Jewelry/Gift Engraving Etiquette Part 4:

Photo Courtesy of Gravograph-New Hermes, Duluth, GA.
Copyright © 2004 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in May 2004, Volume 29, No. 11 of The Engravers Journal.

     A poorly engraved piece of jewelry stands out like a sore thumb. The engraving, instead of enhancing the item, may actually detract from it, destroying much of the beauty and value of the piece.
    By the same token, we all appreciate an engraving job well done, but not everyone is aware of the extent of exacting work and preplanning that goes into such an accomplishment. Not only is the selection of “proper” or appropriate wording necessary, but the correct placement and orientation as well as appropriate letter selection are equally important.
    Until now, the discussion of engraving etiquette in this series has been limited to the selection of “proper” or appropriate wording. Part 1 (February ’04) dealt with name engraving. In Part 2 other forms of personalization such as initials, monograms, family coats-of-arms and other insignia were discussed (March ’04). Part 3 concentrated on additional wording, e.g. dates, donor names, occasion names and messages (April ’04).
    In this fourth article we present what are probably the most practical considerations in this series, i.e. the correct placement and orientation of the actual engraving. In addition to these more practical aspects, an aesthetic consideration—letter selection—also is mentioned.
    Just as there are certain rules of etiquette regarding special occasions, there are also certain rules of etiquette concerning the engraving location, orientation and lettering on specific items. Consider each item you are about to engrave, first in terms of its own special engraving etiquette, then in terms of its purpose, shape and available space as well as what will look best. Not every item has its own special guidelines for engraving, but for those that do, the recommendations are usually quite specific.
    The jewelry and gift items which follow are conveniently arranged in alphabetical order for quick reference and review. In addition, many of these items are graphically illustrated to further clarify generally accepted engraving placement and orientation. To simplify some of the illustrations, the typical area used for engraving is shown as a shaded rectangular shape, with the direction of the message indicated by an arrow.

Figure 1
Figure 2A, 2B

    Banks—engravable “piggy banks” in particular—have become quite a popular item for engraving. But the placement of the engraving can cause problems if there is no preplanning. Looking at the bank in Figure 1, you can see that the most visible and uninterrupted areas for engraving are on the sides of the bank. Since both sides are identical it becomes strictly a matter of personal preference as to which side to use.
    Most likely the bank will be placed on a dresser or shelf slightly below eye level. Therefore, the engraving is usually positioned in the center or slightly above center and engraved in a left-to-right direction rather than around the circumference.
    In terms of type selection for a child’s bank, block style letters are generally chosen for engraving a boy’s name, whereas, script is often preferred for a girl’s name.
    The preferred engraving location for bowls is on the outer circumference. However, bowls also may be engraved on the inside bottom or underneath on the very bottom.
    On tapered pieces such as the perennially popular Paul Revere bowl, any engraving done on the outside of the bowl is usually placed close to the rim, as shown in Figure 2A. Machine engraving which is placed on the curve below the usual engraving area will begin to exhibit various forms of curvature distortion, i.e. as the bowl curves away, the lower engraved portion of the letters may become extended or appear tilted, or will not be cut properly. Also, as a practical matter, letters too far down toward the base are difficult to read.
    If both the inside and the outside of the bowl are being engraved, then both engraved areas should be aligned, i.e. with both engraved areas facing the same way so that the engraving center points exactly coincide (Fig. 2B).
    If the bowl is being given as a household gift, then script, block, cursive or Old English all provide very acceptable engraving choices. If it’s being presented to a man, block or Old English may be preferred. For a woman the customary choice is usually script lettering or a monogram.
    Bracelets, particularly women’s bangle or cuff bracelets, are very popular items for engraving and may be engraved on either the outside or the inside. If there is not an area on the piece specifically set aside for engraving, it’s usually placed on the inside, but on a rather plain bracelet the customer may prefer the engraving be placed on the outside.
    Figure 3 shows both a slip-on cuff bracelet and an oval-shaped bangle bracelet. What we are demonstrating here is how to find the center point for the engraving layout. This can easily be done by measuring the total circumference of the “C” shape slip-on bracelet, then dividing by two and marking the midpoint with a china marker. On a hinged or oval-shaped bracelet, simply measure from the hinge to the open seam, divide by two and mark the midpoint.
    A bracelet that is a perfect circle poses no centering problem. Simply make sure that your message doesn’t extend too far out onto the curvature.
    When engraving a bracelet on the inside, these same outside measurements can still be used. It’s simply a matter of making a corresponding mark on the inside of the bracelet to use as a centering guide. Women’s and girls’ personal jewelry and accessories are usually engraved in connecting script although cursive may also be used. Block letters are rarely used except on the inside of the bracelet. Monograms are generally used only for wide cuff bracelets which have sufficient space for a monogram. Otherwise initials, upright script or ornate upright block styles are preferred.

Figure 3
Figure 4

Cake Knives
    The usual location for engraving a cake knife is on the front of the blade as shown in Figure 4 (with the handle at the left and the cutting edge at the bottom). If the knife happens to have an engravable handle with sufficient space for engraving, this is also an acceptable engraving alternative. However, the blade is the preferred choice since there is more room for engraving. If there is a manufacturer’s name or such words as “stainless” on this side, then consider this to be the back of the knife and engrave on the other side with the handle at the right and the cutting edge at the bottom. Script is probably the most popular of all engraving choices for engraving a cake knife. Cursive or block are also acceptable, although less favored type style options.
Cups, Mugs, Goblets & Tankards
    Mugs, goblets and tankards are generally considered in the same category as cups. In fact, almost any vessel used to drink from that has a single handle on it can probably be included in this cup category.
    The most common etiquette question relating to cup engraving is, “Which side of the cup does the message go on?” The correct answer simply depends upon whether the intended user is right or left-handed. For the engraving to be properly oriented, it should face away from the person holding the cup, tankard, etc.
    In the case of a right-handed person, the handle should be to the left as you view the engraving (Fig. 5A) and vice versa for a left-handed person (Fig. 5B). Sometimes it’s unknown whether the recipient is right or left-handed. This is often the case with gifts and especially baby cups, where the infant’s natural inclination cannot be determined. In such cases, it’s generally safe to assume the person is right-handed since nearly 85% of the world’s population are right-handed.
    Another point of etiquette involves where, from top to bottom, to place the engraving. The ideal top-to-bottom positioning is placement of the engraving slightly above center. If the cup has a large base and a rim, the engraving is usually placed just above center on the central portion, i.e. excluding the base and rim (Fig. 5A).
    Another area of concern with cups and tankards is where on the circumference to place the engraving. Years ago many engravers favored placing the engraving opposite the handle. This meant that to read the inscription, you would have to place the tankard on a shelf with the handle pointing to the rear, which concealed the handle and made it more difficult to grasp.
    Today, however, the usual practice is to place the center of the engraving 90 degrees from the center of the handle, as shown in the top view of the tankard in Figure 5C. Again, this right-angle rule applies to pieces for both right and left-handed recipients, although the lettering is on opposite sides.
    When engraving in this fashion, you should use care to predetermine that the copy will fit without running into the handle. To check for centering as well as adequate space, divide the line length by two and use a flexible ruler to measure from the center or midpoint (90 degree angle to the handle) back toward the handle. It’s better to find out immediately if there isn’t enough space to center the engraving. In terms of type selection, large ornate letters are frequently used to initial a tankard for a man. Block or Old English are popular type choices on cups, goblets or tankards although women are more likely to prefer script or cursive. Monograms are also popular. However, it’s important to recognize that large objects such as tankards require larger letters. Too often an engraver will “play it safe” and not bother to measure, undersizing the letters just to assure himself of adequate space.
    Type size is an important consideration. The correct size letter depends on the engraving area as well as the relative size of the object itself. A large item with a large engraving area (such as a tankard) will require larger type for initials, a monogram or a short first name. However, for a long name the type may have to be reduced so that the entire name can still be read from the front.
    One of the more popular charms today is the baby charm. Some customers prefer the child’s name and date of birth engraved on the front of the charm, while others favor the name on the front and the date on the back. However, if there’s any detailing on the front of the charm, e.g. stamped or engraved facial features, then all of the engraving is usually placed on the opposite side.
    These charms have an irregular shape and it is difficult to generalize about the engraving position. However, as a rule, you should try to align the engraving so that it reads horizontally when the charm is “hanging” by its jump ring.
    Generally, boys’ names are engraved in a block style, whereas girls’ names are in script. And when dealing with this type of merchandise, it’s best to try to match previously engraved charms on the same bracelet wherever possible.
    Sports charms and special interest charms, e.g. football, tennis, music, art, etc., are often quite small and limited in engraving space. However, there’s usually room for a first name, initials and sometimes a date. These are often engraved in miniature script or block.

Figure 5A, 5B, 5C

    When engraving a cross, remember that all engraving is normally placed on the back. Sometimes this presents a problem especially if there’s a manufacturer’s name, hallmark or some other marking, e.g. sterling silver, on the back. However, you should try to find some way to work around it since it is considered highly inappropriate to engrave on the front of a cross. Engraving can be placed on either or both the vertical and horizontal parts of the cross in the directions shown in Figure 6.
    Because of the narrow, limited space available on the back of most crosses, miniature script for a girl and miniature block for a boy usually provide excellent engraving choices.
    The correct positioning and orientation for engraving initials on flatware may not be what you would expect. For flatware the engraving is positioned on the front near the end of the handle and the letters are oriented right-side up when the tines of the fork are pointed downward and curving toward you; the bowl of the spoon is pointed downward and facing toward you; the knife is pointed downward with the cutting edge on the right. On flatware with a very ornate pattern, the customer may wish to have their initial(s) or monogram engraved on the back instead.
Identification Bracelets
    Identification (I.D.) bracelets contain two areas for engraving: the top or outside (usually containing the individual’s first name or initials) or underneath (for brief personal messages). The main concern when engraving I.D. bracelets is the importance of correct orientation relative to the clasp or fastener, i.e. which way the engraving should be facing. For this reason it’s helpful to know whether the wearer is right or left-handed, or more specifically on which wrist he or she will wear the bracelet. For example, both men and women often wear a watch on their left wrist, usually meaning they would likely wear the I.D. bracelet on their right wrist. Identification bracelets are usually fastened around the wrist by a chain and when properly engraved, the fastener will be hanging down at the outside of the wrist (away from the body) as shown in Figure 7. The important rule to remember is that the outside engraving should face away from the wearer and toward the public. It may prove helpful to mark the correct orientation on the top edge of the I.D. plate with a china marker before placing it in the work holder to avoid any possible confusion. The correct orientation for personal messages engraved underneath is not as specific and is mainly a matter of individual preference. Individual preferences will also dictate the type style to use. Most men and boys prefer a block style or Old English lettering and for a girl’s or woman’s I.D. bracelet, script is usually the choice.




Figure 6
Figure 7

    With pens, the engraving choices are usually limited. Some pens contain special areas, e.g. bevel tops or a round signet, designed for engraving. Others are essentially plain and must be engraved on the cap or barrel. Unless the pen has a special area for engraving, the usual practice is to place the inscription lengthwise on the cap, running alongside the pocket clip (Fig. 8).
    Since pens dictate using very tiny letters, about the only practical choice in letters is between miniature block or script for men and women, respectively.
    There are some general limitations to engraving on the inside of rings. One is the fact that most rings are very narrow and allow for only one line of tiny engraving. The other is that there is usually a trademark or markings inside the ring, e.g. 14K. Allowing for the space to work around these markings, the maximum number of letters and spaces for one line of engraving in script or block is approximately 30. A wider ring may offer enough room for 2 lines or a maximum character count of 60 letters and spaces (block style lettering), but for every additional trademark it’s necessary to deduct about 5 spaces. Because rings vary in size, these numbers are only approximations. However, in the absence of trademarks the normal position for inside ring engraving is with the message centered at the bottom of the ring’s shank, i.e. opposite the stone.
    There are various types of rings, e.g. wedding rings, engagement rings, class rings, baby, rings, signet rings, fashion rings and even spoon rings. And although most of these are engraved on the inside, there are some exceptions.
    Signet rings are specially designed for outside ring engraving. Signet rings are usually engraved on the flat outside surface with a single initial or monogram because of their limited engraving space. The same is true of the spoon ring which is often worn as a “pinky ring” with the spoon handle worn toward the outside of the hand and the engraving facing toward the public and away from the wearer.
Trays & Decorative Plates
    Serving trays come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and styles. The most commonly chosen area for tray engraving is on the top surface in the center of the tray. In fact many trays contain decorative scrollwork on most of the surface, except perhaps for a small oval or rectangular area in the center. On such items the main choice in personalization is an initial, a set of initials, or a single large script monogram. Of course for lengthier inscriptions or for award usage, the choice often involves a plainer style.
    On trays with handles, the engraving should be oriented parallel to the handles (Fig. 9). Also the engraving should be visually centered within the space available for engraving.
    Engraved messages of a personal nature are usually engraved on the back of trays. On all trays, but round ones in particular, care should be used to try to align the engraving on the back so that the lines of copy are parallel to the frontal engraving.

Figure 8
Figure 9

    On wrist watches the most logical and usually the only available space for engraving is on the back of the watch. Frequently there are markings already stamped on the back of the watch case by the manufacturer, e.g. the company names, patent number, “waterproof,” etc. As a result the engraving must be arranged in the space available surrounding these markings. The preferred orientation for engraving on wrist watches is with the engraving reading normally when the crown is to the left (Fig. 10A). One problem—particularly with less expensive watches—is that the backs are installed crooked so that the manufacturer’s markings are somewhat diagonal with respect to the strap or band. In such a situation it is preferable to position the engraving parallel to the markings (Fig. 10B).
    If straight-line engraving is not possible or practical, circular arc engraving may provide an attractive alternative. Again the practice is to orient the engraving so it reads normally when the crown of the watch is on the left (Fig. 10C).
    When available space for engraving is limited, miniature script for a woman or miniature block for a man are frequent type style choices. Initials are often done in upright script or ornate script for a woman and upright block, Old English or ornate block for a man. Block is generally used for circular engraving.
    Pocket watches pose a slightly different engraving situation. Here there is more room for engraving. Open-face pocket watches usually have a much larger back than wrist watches. On hunting-case pocket watches, there are several engravable surfaces to choose from: the outside front cover, the outside back cover, the inside front cover, and on some watches even the inside back cover. The important thing to be sure of is that the engraved inscription has the same orientation, i.e. the same side up as the face of the watch. Thus, the inscription and the time can be read at a glance without rotating the watch.

Figure 10A, 10B, 10C

    You seasoned veterans reading this article will acknowledge that it takes a while to learn the practical engraving considerations discussed in this article, specifically correct engraving placement and orientation related to specific items. In fact it’s probably safe to say that even if you’ve engraved a thousand tankards or I.D. bracelets, you probably still hesitate momentarily to think before you put another in your engraving machine—it always pays to spend a second or two double-checking your setup.
    Jewelry and gift engraving, perhaps more than any other work, center around subtleties. The difference between doing a piece correctly or incorrectly may not even be obvious to the customer—but then again it may. Therefore, what’s at stake is not just one piece of merchandise—it’s literally the reputation of the business providing the service.
    In Part 5 of this series on jewelry/gift engraving etiquette, we will begin a mini-series of sample layouts and suggested messages. Each installment will focus on a specific theme, e.g. graduations, weddings, anniversaries, etc. The purpose of course is to provide a handy selection of suggested layouts and messages which can be referred to by the engraver, the salesperson and even the customer.
    If you have some examples of your favorite wording to recommend for jewelry/gift engraving and wish to share it with our readers, we welcome them and will try to include as many as possible in this ongoing series.