From the heart: Grad gifts mean more when they have a personal touch

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published April 29, 2015

 Personalized woven blankets are hot items this time of year at Embroidery & Much More in St. Clair Shores.

Personalized woven blankets are hot items this time of year at Embroidery & Much More in St. Clair Shores.

Photo provided by Linda Bologna

It’s so easy to honor a new graduate’s accomplishment with a gift card, a fancy tech device or even just some cash tucked into an envelope.

But there are other gifts you can give that student starting a new chapter in his or her life that involve a bit more thought and creativity. Those gifts, of course, mean so much more than their monetary value.

Those are the kind of gifts that Steven Tapper gets really excited about. He does much of the custom-designed jewelry work at Tapper’s Fine Jewelry and Diamonds, which has locations in Troy, West Bloomfield and Novi. Each time a customer comes in with an idea for a unique piece of jewelry, he knows he has a huge — and thrilling — responsibility ahead of him.

“I love discovering who they are, what they’re looking for and what they’d like to accomplish. Even if they come to me with an idea and haven’t thought much about it, it becomes a process where they really become an integral part in creating that piece,” said Tapper. “They’re developing an idea, and that makes the gift special.”

This time of year, as students prepare to walk away with diplomas and degrees, Tapper gets ready to fill orders for custom-designed pieces of jewelry for graduation gifts. He said he’s created everything from pendants with chemical formulas for a future chemist to modern signet rings in lieu of hokey class rings. The limits are only those of the customer’s imagination.

These days, in addition to creating new and unique pieces for grads, Tapper said he’s seeing a lot of families taking the sentimental value up a notch with heirloom jewelry, which he can recreate for modern tastes.

Ann Duke, director of marketing at Tapper’s, said vintage jewelry, whether in its original form or repurposed into new styles, appeals to younger generations for a number of reasons.

“We’ve been talking for years in the industry how to appeal to this elusive millennial, which isn’t into traditional luxury items,” said Duke. “They live in kind of a rented society — they definitely appreciate value, they have an affinity for history that’s kind of unique to their generation, unlike Gen X or Gen Y, and they also have a very green mindset. (Repurposed jewelry) falls in line with that whole value-conscious, eco-friendly mentality.”

Duke said it’s not as expensive as one might think to get a custom-created or redesigned heirloom piece made. And the time taken by the gift giver, she added, is noticed and appreciated, since the item will be unique.

Tapper agreed, and said the experience is almost as meaningful to the giver as it is to the recipient.

“I love to focus on family jewelry, because it’s generation to generation,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to someone who told me with a tear in their eye, ‘This was my mom’s ring,’ or, ‘This was my dad’s wedding band,’ and they want to redo it but keep (the integrity). It starts with something that no Internet or gimmick can replace, and that’s personal relationships.”

Building new relationships is likely something the graduate will be doing plenty of after the celebration dies down and the time comes to move on to college or career. Putting your best face — or more importantly, appearance — forward is a part of growing up, and the gift of looking put together with a quality watch is a truly meaningful sentiment, according to Robert Greenstone at Greenstone’s Jewelers in Birmingham.

“A fine timepiece is a very personal gift and a very personal possession, because to wear it on your wrist means you’ve incorporated that possession into your daily lifestyle,” he said. “It will coordinate with your life and with your appearance and become part of your public presentation.”

Greenstone’s, in addition to selling jewelry and other giftware, has a selection of upscale watches to suit even modest price points, Greenstone said. And even simpler watches that cost considerably less than their luxury counterparts can be significant and lasting gifts.

“A quartz movement timepiece in stainless steel with a cost of around $300 can be a lifetime possession,” he said.

For those who want to splurge a little more, the store also features Victorinox Swiss Army, Movado, Longines and Rolex brands. Some might not be willing to spend thousands of dollars on a graduation gift, but for proud parents who toughed out those late nights of studying with their student, the gift might mark an important milestone for them, too.

“A young man or woman going out into the professional world is often the culmination of a family’s investment in that young person’s education,” Greenstone said.

But not all personalized gifts need to be polished. A monogrammed briefcase or Bible, a keepsake dictionary encyclopedia or an engraved pen can be expressive without being expensive.

Embroidered items are great for the graduate heading off to his or her next adventure of college dorm life. Linda Bologna is the owner of Embroidery & Much More in St. Clair Shores, and she said her shop does lots of creative gifts for those who want to add a personal touch to mundane necessities.

“A lot of people do towels for kids going to college; we monogram them or put their name on them,” she said. “Sometimes they’ll even choose the colors of the towels and embroidery thread in the school’s colors. Laundry bags with their name or a cute saying are popular, too.”

The embroidered items can keep college students from swapping or losing their linens while they’re away from home, and add a colorful touch. Bologna also does plenty of party banners and woven blankets with personalized embroidery this time of year. She can typically turn orders around in about a week or so.

“I think (the grad) knows you took some time to think about what they would like instead of going to Bed, Bath & Beyond and choosing something off the shelf,” she said.