Nobody needs to tell you how huge jewelry is within the massive wedding-industry scheme. There are some companies that are happy to have you believe that the bigger the diamond, the stronger your love. But it doesn’t have to be that way, of courseyou may find yourself more interested in getting a one-of-a-kind, meaningful piece to celebrate your partnership. That’s where local artists like Staci Sawyer Phebus, who runs Raleigh’s Juniper Bay Metals, come in.

Phebus has sold her wares full-time as Juniper Bay Metals for about four years, but she’s been a practicing metal artist for close to twenty. Custom wedding jewelry isn’t the bread-and-butter of her business, she says, but it’s nonetheless a special part.

“I like to celebrate the material,” Phebus says. “Sometimes people will come to me with gold from their grandparents’ or parents’ wedding bands and want me to use that material to create a new piece. I’m inspired by that process and the sentiment that goes into that, and how special that is for those people to carry on.”

When you’re considering a custom piece, Phebus says, you don’t usually have to do much in the way of preparation. It’s good to do a little research and know what kind of materials you want, and if there are any styles or designs you absolutely love or hate. Trusting the artist you’re working with and being able to communicate with them is essential.

“The artist is always going to want to use their own creative process and design sense,” Phebus says. “It’s complicated when people maybe want something that I am not going to be able to offer, so I try to be really up front and figure that out right away.”

Luckily, Phebus says, the local metalsmithing community is a tight-knit bunch, and they refer clients to each other regularly. She says Instagram can be a helpful tool for discovering local artists, while Pinterest can be useful for figuring out what styles you like (understand that artists won’t be happy to rip off others’ designs, however). You should also plan on meeting with the artist at least once and giving them enough time to complete the piecePhebus prefers to have at least three months to work on a custom piece, if not more.

“Be ready to make a little bit of an investment, if not financially, in interacting and getting to know the person that you’re working with,” Phebus says.

When it comes to rings, especially, one of the most important considerations is how and when you’ll wear it. Your job and hobbies can influence the kinds of materials that should be usedif you’re a regular rock climber, for example, you’ll want something sturdy. Even bartenders will have special needs, Phebus says. Several years ago, she made a custom ring for Garland’s Cheetie Kumar, who was bartending frequently at the time. Kumar’s previous ring had a resin in it that was damaged by the acidic juices of lemons and limes at the bar, so Phebus fixed her up with a silver and topaz ring that wasn’t susceptible to the same damage.

While rings are typically at the center of wedding-jewelry conversations, a sentimental piece to celebrate a marriage doesn’t have to be a ring, Phebus says. One of her favorite pieces of wedding-related jewelry was a brooch that was used for a proposal instead of a ring; she’s also made cuff links for groomsmen and matching necklaces that were gifts for a bridal party. Shopping small and working with an artist directly can help bring these outside-the-box ideas to life.

Ultimately, Phebus says, artisanal jewelry has a value that far exceeds the materials that go into it. You can get an heirloom-quality piece that will last for decades, one that embodies the deeper sentiments of your marriage far better than any mall jewelry store can offer.

“I feel like the energy that’s put into custom pieces and design has a soul to it, a special quality to it, that you just aren’t going to get if you buy something that’s factory-made,” Phebus says. “I think that carries on. If people are bringing a sentimental idea into the creation of it, I feel like it continues to exist within those pieces.”