Jewelry Engraving

I will not be surprised by 2009’s Mother’s Day. The 2008 observance caught me off guard. I found myself in a crowded mall the day before the holiday, frantically searching for gifts for my mom and mother-in-law. This year, I am planning ahead. Each lady will receive a pendant engraved with her name interwoven with my own.

“I am totally different than other engravers because I do hand engraving. It is like a fine art,” explained Hany Ongyan, owner of Master of Hand Engraving & Jewelry Repair, located downtown on Sixth Avenue (619-702-7390). “Some people don’t appreciate the art and don’t want to pay for it, and some people do understand it. There are not too many hand-engravers anymore. I think I am one of the last ones in San Diego. Other engravers use a machine.”

Ongyan uses a tiny engraving tool called a graver. “I can make the letters very, very tiny, where you need a microscope on it to see it. I once did 100 letters in two rows.”

When it comes to lettering and designs, “You can choose whatever you want, or you can do it with your own handwriting. This is my specialty. Some customers want to duplicate their own handwriting, so I have them write it and I copy it.” Ongyan can also do symbols or designs.

Hand-engraving lasts longer than machine-engraving, Ongyan told me. “I have seen some hand-engraving jobs from the 1940s, and it is still readable and very good. With hand-engraving, you make a cut inside the metal, which is deeper than a machine-engraving; with machine-engraving, you just scratch the surface.”

Turnaround time for Master of Hand Engraving & Jewelry Repair is two to three weeks. Prices are given per job, depending on the amount of hours needed to complete the engraving.

Brian Salmon, co-owner of SRI Engraving in North Park (619-546-0893), does metal etching and cutting by machine. “Normally, if it is a hand-drawn design, it needs to get into the computer. We can scan it as long as it is in-line art, very fine lines. We have in-house graphic design, so we can transfer it for them, if they are not capable, for a small price. But if they can get us the design in a file, we load it into our computer, take their piece, and etch it or cut it accordingly. We can cut through the steel, silver. We can’t deal with bronze, copper, and brass.…

“I cannot do the inside of a ring,” said Salmon. “I use a laser. It doesn’t actually remove the metal. Our laser will etch onto it or cut all the way through it. If you wanted to have the inside of a ring done, that has to be done by hand.”

With the etching process, “It chemically bonds to it. It heats the metal. There are a couple of ways we can do it, depending on the type of material. One of the metals, the stainless steel, we can spray a coating on, and then when we hit it with the laser, the heat changes the molecular structure of the metal and then bonds the solution to it and turns it black. So, everywhere that we hit it, it turns it black. And then if we use an aluminum, it heats it so much that it changes the color of it, and that is there forever.”

For fonts, “If we don’t have it, and you have a font that you want, just make sure we know where to get it, or you bring it to us.”

Prices are given per job, and turnaround time is one to two weeks.

Salmon referred me to Matthew Cirello, owner of Ciryellow Creations, also located in North Park (619-201-4668, ciryellow.com). “I am a custom jeweler, and I can do custom engraving,” Cirello answered. “I do hand-engraving. I have about four different ways that I can engrave, and I can do an acid etch as well. Acid etch is where you take a sulfur nitrate — a Sharpie marker would even work — and that protects the metal and anything that is not covered in your design, it will eat it away. Kind of like sandblasting, but instead you are actually eating away the metal with an acid.”

Cirello will not work on titanium, and his price is by the hour.

How do I choose between hand- and machine-engraving? “If someone wants accuracy,” said Cirello, “I would say laser-engraving is the way to go. If they want something unique, one-of-a-kind, personal, then I would have it hand-done.”

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