When it comes to weddings: flowers fade, cakes are consumed and dress styles get dated, but one thing retains a timeless quality: the ring.
“Jewelry can be such an important part of peoples’ lives whether it be for weddings, fashion or personal mementoes,” says David French, the artisan behind Vancouver’s oldest-operating family run workshop, Grimson and Sons (which is set to celebrate 70 years of handcrafted jewelry).
Whether in gold, silver or platinum, the true power of jewelry boils down to one simple thing — love.
“Jewelry is so personal — when someone buys you a piece of jewelry there is such a thoughtfulness and love that goes into it,” Claire Roy, founder of the new custom jewelry brand, Boutique Diamonds, says.
And engagement rings are perhaps the segment of jewelry industry where this emotional connection rings most true.
“You’ve heard the term that diamonds are forever — and it’s true,” French says. “In terms of substance, they are the hardest substance on the planet, so they hold over time.”
But the real meaning behind the well-known phrase — and the overarching reason for the ongoing popularity of diamonds as the stone of choice for engagement rings — is so much more than just longevity from a wear and tear perspective, according to French.
“They can be handed down for generations — and that what it really means,” he says.
Recalling a couple who were looking to celebrate their 60th anniversary with a new ring, Roy points out that it’s often not the ring itself that matters the most, but rather the story behind it.
“The husband was so proud of the ring he bought his wife when they first got engaged and he wanted to make this anniversary ring truly spectacular,” she says.
Roy helped he couple upgrade to a 3.5 carat “round brilliant” diamond.
“The look on her face when he placed it on her finger for the first time was perfection,” she says.
But before you write off the idea of a custom engagement ring because of the preconceived notion that it’s an endeavour only for the uber rich — don’t.
Both French and Roy readily admit that a ring weighing in at 3.5 carats might not exactly be in the budget for most. Instead, they can and do work with clients with all types of budgets — from a few hundred dollars to, well, a few hundred thousand.
“I work with all budgets,” French says. “I have made engagement rings for $300 before. I have made silver jewelry for engagement before. And a simple men’s band in white gold is roughly $1,000 because of the weight of it.
“And if that’s not in the budget, I will make it for you in silver — a silver ring will last forever too.”
So, with the erroneous idea of price-point exclusivity out of the way, there are a few things to know about going custom when it comes to engagement rings.
The first being education.
From start (first sketch) to finish (final payment) — meeting with a custom jeweller can illuminate the various facets of ring shopping in ways that mass jewelry retail can’t.
“I love educating people,” French, who oversees a team of six at the Grimson & Sons workshop, where he worked under his father before purchasing the business five years ago, says. “I’m not good at a lot of things, but I’m really good at making jewelry. And I don’t mind saying that because I have been doing it for most of my life and it is something that I am very passionate about.
“And when people come in and don’t know much about diamonds or don’t know how gold is made, I love to share.”
Prospective shoppers should be up front about their budget, discover the certification of the stones a jeweller plans to work with and request to see previous creations, according to Roy.
“When it comes to engagement rings, it’s one of the biggest purchases of your life and you want it to be an amazing experience,” she says.
While French’s clients are educated during appointments in his fourth-floor workshop located in a historic building in Vancouver’s downtown, Roy hits the road, often meeting people in their homes to discuss ring designs and provide more information.
Because, according to Roy, selecting the right diamonds isn’t as easy as simply knowing the four C’s — colour, cut, clarity and carat. It’s about so much more than that.
“It’s important to understand the four C’s but I also think it’s important to view stones with an open mind,” Roy says. “What some people may not realize is that other things come into play, like proportions, fluorescence and different certifications that grade stones. Most people come to me requesting colour and clarity from what they have learned online, but personally, my favourite ‘C’ is cut.”
According to Roy, it’s the cut of the diamond that brings out the stone’s brilliance and overall sparkle.
“At the end of the day if a diamond is cut poorly, it does not have that wow sparkle we all want,” she explains.
Undoubtedly, another part of the “wow” factor comes from the setting, and these days, it’s all about the halo.
“One of the hottest trends right now that really isn’t slowing down, is the diamond halo ring, which made it’s debut in the 1920s when the Art Deco style was popular,” Roy says.
The design sees a centre solitaire stone — often a diamond — with pave or micro-pave diamonds encircling it.
While the setting is undoubtedly attractive, for some shoppers, it all comes down to a possible solution to a situation where carat-size dreams don’t meet a budget reality.
“There are so many different designs and styles you can create with a halo, and this often creates the illusion of a larger centre diamond,” Roy explains. “If a budget is on the more modest side, a single or double halo is a great way to stretch that.”
While “traditional” diamond cuts are still sought after, ring buyers are increasingly searching for something a little bit more “fancy” by opting for oval or cushion cut stones, according to Roy.
“Fancy cuts are shapes including anything that isn’t a round diamond,” she says. “Back from the days of Grace Kelly and her emerald-cut ring, we see many of the Hollywood stars choosing fancy cut diamonds for their engagement ring choice.”
Perhaps the most notable recent fancy cut comes courtesy of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, whose oval blue sapphire ring previously owned by the late Princess Diana, has raised the profile of a fresh shape — and colour.
“More and more women are requesting something a bit different then what we have seen in the past — like coloured stones,” Roy says. “From spectacular canary yellow diamonds, to a romantic blush morganite gemstone, we are seeing more requests for these beauties.”
But when considering coloured stones, shoppers should research more than just hue, according to French.
“Bridal jewelry is mostly mathematics” French explains. “You take the centre stone and then you build around that.”
It’s for this reason that some stones — such as diamonds, sapphires and rubies — make optimum options for engagements rings whereas softer stones such as opals, aquamarines and emeralds are often too fragile for daily wear.
The pressure placed on a centre stone by significantly altering the ring’s original design — such as going up or down by more than one size of the band, or swapping out a centre stone midway through a build can be detrimental to the overall integrity of the ring.
That’s why custom jewellers such as French and Roy stress the importance of first choosing the centre stone.
“Whether old or new, it’s the centre stone that decides the design of the ring,” French says.
Crafting each piece of jewelry by hand, French and his small team of artisans gauge various elements of each stone in order to settle upon the best setting and design.
According to French, it’s this hands-on approach that makes custom rings that much better than mass-produced pieces.
“A lot of shops are going to the computer-aided design (CAD), which just takes the craft and romance out of making real jewelry,” he says. “When you see a piece of jewelry that has been handmade versus one made by a CAD, the computer CADs aren’t pre-polished before assembly so you can see it’s not as detailed and high quality.
Having a ring inspired by an iconic jewelry house’s design is another incentive for going custom. Just don’t expect to find a jeweller who will recreate an exact replica.
“I’ve had people come in and say, look at this Tiffany ring, I love this ring and I want it exactly,” he says. “I will take that ring, and I will use it as an inspiration but I will put my own little differences on it.”
Because like most custom jewellers, French isn’t in the business of recreating or copying designs.
But what French will do is turn around a ring in near record time.
When discussing the estimated turnaround time from first meeting with a client to final delivery of The Ring (usually two to six weeks depending on complexity of the design), French let slip information that might be a huge relief for proposal procrastinators — or those looking to elope.
“I can make a simple ring, if it was an emergency, in a couple of days to a week,” he says with a laugh. “But typically, if a diamond ring has small diamonds that need to be pave set, it is going to go from my designer, to the goldsmith, to our diamond setter and on to the appraiser. So I would need about a month.”
By comparison, most retail stores would take three to six months to have it made custom, according to French.
But beyond educating clients on stones and metals or pushing the elements of design, when asked about their favourite aspects of their jobs as custom jewellers, French and Roy both replied with a similar response.
They love to work with people in love.