Whether it’s done by hand, machine, or the latest technology..
I remember watching the TV show Laverne & Shirley, and couldn’t help but notice the big “L” that Laverne wore on every shirt and sweater. If she were better off financially, would her jewelry have been emblazoned with the name “Laverne” or at least an engraved “L”? If she were a young independent woman in today’s world, would she have stylized “L”s tattooed all over her body? One can only wonder.
Personalizing the jewelry and other items we own is one way to create uniqueness about ourselves, to separate and identify us from the billions of fellow humans, or maybe send a message of who we are and what we feel.
There is probably no other more personalized aspect to what we humans wear than the jewelry we adorn ourselves with, or what we choose to give to others to adorn them. As a jewelry appraiser, my job is to place values on jewelry.
Among other things, I look for rarity, quality, and salability, but subtract value for any personalization, as in: “This is a beautiful watch. It’s in excellent condition, a real luxury item, and very desirable. Ah, but the case back is engraved, darn.”
Engravings and custom touches that the jewelry owner added make the item more special to them, but might affect the value somewhere down the line. What appeals to one individual may not appeal to another, making the item less re-sellable.
But I look at personalized jewelry from a different perspective when I’m not appraising it.
A Little Background
Personalizing one’s possessions has been going on for ages. Initially (no pun intended), personalization was done for identification purposes. A great example is wax seal rings of bygone eras. A nobleman folds a letter or scroll, drips some wax on the overlap, and then makes an imprint with a ring onto the wax, sealing the document so that the receiver can be sure that no one has opened it before they do.
Kings, queens, popes, and other elites had rings engraved with their family crest or other symbol unique to that individual or office, thereby identifying the sender. For example, when a Pope died, his ring was immediately destroyed, ensuring that no other person could create a false document in the dead Pope’s name.
Jewelry Personalization Methods
“Hand” engraving is the most common way to personalize jewelry. Skilled craftsmen create designs by cutting into an object using a harder object. With gold or silver jewelry, where the metals are relatively soft, sharpened metal scribes or ‘gravers’ are used, from which the term “engraving” got its name.
Engravers can either follow a template or use their artistic talents to add initials, words, and designs. Intricate patterns, such as family crests, animals, or battle scenes, were referred to as “intaglios,” Italian for ‘cut in’.
Cameos are the opposite of this technique, where cut away material leaves a raised, rather than a depressed, depiction. Yes, those shell cameos that are still popular today are actually engraved.
Nowadays, most engraving is done by machine. The most common method is to use a pantograph to follow a pattern, enlarging or decreasing the size as needed, and then transfer it to the object being engraved.
Engraving machines have been around for quite some time, but today lasers and computers are used to create jewelry designs that are limited only to one’s imagination.
Photo Engraved Lockets
A fairly recent method of personalizing jewelry is called “photo engraving.” I won’t get into the technical aspects, but suffice it to say that virtually any photograph can be transferred, in color, to a piece of jewelry. In my time as a retailer, I’ve seen everything from photographs of departed loved ones, children, pets, and family vacation scenes transferred onto jewelry items.
You know that locket you’ve had for years with the crumbling old photo? Now you can have that picture etched into the locket, safe from the ravages of time and the elements. Of course, we can still engrave (by hand or machine) any message you want onto the reverse.
Making It Personal
I’ve always felt that engraving an item made it more special. After all, nobody buys something and chooses not to have it engraved because they are worried about its resale value. The jewelry that is handed down from generation to generation has a more intimate history when it can be attributed to a particular person or date.
That pocket watch from grandpa is great, but the fact that it has an engraved message from grandma, with the date and the occasion inside the cover, makes it even more special. It makes those people, who might not even be around anymore, come to life.
So for this reason I always recommend, if possible, to have an item engraved. Cynical consumers may think that a jeweler offering to have an item engraved just wants to ensure that it can’t be returned. Not being that naïve, I am sure this is sometimes the case.
But for me, I offer engraving on that money clip you are buying so it enhances the design and makes it identifiable as to the owner. And somewhere down the line, it might be more special because it’s designated as dad’s money clip.
I’m usually able to convince grooms-to-be to have their wedding bands engraved with at least the date, if not some special message.
After all, being a man, where the most important date might be the start of the football season, it’s comforting to know that I can remember the date of our anniversary simply by looking inside my wedding band.