Most people hear "custom jewelry design" and automatically think "expensive." Custom jewelry design is, in fact, not as expensive as you might think. You might even be able get the kind of piece that you really want for even less than off-the-shelf jewelry.

How is it possible to create a piece that is both affordable and exclusive? Many consumers have a very specific picture of what they want when they set out to purchase jewelry. However, a majority end up compromising on the design that they want for two major reasons:

* They can't find an off-the-shelf piece that matches up with their ideal mental picture.

* They find a piece that's a match or very close to what they've imagined, but it exceeds their budget.

Custom jewelry design actually provides a way to solve both those problems. Coming up with a custom jewelry design means you get exactly the design you've imagined. Plus, your designer can help you stay within your set budget by using just the right materials.

By selecting silver over gold or a smaller stone over a bigger one, you can keep your piece affordable. You are in complete control over each and every component in your design.

Are you ready to create your custom jewelry design? Here are the three steps you'll need to know to get your exclusive dream piece:

1) Create a sketch. Use a pencil and rough out a sketch of the mental picture of your piece. Don't worry if drawing isn't your thing. Just do the best you can.

It can be very helpful to refer to existing pieces that are similar. Let's say that you're trying to create your own engagement ring. You should pore over jewelry catalogues or online pictures of other engagement rings.

Pick out some of the features that you like and use those as a guide to sketch out your custom jewelry design. You may even want to bring copies of some of the ideas that you like to your designer. This will give him a clearer picture of what you have in mind for your engagement ring.

Another idea, if you happen to be handy with a photo editing program, is to create your custom jewelry design this way. Scan a picture (or more than one) that resembles what you like. You can play around with that photo, manipulating it into what you would like for your own piece.

2) Bring your picture to your designer. He will create a CAD (computer-aided design/draft) from your picture. This will render your design three-dimensional. This will give you a better idea of what your actual piece will look like. It will probably even cause you to consider features you hadn't thought of the first time around.

This computerized rendering will probably take between three and five working days. You'll be asked to come back and discuss this rendering with your designer and make changes, if needed.

3) View your model. A model will be cast based on your finalized CAD. Models are usually made from wax. This will be a real, live, three-dimensional and tactile model of your actual piece.

You'll be able to make sure that your custom jewelry design is really to your liking before it's cast for real. (You can even try it on.) This is also the time you'll be making your final decision about metal, stones and other materials.

Creating your custom jewelry design can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. It usually depends on the kinds of materials you choose as well as the individual designer's schedule. Thanks to the three steps, you won't have to worry about your new piece. You'll have complete assurance that your piece is going to turn out exactly as you envisioned it.