CustomMade Scholarships

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2013 CustomMade scholarship recipient:
Josephine Benson
Brown University


Josephine Benson is a first-year student at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. She is majoring in Science and Society, an interdisciplinary concentration that focuses on both Chemistry and Science Communications. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a career as doctor and writer. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Josie will always consider the Midwest home, but has fallen in love with living on the East Coast.

Consumer Advantages of Buying Custom Jewelry

In my father’s first marriage, he did everything by the book—the dress was white, long, adorned with lace and pearls; his niece and nephew were ring-bearers; my mother walked down the aisle of a church, wearing her mother’s white satin pumps, a pair of brand new earrings, and something blue; the rings held diamonds.

To do it over again would seem trite for both him and my stepmother. They created a new experience—the dress was cream, knee-length, and simple; the children were ring bearers; she walked through the courtyard of a beautiful building in the city; she eschewed the traditions and welcomed the new.

My father, when he was getting remarried, worked with an artisan to create custom rings.

The rings were nothing that you’d find at the chain jewelry store a quarter mile from our house— they were simple, silver and gold, sleek, and custom-ordered. Few jewels were embedded in the smooth bands.

My stepmother, trained as a graphic designer, first drew out the band that she wanted. The sinusoidal engagement ring, studded with blue stones, nests between the two wedding bands, so that they could all be worn together some day. On the engagement ring, seven stones stand for the seven members of our blended family. The wedding rings are designed to be inconspicuous, able to be worn every day. There are no jewels on the wedding bands—they’re just solid pieces of scalloped metal to hug the curves of the engagement ring.

The rings are intensely personal, representing the nuances of our family. A local jewelry maker brought them to life. My father and stepmother were able to see the rings at various steps in the process, choose the exact stones, and revise their plans several times, which the Maker was happy to help with. The product they got was exactly what they wanted, and it made the wedding much more personal as well.

In the future, the rings will be among the few items marking their union—they’re not having a child together, each bringing children into the relationship.

Picture fade and age, as does ink, but silver only tarnishes. It can be made clean much easier than a photo can be restored on a computer. Films skip and rip, letters tear and stain, but grime just wipes clean off of metal. Memories are not permanent. Jewelry often outlives people.

Everything digital can be wiped clean from a hard drive in minutes, but the rings are much more permanent. They will be passed down to one of us, and hopefully to our posterity.

What would you want passed down to your grandchildren? A mass-produced pendant, or one that had your vision, design, and desires imbued in it? Something that caught your eye, or something that was born in your eye? Very few ideas of ours will survive. We have neither the skills nor the means to cast our visions into something more permanent than ourselves—books, maybe, constructions maybe, but building is hard, and we may labor without reward. A custom piece of jewelry is tangible reminder of our vision, which can often seem fleeting.

If you want to know about a person, ask them about their jewelry. More often than not, there’s a story behind the hunks of metal and rock that adorn a body. You have to (or ought to) change your clothes every day, but a piece of jewelry is more lasting, more resistant. It won’t tear or stain in a way that mars it. Jewelry evolves. It can fall in mud, be soaked with sweat or tears (or, god forbid, blood). And it can be wiped clean, restored to new, or almost new. A piece of jewelry is one of very few things that we can carry with us or close to us always. A piece of jewelry can represent a person so easily because it can always be with a person.

Jewelry is unique in that the materials to craft it are readily available in raw form. Sheets of metal hold so much opportunity. Rocks can be cut, molds can be made, and jewelry can be crafted, rather than assembled. Chains break, but there are hands to bend back the links. There are always files to smooth jagged edges, and as the final measure, there are flames to melt down the metal so that a piece can be made anew.

Jewelry is important—it’s an embellishment of the self. And why not make sure that the embellishment is actually representative of the person underneath?

In the big box stores, the mantra may be “the customer is always right,” but the individual buyer has no control over the stock of the stores. The customer may be right, but the store knows best. The products are the vision of a marketing team or a design team of a corporation. When working with a Maker, the word “buyer” becomes capitalized. The Buyer is unique, rather than just one in a crowd. As a Buyer, you’re getting what you want, rather than what a corporation thinks you want.

Furthermore, Makers are passionate about the art that they’re creating, not necessarily the money that comes with selling the jewelry. When each piece is unique, more attention is paid to each and every detail. There is no assembly line for custom jewelry, at least not when a Maker is involved. Makers aren’t concerned with efficiency, with output, but with quality. Someone who is passionate won’t deliver an inferior product—it’s embarrassing. Makers are small, and while confident, constantly are proving that they deserve to be in the game with big companies, mass- producing stunning jewelry. As such, Makers strive to make superior products. They must, to justify the difficulty of going outside the traditional stream of store to consumer. Makers are real people who take pride in their craft.

So, why buy custom jewelry? Custom jewelry represents the vision of the Buyer and the skill and artistry of the Maker. Rather than consumption of impersonal goods, buying custom is the creation of personal talismans. Objects are stories, and pieces of jewelry are stories of people and relationships. Custom jewelry is creating your own story, putting your own memories into an object that will last.

Many years in the future, the three rings from my father’s wedding will be united on one hand— that was known when they were created. Looking at that simple band will bring back that beautiful building in the city, detailed conversations between Buyer and Maker, and that moment where the sketches on napkins at 3 in the morning were slipped on my stepmother’s hand, that moment where vision was united with reality.