Tips for designing custom engagement and wedding rings
In what now seems like a bit of foreshadowing, we custom-designed our own wedding rings when getting married 17 years ago (this month!)--growing up in a family of jewelers has its perks. In many ways, the internet has completely changed the custom ring design process--you now have access to a much broader community of custom jewelers where earlier you’d be limited to your local brick & mortar jeweler.
Custom made jewelry is as old as Moses—literally. The Arc of the Covenant and the Miraculous Medal are two examples of custom gold-smithing work that have gone down in history. This process begins with the consumer writing their own story and ends with the jeweler bringing that story to life through a piece of art that can be passed down for generations to come.
If you’ve ever thought about designing your own jewelry (especially an engagement ring or wedding rings), we have a few tips to help the process go smoothly:
Locate a reputable jeweler with a style you like. Most seasoned jewelers can adapt to a wide range of personal styles, but ultimately jewelry design is an art; just as you probably wouldn’t choose an impressionist watercolor artist to paint your family portrait, your best bet is to go with a jeweler whose art matches your style. If a jeweler leans towards ornate and you prefer minimalist, it’s going to make the design process tougher on you both. Custom design fees will vary among jewelers, but you should expect that a custom-designed ring will always be more than an “off-the-shelf” ring as you are paying for the time to create sketches and jewelry designs.
It’s also important to remember that you are not dealing with any ordinary product: you are buying precious metals--commodities that are traded and have intrinsic value. The value of jewelry varies widely depending on quality (things like the percentage and weight of gold or of the 4Cs (carat, color, cut, and clarity) of the gemstone). You should feel comfortable asking questions about the quality and value of the materials used in your design.
The jewelry industry is unique in that despite many modern advancements, jewelry manufacturing techniques are still the same ones used that were used by the goldsmith Bezalel, who created gold and silver jewelry to help Moses create his visions from God (Exodus 31:4). Shopping with a family business can give you an advantage here--many jewelry businesses are multi-generation and by shopping with them, you take advantage of that history, knowledge, and peer network.
Pick the right stones. Many gemstones are too delicate to be used in an engagement or wedding ring because they can’t stand up to everyday wear. Besides being rated on clarity and other factors, gemstones are also measured on the Mohs Hardness--a scale used to measure the relative hardness of a mineral by its resistance to scratching. The most durable stones you can buy are diamonds: diamonds are a 10 on the Mohs Hardness and therefore a great choice for engagement and wedding rings. Stones that also make good choices for everyday wear are rubies and sapphires (both ranking as a 9) and topaz (ranking an 8). Emeralds, while ranking as an 8 for hardness, can be much more delicate due to their porous nature. Opals and pearls, while stunning in their beauty, are better suited for more occasional wear as they can be easily damaged. The best bet when deciding to buy a stone is to consult the seller and ask them questions about it. Reputable jewelers will ask you how you intend to use the piece and will advise on what is appropriate for your activities.
Understand the different types of precious metal. Once you have a gemstone in mind, you’ll also need to decide on which precious metal you’d like for the band of your ring. Again, because your custom ring is made of gemstones and metals with intrinsic value as well as specialized labor, you’ll want to understand what you are getting for the final price.
Gold is the most popular choice for engagement and wedding rings and comes in a few common alloys (or a mix of metals). The term karat refers to how much pure gold is in the alloy, with 24 karat being pure gold (with no other metals mixed in). Pure gold is actually quite soft and is not suitable for everyday jewelry as it can easily be bent by hand.
18 karat gold has a rich yellow color and nearly 20% more pure gold than 14 karat but enough other metals to keep it strong enough for everyday wear. However, the price is usually much more than 20% over 14 karat so unless you are really looking for that dark yellow appearance, or investing in gold almost completely because of the value of the metal, 18 karat is usually not worth the price difference over 14 karat.
14 karat gold is 58.5% fine gold, 29% copper, 12.5% silver. This alloy has a bright yellow hue to it. There is a reason 14 karat yellow gold is so popular: it is durable, holds its value relatively well, and maintains a shine that has made it stand the test of time.
Some professionals prefer 10 karat gold because of its higher strength. The color is not as bright and it does not keep its shine as well. This alloy contains less than 50% fine (or pure) gold, offering a lower price for consumers—as well as less of the valuable metal.
Other metals commonly used are platinum and silver. Platinum has excellent durability and strength (we chose platinum for our rings), but it tends to come at a high cost. Silver offers a much lower price point but is not a great choice for a few reasons: it’s more reactive with chemicals, does not hold gemstones as well, and is softer and thus will show wear and tear sooner than gold or platinum.
A few things to avoid: Avoid gold filled, gold plated, and silver plated for everyday jewelry—while these can be fine for occasional wear, they are less likely to stand up to everyday wear and activities. When buying low-cost gold or silver, check the weight: there’s no such thing as a free lunch and the low price is likely reflecting a small amount of valuable material. Avoid gold jewelry that seems like it is not well constructed. Look up the names of stones you do not understand. Many jewelers market low quality stones by giving them fancy sounding names (like champagne diamonds, cognac diamonds, or canary diamonds). Buying these for the visual appeal of the stone is fine (we personally love the look of raw diamonds), as long as the price reflects the lower value of the diamond. When it comes time to sell (or insure) your stone, the beauty may rest in the eye of the beholder.
We’d love to hear from you--what other questions do you have about the jewelry creation process? What else can we share so you feel informed when buying jewelry? Let us know!
For truth + beauty,
Angie & Jay
P.S. if you’re in the market for a custom engagement ring or custom wedding/anniversary rings, please reach out!