A gentleman came to me for an engagement ring. He had a poetic sensibility and wanted something that wasn't traditional, an open palette. I'd wanted to do a multistone ring, and said if you love the final piece we'll name it after your fiancée. So I came up with the Elizabeth ring, each stone having a special significance for their relationship and representing a place they'd vacationed or lived in: aquamarines for the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, sapphires and brown diamonds for the dark-blue waters and rocks of the Maine coast, emeralds for the pine trees of New England. Most people who come to me for custom work want something unusual. Elizabeth rings in 18-karat gold with sapphire, amethyst, tanzanite, aquamarine, brown diamond, peridot, ruby, and spessartite garnet, $6,700-$8,600; 212-734-3500.
Robert Bruce Bielka
This charm bracelet was inspired by a customer who ordered five of them for friends in Africa. He knew the animals he wanted, and after a lot of research I drew them in great detail for his approval. Toughest of all was getting the bottoms of their feet right. The lion, giraffe, cheetah, and zebra weren't bad, but you never see the feet of a rhino or hippo because they're always buried in mud. I finally went to New York's Museum of Natural History and studied their footprints in a diorama. Then I sculpted the animals in carving wax and used the lost-wax casting process to produce the molds for the six charms, which are hand-engraved, so you can see the ribs and hair, and hand-finished. My wife, Regina, says watching me sculpt those pieces was like watching grass grow.
I've done teddy-bear bracelets, tractor tie-tacks, even a prize-winning bull. Commissions have included everything from a $2 million 10-carat pink-diamond ring to an 18-karat puppy pendant with a halo for a client whose dog had passed away. I've done sardine cans in silver and drawer-pulls in 18-karat gold with lapis and citrine. I'll use a client's stones or supply them. I love making things for people I meet personally. I just went to the wedding of a couple whose engagement and wedding rings I'd made. It's great to be a part of that, to create jewels that will become heirlooms. It's a very fortunate position to be in. Bracelet in 18-karat yellow gold, $12,525; 800-848-3904.
My custom work is limited. I'm a couture designer. I go out and find the stones and build a line around them.
When I design a collection for a client I use only my own stones, which are always top-quality; even my diamonds are Russian-cut and the best money can buy. One customer bought a brooch, then wanted earrings, a ring, a bracelet, then other things. I said that's enough. Let's do another look, not keep beating this look to death. I'm positive about putting things together that are in balance. If you start with earrings and go to a brooch, that's enough for the upper part of the body, so look to the hand. You don't want a woman to look like Diamond Lil, but you want balance.
Along with balance, color is important. Right now, diamonds mixed with color and gold mixed with color are strong. I'm working with moonstones a lot because I like the cabochon color and look they give within a certain price range. Of course I use all sorts of stones, and I love a challenge. For Hillary Clinton I designed a ring featuring a yellow rough diamond from Arkansas. But as I already said, I limit my custom work. Because of the time and labor involved I have to choose carefully. I know what I can do and what I can't. Handmade brooch of licorice and vanilla cat's-eye cabochon moonstones, diamonds, and 18-karat gold, $60,000; 800-888-2525.
James de Givenchy
People come to my salon wanting something made with them in mind. Some are quiet, some extravagant. The fun part is having clients you like and understand. Those who are creative give a little bit of direction—but not too much. There's a collaboration, a relationship, a complicity—like the one between my uncle Hubert and Audrey Hepburn, Saint Laurent and Catherine Deneuve. I'll do three or four drawings for a client and use one, but the process helps me to think of new things. Jewels with antique cameos are a good example of my custom work. Most cameos are beautiful objets but extremely boring because they're framed like paintings, which kills the stone. I try to do the unexpected, make the cameo less old-fashioned, sort of whimsical, with a smile behind the finished piece. Here I've modernized a cameo by surrounding it with my sea anemone design, making it so typical of what I do that it would blend into one of my collections. Nineteenth-century carved-agate cameo brooch with onyx and diamonds mounted in platinum, $60,000; 212-794-0308.
My clients want something they haven't seen before. Many say I design what becomes their statement piece. Or they might want something to match a piece they wear all the time. Matchy-matchy, that's not my thing. I create something that echoes the sentiment of what they have. Doing custom work is more than design, it's getting to know your clients, teaching them what to expect, what can be done. Some have a fabulous eye for jewelry but don't know all the opportunities available to them. I have a passion for creating a new genre, a new look, things that aren't everyday. Sometimes I do something and don't know why, but then I see the congruity in the finished piece. Lalique did a beautiful job of combining tortoiseshell with diamonds. I've tried to translate that use of organic material into my work. In these earclips, the brown-diamond pavé serves as a foil for the soft metallic luster of the rosy baroque pearl. Eighteen-karat yellow gold and brown-diamond serpent earclips with Kasumiga pearls, $31,400; 212-223-1043.
Our clients are sophisticated top-level executives and savvy celebrities who are looking for important pieces that are understated and can be worn casually, such as this 15-carat diamond briolette necklace. Here I've taken a major stone and dropped it into a Y-shape. Round white diamonds that spin within circles of micro-set pink diamonds add versatility and fun to the piece. I could have made it flashier but didn't want that—the 15-carat fancy-yellow diamond was enough flash. Diamond necklace in white and rose gold, price upon request; 310-276-7200 or 212-759-7900.