(Designing your own engagement ring? Look at each part of the ring as an opportunity to put your own personal stamp on it.)

Want to build a custom ring? You’re in good company. Demand for custom designed engagement rings has risen throughout 2018 with 45% of all engagement rings being customized to some degree.

This uptick in unique rings is at in part due to a surge in instagram-happy indie jewelry designers creating custom jewelry at nearly every price point, and marrying-age millenials who want truly unique rings for themselves (and their #ringselfies).

So this next part should come as no surprise:

Both big box jewelry chains and luxury retailers have taken note and are changing up their offerings accordingly. Specifically, attempting to pass of their existing jewels as something new; unique, handcrafted, and “custom”–and confusing well-meaning buyers in the process.

In this article, I’ll explain the difference between custom and customized rings, so you can spot the difference and be more informed and empowered about this major purchase. We’ll go through the perks and drawbacks of both, and provide you all the info you need to make sure you’re getting what you paid for.

All About Customized Engagement Rings

(Pick a stone, any stone. As long as a “customized” engagement ring jeweler has it in stock.)

What is a Customized Engagement Ring?

A customizable or customized ring is built from a selection of preexisting options. Customized offerings let you choose from a range of pre-made ring settings and pre-selected diamonds or gemstones. You’ll also be able to choose your metal color and type, but you will not be able to modify any of these options. Rings may be pre-made, or made-to-order.

How can you spot customized rings?

If a website or jewelry store says “design your own ring” or “build a custom ring” and then directs you to choose a setting, it’s customized and not custom. Think of it this way: it’s the difference between building a home from scratch (custom) and buying a new build but being able to choose from one of 3 backsplash options (customized).

How Much Can I Customize an Engagement Ring?

Think of it this way: there are many different customizable combinations, but not an infinite number because you’re choosing from a predetermined number of settings and stones. It’s kind of like the drag-and-drop of engagement rings; you’re working from a template that someone else built, but how you put the different elements together could be different, or your “customized ring” could be an exact replica of hundred or even thousands of others.

How Much Do Customized Rings Cost?

There are customized rings at every price point, depending on the materials you select and the quality of materials. Also, you can find anything on the internet. Jewelry labeled as “custom” may not be, so be savvy and do your homework.

All About Custom Engagement Rings

(When you work with a custom jeweler, they’ll sketch up multiple options and you’ll work together until it’s exactly what you want.)

What is a Custom Engagement Ring?

A truly custom engagement ring is made when you work one-on-one with a private jeweler to create an original, one-of-a-kind design, from scratch. Your ring options are endless, and you’ll end up with a ring that no one else has. Some people are overwhelmed with so much freedom of choice, but a skilled jewelry designer will guide you through the process.

How to know you’re getting custom.

The process starts with a conversation with an actual person. Anything is possible, within reason, but a good custom jeweler won’t allow you build something that’s impractical. The conversation should be more about what you want, less about the jeweler’s own aesthetic or what they want to make.

How Do I Make a Custom Ring?

You’ll work with a jewelry designer and share your ideas for the ring: what kinds of designs you like, what you don’t like, meaningful details you want to include, your all-in budget, and what your ring will go through based on your unique life and what you do for a living. The custom jeweler will hand sketch options for you and can modify every little detail. They’ll also source stones from you to choose from.

How Much Do Custom Rings Cost?

It depends. Because the design has never been made before, and because you have freedom of design and materials, there’s an unlimited range. You may pay a premium for the extra work and expert knowledge that’s going into your design, and if your design is particularly complex or uses rare stones. Some people think it’s worth it to guarantee a well made, one of a kind ring.

How To Tell The Difference

(A mass-produced customized ring is easy to spot if you know what to look for.)

There are tell tale signs that a ring is mass-produced, even if it’s marketed as “customizable” or invites you to “customize” or “design your own ring.” If it lets you pick from a limited amount of options, it’s customized. You’re choosing from pre-made settings. If there is a picture of the finished ring, it’s customized. If you can put it in your shopping cart online, it’s customized. If it’s immediately available, it’s customized.

There’s also this tough-to-describe manufactured quality to the rings. They visibly look mass-produced, almost like computer generated graphics online and very cookie-cutter in person. They don’t look handcrafted or artistic. Some may say that they lack a little soul.

This isn’t to say that true custom rings can’t have the same level of visible perfection, or even simplicity. Some custom engagement rings are simple solitaires on a plain gold band. The difference is that you’re actually getting to choose your own stone, what type of prongs, the thickness of the band, and other subtle design details.

(Custom engagement rings often feature handcrafted flourishes like the intricate milgrain detail surrounding the center stone, and the rough brushed finish on the band.)

Do Some Jewelers Intentionally Misrepresent Custom Ring Offerings?

Sadly, yes. If you walk into a jewelry store and ask if they make custom rings, many will say yes. Some are misleading you, and some don’t know any better.

The truth is that full custom is really, really hard to do. It requires massive knowledge of engineering, years of practice, and highly skilled craftsmen. It’s an art. It harkens back to ancient jewelry making–by hand.

It’s much easier and more cost effective for businesses to mass-manufacture. You make a model and do the same thing over and over and over again. You don’t have to troubleshoot and innovate. You can pump out a much higher volume of rings this way.

Customized jewelry is a kind of in-between. Settings are mass-produced, but you may be able to pick out your own stone from existing options. Your ring may be more unique than something that is sitting in a jewelry store, but it’s not going to break from the mold.

Not everyone needs customized, and even fewer need true custom, but it’s important to recognize the difference before you start your search for the perfect ring.

Named Denver’s Best Engagement Rings and Top Jewelry Designer, Abby Sparks Jewelry is a women-run small business that specializes in handcrafted, one-of-a-kind custom engagement rings. Learn more.