When it comes to celebrating romance, nothing says “I love you” quite as much as a beautiful piece of jewelry. But while plenty of amazing jewelry can be found in Los Angeles, it’s the man—or woman—who gifts a custom-crafted piece of jewelry who really shows they care.
At first blush, designing a ring from scratch might seem like a nerve-wracking endeavor. What style does the recipient like? Which metal is the best? What happens if I don’t like the final piece?
But the artisan jewelers at Weiss Jewelry in The Original Farmers Market, Los Angeles have a developed a hassle-free, stress-free process to put their customers at ease.
“We have nervous customers all the time,” said Weiss Jewelry co-owner Sara Weiss. “But there are no surprises with us.”
The first and most important step, of course, is choosing a design.
“Most times people bring us pictures of something they found online,” said Sara. “Some print them out, others come with their iPad. When we do engagement rings, the guy will often borrow his fiancée’s iPad or login to her Pinterest page. He knows what she wants by watching her wedding page.”
Once the design has been determined, a 3D-image is generated in a specialty software program so consumers can see the piece from all angles. After the design is approved, Weiss Jewelers’ uses a special machine called a mill to cut an exact replica of the 3D image into a block of wax, which essentially allows the customer to test it out before it's finished.
“People see the renderings, then they see the piece in 3D. Throughout the whole process it looks very real, so the nervousness is gone. If they’re not happy, we’re not moving forward. We’ve never yet had someone say to us, “I don’t like it, I’m out.”
Usually Weiss Jewelry needs about three to four weeks to complete a custom-crafted piece, but of course a lot of variables apply, and a really intricate piece could take longer.
As for budget, Sara says they try tailor each project to a customer’s budget.
“If they say, ‘I want a gold ring, but I only have $400,’ we’ll find a way to do it. It won’t be a huge, intricate piece, but 95% of the time we make it work.”
Of course jewelry isn’t just reserved as a gift for romantic moments. In fact, most of Weiss Jewelry's customers are ones who drop by and say, “I have all this stuff I don’t wear, can I take it and make something else with it?”
Of course, says Sara, once you’ve had a custom piece designed for you, it’s very hard to stop with one.
“It’s so special. You have your personal energy in it and it’s a very different energy than any other inanimate object you own.”
Although Sara and her husband Daniel now run Weiss Jewelry, it was Daniel’s father, Leon, who first opened the shop at Farmers Market back in 1998. Leon, also a jeweler, ran a successful chain of jewelry stores in Germany, before moving to the United States.
“It was kind of like Tiffany’s,” said Sara.
Sara, who met Daniel in 2002, started in the business by selling her own jewelry designs to indie boutiques around LA. As demand grew, she and Daniel decided to open their own store which led to the opening of Lustre, their sister store near the west end of Farmers Market.
Initially, Lustre showcased the works of jewelry artists from around the world. After the market crashed in 2009, however, people started consuming luxury goods in different ways. So Sara and Daniel switched gears and Lustre became more focused on funky, unique, trendy pieces that were priced at a more moderate level.
“At Lustre, you can get something cool and fun and hip and you don’t have to spend a lot of money. There you can pick up a piece for a festival, date or wherever you’re going that night. We have some higher end pieces there too, but it’s definitely geared to having fun.”
It wasn’t until 2007 that Sara and Daniel started focusing on custom-designed jewelry, but the concept didn’t really take off until the market crashed in 2009.
“Before that people were buying ready-made jewelry. But after that, people wanted to put their money into something special, so they would come in and ask us to change what they had into something really special and new.”
Now, Weiss Jewelry is totally vertically integrated. They do their own design, wax carving, even stone setting and polishing. The only step completed outside the shop is the actual metal casting of each custom piece.
When they find some free time, Sara and Daniel create their own designs for the shop. But their custom-design service has become so popular, that’s how they spend the bulk of their time.
“We don’t want to outsource our jewelry. We do have a few designers who work with us and they’re good at what they do. But we have high standards and we want to make sure everything is top-quality or we won’t have it in the showcase.”
At Lustre, Sara and Daniel still continue to work with local independent artists, as long as their price point isn’t outrageous.
“A lot of jewelry artists aren’t business minded. They don’t always think about making a piece affordable so sometimes they source their material from places that don’t wholesale. So their prices can be quite high. I often have to tell them, ‘your piece is beautiful but it’s hard for me to sell them at this price point.’”
If you’re in the market for a custom-designed piece of jewelry, Sara encourages you to drop by and just start asking questions.
“Most of our customers are drop-ins,” she said. “Then they come back with all their jewelry.”