Written by Benjamin Khordipour
The days of having to buy the limited selection that jewelry stores try to sell you are long gone. Aside from the increasingly large range of antique and vintage rings now available, modern manufacturing methods mean nothing is out of reach. Whether your taste in engagement rings is classic or ultra-contemporary, finding a custom ring has never been easier.
But what if you can’t find that ring that has just that bit extra? What if every ring you look at falls a touch short of what you *really* want? As well as a large number of readily available engagement rings, designing your own is also becoming much easier.
You could, if you so wish, find a website that lets you have a say in the design from the stone to the setting to the band style, but you’re still getting whatever combination it is that they want to steer you towards. Instead, why not actually talk directly to the very people who will see your chosen design through from conception to final fitting?
So, where to start? Our guide will help to steer you through the various stages of having your custom-made engagement ring brought to life by expert craftsmen. Whether you’re an experienced jewelry buyer or are new to the practice, having a ring made especially for your finger is a unique and massively rewarding experience. Each stage of the process isn’t necessarily difficult to get through, but it is important. Here’s where we show you how to get it right.
Set Your Budget
If the best way to get to Carnegie Hall is practice, practice, practice, then the best way to buy an engagement ring is budget, budget, budget. It’s really easy to get caught up in the thrill of shopping for an engagement ring, but always stick to the budget you set in the beginning.
An engagement ring should be a cause for celebration, and not bring worry about paying for it. There are a lot of options for even smaller budgets, so don’t be afraid to stay within your means. It can help, psychologically, to set your budget 10% lower than you can actually afford. Then, when you choose something that pushes you over your set figure, the flexibility is there to fulfill your needs.
Don’t assume that a bespoke engagement ring is automatically going to be much more expensive than “off the rack” rings. It can be, for sure, but because you choose every single part of the ring, a balance is always possible in order to keep the overall cost within reach.
Pro Tip: Budgets can be helped considerably by basing the design around an existing heirloom ring. You may have a ring that has been past down two or more generations, which might not be suitable for everyday wear. Speak to your designer about what you can do to improve the ring. From adding stones to adjusting the setting. New from old is a great way to get your engagement ring without losing all the history of the heirloom.
Deciding The Different Elements
Any ring, whether an engagement ring or not, has 3 basic elements; the stone, the setting, and the band. There is more to it, actually, but it’s always a good idea to start at the beginning.
When we say “engagement ring”, we’re talking about a genre of ring type, not an actual design. An engagement ring can be everything from a single stone solitaire to intricate cluster rings. Also, despite the massive advertising budgets telling us otherwise, your choice is much wider than just diamonds. Engagement rings do, and have always, contained stones of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Sapphires are particularly popular, so try not to be blinded by the allure of a diamond as the default engagement ring stone.
Also, consider whether you might like a contrast. We’ve mentioned sapphires, and the deep rich blue color works beautifully with a diamond halo. Likewise, we are starting to see more rubies in engagement rings than we used to. Progress might not always be perfect, but the 21st century has thrown convention out of the window, and buyers are demanding a lot more creativity in the products they buy. Engagement rings are no different, so don’t be afraid to be bold if it suits your personality.
Take a look over in the left field, and you will find diamonds of all colors, too. The often surprising things about colored diamonds are how the process varies wildly. Blue and red diamonds are incredibly rare and incredibly expensive. But other colors are almost as rare but carry a much lower price tag. Black diamonds have seen a huge surge in popularity, for example, and are still very affordable.
You have probably heard of rings using either a prong or bezel setting. It’s true that the majority of engagement rings do use one of these, but there are several alternatives. Technically, the setting isn’t just the way the stones are held, but also how other stones are used to create the desired effect.
But if we do look at the actual position of the stones and the method of holding them in place, along with prong and bezel settings we have tension, channel, and more. Some settings suit a particular style of band or stone size, and some suit almost anything. Your designer will help in this regard, but it will pay to at least know what your options are. A full breakdown of the many settings available is here.
The type and style of the band, also called the shank, can be less or more crucial depending on the stones and setting you choose. The vast majority of engagement rings use a single band of appropriate thickness. If that’s your choice, then it’s absolutely fine. But you do have other choices. Instead of a single band of metal, you can choose a wire band, which usually will have two or even three strands to give extra strength.
Also, the shoulders of the ring may warrant smaller stones mounting in them. This will also have an effect on the type of band you choose.
A Word About Metals
Most engagement rings use platinum or white gold setting, but there is no definitive rule on that point. However, your choice of center stone may have a bearing. If there is a reasonably modest limit to your budget, then the best, whitest, diamonds may be out of reach. But that’s okay. Diamonds with a faint hint of yellow color work wonderfully in yellow gold settings. The color of the gold brings out an amazing warmth in the diamond itself. Colored stones like sapphires, rubies, and emeralds also work as well in yellow gold as in platinum.
Your metal choice is very flexible but should take into account the stone(s) you choose and the setting of the finished ring.
Pro Tip: As the saying goes, originality is better, but plagiarism is faster. We’re not suggesting you copy another design wholesale, but do have a look at what is already available. Have pictures to show your designer, with a clear outline of what you like and what you don’t in similar rings. Not only will it make the whole process much easier, but it also lets you have a good picture in your mind of what exactly you do want.
The Practicalities of Engagement Ring Designs
The first question, really, is will the ring be worn every day? Some people like to only wear their engagement ring at certain times, whilst others like the idea of it always being on their finger. If it is to be worn every day, then the job of the wearer may be very significant. For example, do they need to wear gloves or other protective clothing?
Think about how the profile of the ring may cause problems with clothing or tasks. Snagging is a very big problem for engagement rings. Eventually, prongs may open, or other prominent elements may suffer damage. At best, it will mean a repair by a jeweler. At worst, you won’t know your diamond is gone until you look at your ring. Exercising whilst wearing an engagement ring is another consideration. Not everyone wants to take their ring off, even when working out.
It may depend on whether the wearer is willing to compromise whilst wearing the ring, as to what design you finally settle on. If the ring is to be a surprise, then make sure you do all the due diligence required to get it right. Check her existing rings for the designs she has chosen for herself, as that will be your biggest clue. Doing the work on getting the style right will pay handsomely later.
Pro Tip: Knowing her current jewelry really will be the best thing you can do before embarking on a quest to design an engagement ring. If both of you are taking part, the problem becomes less worrisome. Either way, once you have your design in mind, revisit the practicalities. It may be that you only need to make adjustments, rather than start again.
Tips and Tricks
The Finer Points
The details of a custom-made engagement ring aren’t just on the actual ring itself. Speak to your designer and get assurances regarding the purity of the metal and the grade of the gemstones. Ask for it in writing, along with the total cost of the ring. Also, ask if it is possible to have proof of the design by way of a sketch. All these things are fairly standard, actually, but it never hurts to ask.
If you choose a diamond, ask to see the grading certificate for the stone. If there isn’t one available, then think about choosing another jeweler. All diamonds should carry a certificate that shows their origin and quality. If not, then the diamond may have been obtained through non-ethical channels. The exception to this is vintage and antique diamonds, as these will pre-date the introduction of gemstone grading.
Consider The Timing
Engagement ring design and creation aren’t created overnight. It can take anything up to several weeks to produce a finished, bespoke engagement ring. Don’t, therefore, assume that you can wander into a jewelry store and walk out with a new ring a few days later. Craftsmanship takes time and is best when left to take its natural course. If you have a date in mind to propose, then build in at least three months’ time to make sure the ring will be ready for you in plenty of time. It will usually be available much sooner than this, but there’s no point worrying about if it is going to be ready in time.
Pro Tip: Engagement ring sales come in cycles, like many things. Always ask your designer what their lead time is, as it will not be the same throughout the year, so as to avoid nasty surprises later. January to March are very busy times for ring designers, for example, as spring and early summer engagements are hugely popular.
In amongst all else, please enjoy the process of designing your engagement ring. The tips above are there to guide you. They are not meant to worry you about what is actually a fairly straightforward exercise. Take care, yes, but you don’t really need to be any kind of expert in diamonds, sapphires, precious metals, ring settings, or anything else.
This guide will help you avoid any potential problems on your journey.