur between the computer renderings and the actual ring when made. For example, the client did not want the ring to look architectural and he did not want a lot of metal. He was looking for a feminine streamlined ring where the center diamond was the star. While the diamond appeared prominent in the CAD renderings, we understood that the metal is angular and relatively bold compared to what the client desired. We explained how we needed more metal to work with during the stone setting and finishing stages, and therefore extra metal was purposely part of the CAD specifications, and hence, what the CAD renderings showed. We further explained that Robert Lang would do all finishing and stone setting. Robert would remove and then smooth all unnecessary metal during the polishing stages when he contoured and softened the appearance of all junctions, lines and angles. The differences between the actual ring and the CAD renderings are apparent when you compare them (see picture of actual ring at end of "Finishing" section below).
The client liked the design and he did not request any changes. We went over the remaining fabrication process and timing.
Same day, we ordered the baguettes and got their exact measurements to finalize the CAD specs needed to produce the model for casting. The CAD file was sent to the caster for a platinum compatibility check prior to making the model. With an all-clear from the caster, the photopolymer model is printed and shipped to the caster. This final CAD work and model took about 5 days.
We eliminated the step of having a model sent to us for approval and review by the client to avoid further time delay. It seemed unnecessary since we did not need the model to check fit of stones or detailed metal work, and we had experience and comfort working with top people in the field. So, with the client’s approval, we reduced time by avoiding the step of examining the model prior to casting.
Fine platinum jewelry is often hand forged due to porosity issues associated with platinum casting. To increase the strength and integrity of this sleek band, however, we decided to forego hand fabrication in order to take advantage of a developmental process in platinum jewelry casting adopted from medical technology called Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP). HIP essentially eliminates porosity to near nil levels throughout the cast metal piece instead of just on the surface as had been achieved by other advanced casting methods. A few months earlier, our platinum “Snow Flower” earrings were cast and processed with HIP with excellent results, and we wanted to replicate that success for this ring. The ring was cast in a 950 platinum alloy (95% platinum / 5% cobalt) followed by HIP. Due to HIP, this phase took 8 days in rush mode.
After HIP, it took more effort than usual to remove the casting skin because the platinum is dense. After Robert Lang removed the casting skin, he hand polished the metal to a high mirror shine in six stages by thrumming (an old-world method using string laden with polishing compound). During cutting and polishing, Robert smoothed all junctions and rounded the metal edges along all contours of the ring.
Robert laser welded platinum risers into the channel settings for the baguettes to optimize their face-up appearance. Lastly, he finished the prongs and set the stones.
Kimberly then photographed the ring and prepared an appraisal setting forth the insurance replacement value. Previously, during fabrication of the ring, we worked with client and insurer to get the piece insured prior to pick up.
Matching Wedding & First Anniversary Bands
Below are CAD renderings of identical matching wedding & first anniversary bands:
This custom commitment ring is a good example of a 3-week custom design process, where the desired gemstones are readily available and the design and material decisions are relatively easy for the client.
Custom wedding bands can often be made much more quickly than a custom engagement ring because they usually don’t involve the crucial center diamond and other more elaborate, time-consuming elements. A women’s custom wedding band is often made to match the engagement ring, so design details are incorporated and the band is shaped to snuggle nicely with the engagement ring. There is more freedom with a man’s wedding band since it is not matched with another ring.
The typical initial consultation for wedding bands usually runs quite smoothly and efficiently because often the clients know exactly want they want, or if not, they will see what they like during the consultation.
Here, the client came in knowing that he wanted blue sapphires spaced evenly around the band and that he wanted a white metal. For the metal, we recommended palladium. We discussed the affordability of palladium over platinum, which would leave more of the budget to put toward the sapphires to purchase better color and clarity. We also mentioned the advantages of palladium over white gold, in that palladium stays white over time, it does not need to be plated with rhodium, and it is a pure metal in the platinum group of metals so naturally hypoallergenic. The client was impressed with the look of palladium as well as its benefits and price point.
For the sapphires, we discussed the desired shade of blue and size of stone. We would bring in sapphires meeting his requirements within a week to look at.
We quickly moved onto the design of the band itself. After looking at images to formulate his ideas, the client was able to identify the elements he found most appealing. The design came together as we clarified each detail. The client would have time to think about the band while waiting for the sapphires to arrive.
Right after our meeting, we called one of our favorite gemstone cutters for the sapphires. Fortunately, what we wanted was available and shipped right out to us. Within days we had the sapphires in hand and they were lovely. The client was able to came right in and he was very happy with the stones. With gemstone selection complete, we finalized the design of the ring during this second meeting. To wrap up, we quickly summed up the fabrication process for the client and expected time frame for completion of the ring.
Although the ring was simple in design, it was a showcase for the sapphires. Handsome wedding bands require top quality construction to ensure a stunning result. We enlisted the services of a premier manufacturer in New York that we have had many flawless experiences with. This ring incorporated standard features, so there was no need to go through the time and expense of CAD to develop the design. The manufacturer was able to prepare a custom wax mold right from our design details and precise measurements. Also, given our immense experience with this manufacturer, there was no need for us to review the wax mold prior to fabrication. With client’s approval, we forego that delay and additional expense.
The band was forged in 950 palladium (95% pure Palladium). All that was left to be done was to set the stones and polish the metal in a dual finish (brushed satin center with smooth mirror shine on the beveled edges). The entire fabrication process took about two weeks.
Before we call the client to pick up the ring, we photograph it and prepare an appraisal for insurance purposes.
This custom ring is a good example of a 6-week project. The open twist design is simple in theory, but the execution requires careful planning. Accordingly, we employed CAD to develop the design with exacting measurements.
One of our greatest passions is fancy black diamonds. We get huge thrills doing projects with these gorgeous beauties. Clients are always surprised at how shiny and shimmery our black diamonds are. We think that is due to the fact that most black diamonds in the marketplace are irradiated. Irradiated black diamonds do not have the lush rich midnight black color of fancy black diamonds. Irradiated diamonds are actually a very deep dark green that only appear black. In our opinion, irradiated black diamonds also do not possess the sparkle or vibrancy of fancy black diamonds. In addition, in our opinion, irradiated black diamonds appear to have diminished adamantine luster (an inherent diamond quality) in comparison to fancy black diamonds. As a result, even though irradiated diamonds are much more affordable and are readily available in standard sizes, we do not use them in our designs.
The client who commissioned this ring knew about diamond quality and that we worked a lot with fancy black diamonds. She wanted the stunning contrast of rich black and brilliant white diamonds wrapped together in a graceful design. After looking at various motifs, she decided on an open twist eternity design.
In an eternity band, the sizing of stones and all metal dimensions are crucial to how the ring will look on the finger as well as how comfortable it will be to wear. In these cases, we have the client try on sample eternity bands to see where their comfort level lies (especially as to how varying depths of metal feels between the fingers). Sample eternity bands also are a good visual as to dimensions. As a result, we spend a lot of time working with the client on size details.
In addition, eternity band dimensions can be intricate to accomplish. It is easy for us to determine that CAD is the right tool here to flesh out the best measurements for this ring, including the size and number of the diamonds.
While the CAD work is ongoing, we have time to select and match the diamonds. With the precision of CAD providing a perfect template for casting and stone setting, fabrication of the ring is seamless.
This men’s ring is a good example of a hand-fabricated custom ring that can be made in about 2 weeks. The desired gemstone was easy to locate for the client, we had plenty of silver on hand, and the design was simple.
This custom ring was to be a gift. Here, the client knew she wanted a very handsome men’s ring in silver that had a single large gemstone - either dark red or black in color.
We thought that a garnet might work well for the style concept. We showed the client a red garnet from our inventory that was very deep in tone - it appeared burgundy and almost black at the edges. The depth and luster of the garnet, as well as the deep color, appealed to the client.
The client wanted a deep red garnet in a large oval shape with a smooth dome top (a cabochon). We did not have that stone in our inventory, so within a couple days we brought in several garnets for her to choose from that had the qualities she desired.
From there, fabrication of the ring was easy. The client wanted a masculine ring in bright silver without embellishment. She did not want any design elements to detract from the beautiful and intriguing garnet. Robert molded a plain bezel setting to secure the garnet and a plain contoured shank appropriate in size for the stone but no larger. Last, he polished the ring to a soft finish and it was ready for pickup.
This is an example of a complex project that took several months. It was intricate in design as well as fabrication. We took exquisite care at every stage to produce excellent results.
Though fond of most gemstones, one of our biggest passions is pearls. We are “pearl passionists” and very discriminating when it comes to picking out pearls and fabricating our pearl jewelry. Even for the shop, our pearl strands are mostly one of a kind with handmade clasps.
In Hong Kong, we have spent days just matching our own pairs, to come back with exquisite sets of freshwater and saltwater cultured pearls in various shapes, sizes, and colors. We use our matched pairs to make jewelry for sale in the shop, and we always keep unset matched pearls on hand for our custom designs.
The client was just browsing around the shop when she spotted these pearls, and she immediately fell in love with them. She asked us to design glamorous pearl earrings with white diamonds.
Formulating the Design Concept
A snowflake-flower motif popped into Kimberly’s mind, and to present the client with a visual, she sprinkled white diamond melee around one of the pearls. Not fussing with the arrangement, Kimberly quickly shifted the smaller diamonds above and between the bigger diamonds. The client was happy, and Kimberly shot the picture below as a reference for the actual design.
We drafted several renditions keeping in mind the client’s wish for lots of diamond sparkle and lightweight settings. As soon as the basic design elements were in place, we wanted to refine the design in CAD with precise measurements. At this point, we were also ready to match the diamonds to be set aside with the pearls.
CAD (Computed-Aided Design)
With no pressing deadline looming for this project, we took advantage of a rare opportunity and fostered delays in order to pay attention to every detail. This allowed us time to reflect on the design and any issues between CAD revisions. As a result, the CAD work took a few months instead of weeks. This strategy worked out well. The renderings we sent to the client were extremely well received.
With the client’s approval, we send the CAD file to a model maker and requested a set of molds for our use. This was a design where we did want to take the time (about a week) and expense to closely examine the molds. We fit all the gems in the molds to make sure we didn’t need to make any adjustment to the CAD specs. Everything looked as planned, and we could proceed to casting. We ordered new molds to be sent to the caster, together with the CAD file.
Platinum Casting with HIP (Hot Isostatic Pressing)
To ensure the heirloom quality of these earrings, we elect to have the platinum settings cast by a very high-tech company utilizing the most advanced developmental techniques. We had read technical research in depth on a new HIP process to increase the density of platinum settings, and we made arrangements to meet the leading researcher when she was in NYC to discuss our project. The new technology was sufficiently proven and the researcher indicated that the results were to be presented to the jewelry profession in just a few months. She said she would be delighted to have us submit our settings for casting with the new technology at no extra cost to us, and we were excited.
Going Back to the Drawing Board
The cast settings arrive, and as Robert begins to remove the casting skin between intricate spaces, he determines that all metal needs to be increased for structural integrity. We contact the client to let her know that we need to add a little more weight to the earrings in order to reinforce the design. Thankfully, we are not under time pressure.
We go back to CAD and add support features and slightly increase all metal thickness. The updated CAD file is sent to the model maker to create new prototypes for the caster.
Stone Setting and Finishing
The new settings arrive and they are strong. The final stages are extremely labor-intensive and time consuming, not unusual with museum-grade quality and craftsmanship.
The first step is to remove the casting skin. This is more involved than usual due not only to very tiny intricate spaces, but also to the increased hardness resulting from the new casting technology. Robert needs to use a combination of cutting agents, polishing compounds, tools, and even the laser welder to completely remove all casting skin.
The next step is to finish the prongs and put a mirror polish on every speck of metal. The shiny platinum will maximize the brilliance of the diamonds when set. Six stages of polishing are required to achieve the desired shine, and immense patience is needed with the thrumming technique. Polishing takes over 40 hours.
Next, as Robert sets the diamonds, he minimally adjusts the seats with the laser welder to optimize each diamond’s spectacular optical properties.
Finally, Robert attaches the posts, gives a quick final polish and cleaning, and then sets the pearls.
The earrings are ready for pickup! We take a few photographs and prepare the Appraisal. The client is wowed, and we are delighted.
This custom bridal set took 5 weeks to design and fabricate. The engagement ring was made first for client approval. Then the wedding band was made to conform to outline of engagement ring.
Selecting the Diamond
This client excitedly wanted a black diamond engagement ring. She came to us specifically to see our loose fancy black diamonds that she had heard so much about.
Moments like this are really fun for us. We almost forget how breathtaking the rich black glistening stones are until we take them out of the vault to show off. Each one is a rare beauty.
The client is not sure of size or shape, so we start looking at everything and set aside her favorites. She spots the pear-shaped stone as soon as we pull it out from its sleeve. That’s it! Immediately she knew she had found the perfect diamond for her engagement ring. She took a picture of the loose stone and called her fiancé.
Designing the Ring
At our next meeting with the client, we discuss the design of the ring. She knows she wants a white metal and the design to illuminate the pear shape of the black diamond. She would also like sparkly accent stones. She is looking for a soft backdrop to the black diamond and not a sharp contrast.
We tackle the easiest decisions first. We recommend palladium as the choice of white metal due to its favorable market price. We also suggest sparkly champagne diamonds as the accent stones. The color would be complimentary and not distracting at all paired with the black diamond; plus, they are relatively affordable with a lot of sparkle in the finer qualities.
The design of the setting also goes very smooth and quickly, mostly due to the pear-shaped center stone. After reviewing illustrations, the client easily settles on a contoured setting that wraps around the black diamond to showcase the exquisite pear outline and then flows along each side of the ring in a pretty open twist.
Fabricating the Ring
Robert hand fabricates the bezel setting for the pear diamond while a custom wax mold is made for the ring shank to be cast in 950 palladium. We examine the setting to make sure its right, and then proceed to have a custom wax mold made for the matching wedding band, also to be followed by casting. Both rings are hand finished and the champagne melee set. Total design and fabrication time for this custom bridal set was about 5 weeks.
Once in a most pleasant while, a custom design originates from our seeing a spectacular gemstone that we think a client will love. Most of our sold gemstone strands were conceived that way, and this custom necklace is one of them. “Ruby Float” took about 2 months to design and complete.
We were enjoying the day at one of our favorite pearl purveyors, looking at some strands that had been tucked away in the pearl vault for over 50 years. We were overwhelmed by these collector-grade baby Japanese Akoya pearls with orient.
As we were admiring the pearls, a client came to mind that Kimberly thought would be impressed with the pearls and might want them for a custom design. We took a photo and sent a quick note to the client, “Do you want them?” We let her know the price. She responded within seconds with a call back saying “YES!!!” she did want the pearls. She asked us to look for another gemstone to go with the pearls and to make her a fabulous one of a kind necklace.
By coincidence or great fortune, we had just seen two lovely-matched strands of gem-quality, deeply-saturated ruby cabochon beads. We draped them together with the pearls and the look blew us away. We sent a picture to the client with our suggestion to pair the pearls and rubies with feminine 22kt gold accents and clasp in a double strand design. “Great!” was the response. We purchased the pearls and rubies. Thank goodness for American Express!
While Kimberly designed the necklace, Robert made lots of teensy 18kt gold grommets to be used in the internal engineering of the two strands. The layout took nearly two months before Kimberly was satisfied – a few weeks of that time was spent carefully calibrating the pearls and rubies in the most pleasing manner along the strands, and then the 22kt gold accents were judiciously selected and added into the gemstone strands until everything seemed just right, like the temperature of momma bear’s porridge.
Kimberly temporarily strung the design to show the client, together with a nice selection of handmade 22kt gold clasps to choose from. She loved the design and picked a clasp. The length was good, so we don’t need to make any adjustments to the design.
As with all Arpaia gemstone strands, Kimberly patiently assembles the necklace, which here took a couple of days. The grommets must be gently secured to the stringing wire at integral points to allow supple drape of the necklace when worn. The double strands must be finely finished before they are neatly attached to the clasp. The entire necklace must be smooth. The exacting balance of adornments and internal engineering are essential to the drape, lightweight feel, and extreme comfort of the necklace when worn.