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Creating a One-of-a-Kind Engagement Ring

Jan 21, 2014

by Michelle Traub handmade and vintage goods

Selecting a wedding or engagement ring can be daunting, especially if it’s your first major purchase with your honey. Fortunately, you’re not alone; plenty of jewelers and metalsmiths are more than happy to work with the amateur shopper. Amid limitless choices concerning gemstones, cut and quality, your brain is bound to be buzzing with karat-inspired questions. To set you on the golden path, read over some advice that comes straight from the jeweler’s mouth.

How did you get started in wedding jewelry?

Kyle Anne of Kyle Ann Metals: I took my first silversmithing class when I was 16 and as soon as I picked up the torch, I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Konstanze of Nodeform Weddings: I got married without ever having an engagement nor a wedding ring since we didn’t have much money. When our financial situation improved, I started looking for a wedding ring and just couldn’t find anything I really liked enough to consider wearing it for the rest of my life. I eventually started a community college class on jewelry making develop a stronger  understanding of the process and instantly got hooked.

Jill of Janish Jewels: I began my career as a graphic designer but always had a passion for jewelry. I enjoy metalwork the most. I’m also a real stone junkie and can’t resist gorgeous, sparkling gems. When I first discovered rough uncut diamonds, I was drawn to them for their natural raw beauty. Their organic, one-of-a-kind nature inspired me to create wedding jewelry. It is such a joy to work with rough and rose cut diamonds because it allows me to create nontraditional diamond rings.

Arosha Taglia: I worked as a painter, sculptor, digital and video artist and furniture designer before finding my true passion of jewelry. My professional background has definitely influenced my design style, as the way I approach jewelry making is the same way I approach sculpture or a blank canvas. I look for a special balance in shape and colors, and with my jewelry I always have two key factors in mind: comfort and price. Designing bridal jewelry is a main challenge for a designer; if a jewel has a unique shape and a symbolic meaning, you will love it for life.

Hema Rishi: Jewelry has always been something I have a real passion for. There is just something so inherently beautiful about wedding jewelry and the way it reflects the special bond between two people.

Brides and grooms feel a lot of pressure to seek out the perfect ring. Do you have any tips or suggestions for finding “the one”?

Arosha: The right ring is the one that strongly reflects your personality and values — it’s not only a matter of beauty and carats. A design which has symbolic meaning for you will accompany you as you go through life, reminding you of your love.

David of Sea Babe Jewelry: Give yourself plenty of time. Couples generally start looking for rings right away, but the ring is an easy item to put on the back burner.

Jill: Have fun with it! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so enjoy every second of it.

Kyle: Research is important. It helps to know what style of ring (both band and setting) you are interested in, as well as what stone (type, cut, and color) and metal. Wedding jewelry is possibly the most important jewelry you will ever buy because of its symbolism and the fact that, in most cases, it will be part of your everyday wardrobe.

Konstanze: Searching on Etsy is a great way to find a ring that’s a bit out of the ordinary and provides something unique. If you find something that’s pretty close to “the one” it’s often really easy to connect with the designer and work on a custom design to make it the perfect ring. This is a service that big chains and jewelry stores just can’t provide.

Barbara of Barbara Michelle Jacobs: It’s possible that the engagement ring will be the couple’s first large purchase and the multitude of choices can be overwhelming. First, focus on defining the top three elements that are most important to you. For example, you might determine that you want white gold, a round diamond of a general size and clean lines. From there, tease out the preferred secondary wishes — bezel or prong set? High or low mounting? Wide or narrow band?

What’s your process for working with a bride or groom-to-be?

Kyle: I love working with people who don’t really know what they are looking for because it turns into an adventure.

David: Sometimes it takes a lot of communication. We’ve had over 50 Convos with a customer on several occasions. The major component of our process for working with a bride or groom is to listen and be clear. There should be no mistake, and if there is any miscommunication whatsoever, it is up to us to follow through. Don’t be afraid to ask something, even if you think it is minor.

What’s the one question brides should ask prospective jewelers?

Konstanze: Be aware that once you customize a ring it might not be eligible for returns or exchanges. Some jewelers will allow you to return a custom piece, but it’s always best to ask about their policy before you get started.

David: Know your ring size. The best way to find your ring size is to have it done by a professional jeweler. Most jewelers will do this for free, and they do not mind at all. Do not try to get a measurement off of your fiancée’s finger with a piece of string while she is sleeping.

Is it easier if the bride has a clear idea of what she wants in a ring or do you think it’s better to be flexible?

Barbara: Keep in mind that a really good design will take you on a journey, inviting you to explore it from various angles. Like in a good relationship, good design flows and connects. Allow room for some experimentation in design, and you might discover just what you were looking for.

David: Every situation is unique and different, as are the brides and grooms themselves. We try to be as flexible as possible so the bride or groom don’t have to. If I can’t make what they want, I go so far as to give them a referral to a quality jeweler on Etsy who is capable of meeting the couple’s needs.

Konstanze: Sometimes fulfilling a customer’s request isn’t possible, due to availability of materials, techniques being used, skill of the jeweler, timing, or budget constraints. In that case, brides and grooms must be willing to consider recommendations from the jeweler since they have a better understanding of what’s practical under the circumstances.

Do you have any tips for brides on a budget who are dreaming of a custom piece? Or brides on a tight timeline?

Barbara: From the jeweler’s perspective, there is a big difference between a custom and a customized piece. A customized piece is a modification of an existing style. Some modifications are a snap to make and there may be no additional charge. Other styles might look simple, but for technical reasons are not. Jewelers really appreciate specific questions such as “Can you make this item for me in rose gold?”

Arosha: When you’re on a tight budget, I would suggest choosing a lower carat of gold, lower diamond quality or even a less expensive stone. With the right jeweler, all of this can be done without compromising the design of the ring.

Jessica of Fabuluster: Work with your jeweler to prioritize and figure out how to save money and get the rings in the best metal your budget allows. If you have a really tight time frame, you might want to consider purchasing inexpensive stand-in rings for your ceremony.

What’s the most memorable bridal piece you’ve worked on?

Jill: The most memorable bridal piece that I made was with a large white rough diamond that had a nice low profile and lovely asymmetrical shape. I created a 22k hand granulated setting for it on an 18k gold band. The juxtaposition of the detailed granulation surrounding the large rough diamond was stunning.

Arosha: I created my wife’s engagement ring with all my love and passion, and gave it to her a short time after we first met. It’s a unique, one-of-a-kind piece, in the shape of a pyramid, set with more than a hundred beautiful diamonds.

Kyle: My most memorable piece was for a wonderful artist who wanted a ring that fit her personality. She had a rough idea of what she wanted for her ring and sent me a sketch. We chatted consistently for weeks, and we came up with a ring that was completely perfect for her.

Jessica: We are sincerely honored to have had every one of our brides and grooms wear our fingerprint rings. We’ve especially enjoyed creating rings for soldiers and their wives and children — truly, every ring has a story.

What should brides and grooms know about precious metals?

Jessica: All precious metals are mixed with other metals to give them strength — this is called alloying. There is no such thing as white gold but once you add an alloy to yellow gold, it becomes whiter. The most common alloy added is nickel.

Barbara: Gold plated means that the object is really made from a base metal, and then a very thin layer of gold is electroplated onto the surface of the base metal to make the ring look gold. Traditionally, wedding jewelry is made from karat gold. I explain gold content in two articles on my blog.

Konstanze: The higher the number, the more gold is in that alloy. White and yellow gold jewelry come mostly in 14 or 18 karat. Pure gold is 24K and very soft, too soft for rings. 22K is 22 parts fine gold and 2 parts other metals. It is still very soft and might not hold up well in wedding or engagement rings when worn daily. 18K is 18 parts fine gold and 6 parts other alloying metals; 14K is 14 parts fine gold and 10 parts other metals, and so on.

Gold is always yellow. To make white gold, other white metals get added to the yellow gold. The name white gold is actually a bit misleading as those mixed gold alloys never are as white as sterling silver, for instance. They often have a grayer color, some with a warm undertone. Note that nickel white gold is a problem for people with skin allergies; once the plating wears off, the nickel can get exposed to the skin and cause allergic reactions. Though a little more expensive, palladium white gold won’t cause a reaction with your skin.

What should brides and grooms keep in mind when considering diamonds?

Konstanze: Prices vary a lot depending on those 4 C’s: cut, color, clarity and carat (size). If a diamond is out of your budget, consider cutting some corners on the 4 C’s. For example, consider a smaller-sized diamond, as a well cut diamond can actually can actually look bigger than their poorly cut larger counterpart. It’s all about how well those little facets reflect light back.

Barbara: If a guaranteed, ethically sourced stone is something that interests you, it just takes a bit of research. Fair Trade stones, which come from certified miners paid fair wages, are available for a modest premium. For customers looking for a traditional faceted white diamond, I suggest reading the valuable information provided by Gemological Institute of America. GIA is the authority on white diamonds and their grading reports are highly regarded.

Can you tell us a bit about the alternatives to diamond rings?

Kyle: The most popular alternative to diamonds right now is moissanite. Their brilliance and luster exceeds that of a diamond, or any other gemstone, and the clarity is superb. Another reason moissanite is so popular is because it is completely ethical, since the stone is lab grown.

Barbara: The reason white sapphires are much less costly than diamonds is because they often lack brilliance and play. Sapphires look better in clusters because all the facets and prongs trick the eye into thinking the stones are more brilliant than they actually are.

Personally, I love diamonds for their unmatched purity, elegance and refinement. Bridal jewelry is a concrete gift promising love and devotion. Why wouldn’t one want to use the finest ingredients for this one-time purchase that will be passed down for generations? While moissanite and other lab-grown stones are wonderful ethical choices, they lack the organic beauty of elements found in nature.

Jill: There are so many alternatives to traditional diamonds. Rough diamonds and rose cut diamonds are beautiful alternatives, as well as Herkimer diamonds (rare double terminated quartz mined in Herkimer County, New York). I often make engagement rings with colored stones, which are popular with second marriages.

Hema: There’s a style for everyone — it just depends on the guy or girl who will be wearing the ring. I know of couples who chose simple, hammered sterling silver bands. Another couple I worked with wanted a pair of skull. With wedding ring design, it’s no holds barred.

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