Personal Choice

Ever since HBO’s Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw popularized the nameplate necklace last year, consumers have been clamoring for personalized jewelry. At New England Sterling in Attleboro, Mass., approximately 20% of non-holiday orders of silver jewelry call for engraving, and that figure increases to 40% during the holiday season. And Leonore Doskow Inc. of Montrose, N.Y., recently completed an order for 500 engraved sterling silver bracelets. “They were ordered by a jeweler in Washington, D.C., for a nonprofit organization’s fundraiser,” says company chairman David Doskow. “They featured stars, a flag, and the phrase ‘United We Stand.’ “

Savvy sellers anticipated the popularity of engraved goods. John Blackinton, vice president of sales and marketing for New England Sterling, invested in engraving capabilities several years ago and stepped up marketing efforts. “We’re doing a better job of letting stores know that we offer engraving of our products,” he says.

Be prepared. Perhaps the simplest way to get into the personalization business is to offer traditional engraving services, either by doing the work in-house or outsourcing. Polishers & Jewelers Supply Corp., Providence, R.I., has supplied manual engraving machines to jewelers and manufacturers for 25 years. “Learning to work the machine takes about half an hour,” says company president Bob Liscio. “It’s the practice of actually engraving pieces that takes longer.” Instruction manuals come with his machines, but he advises customers to “buy pieces of brass to practice engraving on until you master the process.”

Some manufacturers will engrave items made by other companies, but many—like New England Sterling—prefer to sell their own jewelry with engraving. Blackinton says the company wouldn’t turn away a good customer but most likely would “point them in the right direction for help.”

Quality Gold Inc. of Fairfield, Ohio, also engraves its own jewelry. Charms of either a girl’s or boy’s head, in 14k gold and sterling silver, are its best-selling engraveable items.

One company that accepts inscription jobs is PhotoScribe Technologies in New York. Vice president Carol Dounn invites retailers to “send pieces to us for price quotes.” PhotoScribe uses a laser technology to etch metals (and other material), leaving a smooth-to-the-touch message behind. The company also sells some of its own jewelry, the most popular of which are 14k gold pendants lasered with customers’ photos and messages.PhotoScribe’s technology—nearly a decade old—also is used to inscribe watches and ring interiors as well as logos on crystal glasses. It has even been used to inscribe text on the head of a pin for NASA. A customer in Wisconsin relies on PhotoScribe’s lasers to inscribe tiny cremation urns worn as necklaces. “These urns actually hold one-sixteenth of an ounce of remains,” Dounn says.

One variation on the engraving process is the 80-80 Plus Personalization Machine from Signature Engraving Systems, Holyoke, Mass. This computerized unit includes a heated tip that transfers colored foil onto a variety of surfaces including crystal and leather. “Many jewelers have gotten away from selling giftware, but this machine can help revive and increase that business,” says company president Chris Parent. Digital features and a patented diamond tip also permit jewelers to complete traditional engraving work. Purchase of a machine entitles the buyer to two days of training, and Parent says once a user is familiar with it, jobs are quick and easy. “The worst that could happen is you misspell a customer’s name,” he jokes.

Another way to offer personalized jewelry is by selling custom-made monograms. Leonore Doskow Inc. still sells original designs that date from the 1930s, when David Doskow’s mother began selling monogrammed silver pieces. “My mother’s original alphabet designs are the basis for all of our jewelry,” Doskow says. The rounded block letters aren’t like any font, he explains, but they’re ideal for the monogram style: “The first initial is on the left, the letter of the last name in the center is slightly larger, and the initial of the middle name is on the right side.”

For $150, jewelers can invest in a display featuring nine types of monogrammed items, including earrings, bracelets, and key rings. “Sales of our name necklaces have doubled in the past six months,” Doskow says.

Another popular personalization trend is laser-inscribing messages on diamonds. Many labs, including the Gemological Institute of America, originally used the process for identification purposes. But in the past few years, the industry has realized the potential of lasers for personalizing stones—though consumers need microscopes to view inscribed endearments.

PhotoScribe Technologies manufactures a patented laser system for branding diamonds, which has turned some companies and gem laboratories into laser-branding experts. But with each unit priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the company’s clients aren’t typical mom-and-pop jewelers. “But jewelers can still send their customers’ stones out to be inscribed by some of my clients,” says PhotoScribe president David Benderly.

An affordable variation of this technology should be ready by year’s end for jewelers who want to boost their own brand or offer laser-inscribing services. As Benderly says, “It’s something the store next door doesn’t offer.”