So after lots of research and some early design ideas, I came up with this sketch as a base design. It's a Welsh lovespoon.
My earlier ideas had lots of Celtic knot detail and some of the more traditional design elements of a lovespoon (horseshoes, padlocks etc.), but in the end I pared it down to the core elements I wanted to keep in which were the dragons and the heart; the knots I replaced with the twisted dragons necks.
The reason for this was mainly because as it was going to be made on a very small scale (~20mm long) I was conscious that I may not be able to achieve such a fine level of detail as I would have originally liked; especially within the budget I had.
Following the sketch design I started to take a look at materials. The base material was always going to be silver (to match the bracelet I bought to go with it), but I wanted to use something different for the heart to provide a focal point for the piece.
Here are the options I came up with: The first is a rose gold heart, easy to make and hard-wearing I liked the simplicity and elegance of the design.
The second was to have a rose quartz stone set in it. I had a particular piece of rose quartz in mind which my girlfriend and I had fished out of a stream in Wales while looking for gold (unsuccessfully) on holiday. I'd kept it precisely for this kind of use and I thought for sentimental value it would be a nice idea.
The third was for a heart cut ruby to be set in it. This was actually the original idea I had, but unfortunately having had some quotes back this turned out to be too expensive.
The fourth was for a diamond to be set; again this turned out to be too expensive.
In the end having spoken to many jewellers I decided to go with the second option, so I sent off my chunk of rose quartz to a lapidary (stone cutter/polisher) and had it cut and polished into heart shapes. One heart was cut for each side of the charm, as to mount a single double sided stone would be too insecure.
When I got the pictures back I was very pleased with the results (each of these is about 5mm tall), although the lapidary did tell me that she had to make several before she got two finished as they kept breaking.
Unfortuately the next update I got was that she had mounted the stones and that they had both cracked during the process; at this point she said she didn't feel that it was going to be possible to continue with the commission and pulled out.
Although I was disappointed that the month or so I had spent waiting while this was all being done had been a waste of time; having had my first glimpse at the charm she had produced I wasn't overly impressed with the quality (although this is a WIP pic, so it could have gotten better), so in a way I was pleased to be able to get out of the commission without it having cost me anything.
So now I went back to the internet and started getting a fresh batch of quotes in, this time for the rose gold heart design. after receiving 10 or so quotes I went with Lava Jewellery Design.
While they weren't the cheapest (they were somewhere in the middle) I chose them partially because I saw some similar dragons head work in their portfolio, and mainly because of the e-mail they sent me with the price was also full of questions on how they would like the clasp done, what sort of finish, what method they would use etc; good communication is key to making sure your design is produced to your specifications.
They had originally intended to make the piece by lost wax casting, but during the process they informed me that the wax was too delicate and kept breaking, so in the end they carved it from silver plate instead. This is the work in progress pic they sent me (at which point I had to pay the deposit).
Compared to the previous one I was very happy with the outcome, the gold I was told would be added later. I then didn't hear from them until the piece was completed, although this only took about a week.
So here is the final piece. I was quite pleased with the result, particularily how the dragon heads came out and the twisted necks. I was also pleased that they put a ring on top to attach the clasp; I had originally intended that the clasp should be attached to a ring that ran through the gap between the heads, but in retrospect I think it would have just hidden some of the detail.
Bits I was less pleased about included the fact that there was no depression in one side of the spoon, and the gold heart was flat rather than domed. It was a shame that by the time I received the charm it was only a couple of days until our anniversary so I didn't have time to get it changed. On the whole though I am very pleased with the result, and so was my girlfriend; as you can see.
You may also notice that there is another charm on there. It's an evil eye charm I picked up while we were on holiday in Turkey in July (she specifically wanted an something with the evil eye in it, but never bought one). So here is a pic of that and a pic of the whole thing:
So things I have learned while commissioning jewellery:
Leave plenty of time, especially if you're designing it yourself. I started this in April, it was finished by late November.
Get plenty of quotes, I got about 10-12 and they all varied wildly.
Cost is no guarantee of quality of craftsmanship.
Never pay a deposit until you've seen the piece at least partially made (this really saved me some hassle with the first attempt).
All in all well worth the time and the cost, and certainly something I would do again.