Custom Pendants: Buying Guide for 2023
6 Minute Read
Of all the types of jewelry that you can wear, some argue that custom made pendants have the most potential to embody meaningful sentiments expressed in beautiful detail. This is true because, when pendants are suspended from a necklace, everyone can easily see the design, especially if you choose to make your pendant large.
There are so many motifs for you to draw inspiration from. First, you can opt for a bold look. As long as you have a strong chain, pendants can be big and heavy, so you are not limited by size or weight considerations. If you like, your custom pendant can literally cover your entire chest with tons of metal, enamel, and gemstones. Alternatively, you can design something medium-sized which is professional and can be worn all the time. Finally, pendants can be tiny and discrete yet symbolize something very powerful to their wearer. This gives you and your designer a huge canvas to play with. Nothing is off-limits.
Your neck and upper chest are visible to others, so your custom pendant can not only embody a message that is important to you, but it can communicate that idea to others. Pendants can include the name of a loved one, a phrase, a significant symbol, an image, or gemstones you feel an affinity towards. Lockets are a subcategory of pendants that hold treasures such as small pictures or locks of hair. Fortunately, when pendants of any kind are suspended from necklaces, they are at very low risk of damage from impacts or abrasions. This means that you can use any gemstone you like, even the softest ones.
So, what is a pendant exactly? The literal meaning of the term is a decorative item that is threaded onto a chain. Some pendants have a loop feature connected to them called a "bail" through which the chain passes through. Bails may or may not be visible from the front. Some pendants don't have a bail, rather they have an opening that passes directly through their body. These pendants are called "slides". Some bails or gaps are too narrow to fit over the clasp of their chain, so you have to wear the pendant with the chain it came with. Others are wide enough to be slipped over the clasp of one chain and put on another. Such pendants can be transferred to necklaces of different lengths so you can pair them with any neckline.
According to the literal definition, pendants are not affixed to a chain. Rather, they can move back and forth, hanging at the lowest point regardless of where the clasp sits. However, many designers use the term to describe any decorative feature on a chain, whether it moves freely or is securely affixed to the chain.
As the definition only says that pendants hang from a chain, necklaces are not the only type of jewelry that can have them. Bracelets, anklets, and even body chains can have pendants strung on them. Additionally, you can work with your designer to create a pendant that can be converted to a brooch by attaching a pin to the backside of the piece. This greatly increases the versatility of the piece so you can wear it more often.
Pendants strung on necklaces have been worn by humans for many millennia. Because they sit on your chest above your heart and face the world in front of you, many past cultures used them as protective amulets or talismans. Individuals from cultures all over the world from ancient Egypt to the Aztecs all wore pendants that they believed would keep them safe and bestow upon them gifts such as increased ingenuity, perception, strength, and virility.
Another historically meaningful form that pendants can take is the ancient medallion design. The ancient Greeks and Romans wore gold coins around their necks as pendants to demonstrate their wealth. This habit carried through the ages and, as a result, the circular medallion disk design still exists to this day. You can truly put anything on the surface of a custom medallion. You might have a short prayer or phrase engraved on it, including a religious image, design an abstract pattern with inlaid gemstones, or play with the texture of the metal.
Although the inspiration to wear pendants is thousands of years old, it is easy to modernize the look. Abstract geometric forms are always a great way to inject fresh sensibility into any jewelry item. Beautiful lines paired with bold gemstones are a classic look that is always in style. Also, as you commission a custom pendant for yourself, you might consider working with your designer to create an identical or similar pendant for a friend, family member, or loved one. Some people actually prefer to wear a pendant engraved with a word like "taken" or "husband" in place of a traditional engagement or wedding ring.
Finally, you put a lot of thought into your custom pendant design, so don't forget about the chain it is paired with. If your pendant is small, light, and will only be worn on special occasions, you may want to pair it with something that is equally delicate. Conversely, if your pendant is medium or large in size, it can be heavy and create friction as it moves across its chain, especially if you wear it regularly. In this instance, it is important to choose an appropriate chain that is strong enough not to break. Generally, it is a good idea to select a chain that is made of durable links such as a cable or rolo pattern. These chains have large enough links that they won't easily be bent or kinked and also have enough metal to make them strong enough to be worn regularly. If your custom pendant is particularly flashy, designing the accompanying chain may be as vital to the overall look of the piece as the pendant itself.
Emily Frontiere is a GIA Graduate Gemologist. She is particularly experienced working with estate/antique jewelry.
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