How exactly does a jeweller turn your Pinterest ring fantasies into reality? We sent two lucky members of the TTKS team on a quest to find out
Online editor Sarah went to James Brown & Partners
‘Erm…,’ I squirmed when I bumped into my boyfriend’s brother and he asked me where I was going. Admitting that you’re off to design an engagement ring when you and his sibling haven’t even been together a year is, to put it mildly, a pure riddy.
Ten minutes later, though, I was sitting with designer Julia Black, who was reassuring me that she often gives single women bespoke engagement ring consultations, and that many couples find it helpful to have a meeting with her before they make any official announcement.
James Brown & Partners deals strictly with the custom-made end of the market, and right next to where I have my chat with Julia is the workshop itself. And that’s the key part of the service – you’ll be speaking to someone who makes rings, not a salesperson. You won’t be plied with prosecco and overwhelmed by heaving cabinets of jewels; instead, you will be in the hands of an expert, like Julia, whose first priority is to make sure you get a ring you’ll be utterly obsessed with.
That’s not to suggest that your every whim will be indulged, as I discovered. Before the meeting, I’d delved deep into my ‘work’ Pinterest board (FYI: not work) and pulled together a page of quirky opal and rose-gold rings. It turns out there’s a reason why opals are rarely part of an engagement ring, and Julia let me down gently: it’s a soft stone, she says, so it’s prone to chipping and scuffing. The firm would still take on my commission if I was absolutely determined, but Julia was refreshingly upfront about the drawbacks of my choice. She quickly worked out what it was I liked about opals, and showed me a host of unusual stones that would give me the unconventional look I was after, but which would last longer than one of Britney Spears’s marriages.
In the end, since I’m not actually getting hitched, I decided to press ahead with my opal ring. Julia explained the next step would be another visit to select stones and really nail down the budget. After that, she’d be back in touch with some CAD drawings. The design is still very fluid at this point, so she encourages clients to pipe up with any concerns. She showed me a CAD vs. a finished ring to demonstrate the difference (the end result is much daintier, especially around claws and settings). Casting comes next and then the finished product is revealed.
A client can pop in at any stage, or can call or email the workshop, but getting too caught up in every step of the process without realising that a computer rendering or a pre-casting won’t look like the real thing, might take away the magic a little. In the end, you just have to trust the experts, and I certainly felt in safe hands. The only down side came later, when it occurred to me that the only rings on my horizon were made from onions, not rose gold…
Features writer Rosie went to Laings
Heading through to the capital for my consultation, I feel a bit greedy. Why? Well, as a married woman, I have my own sparkler to gaze idly down at, all misty-eyed. How can I justify fantasising about another?
As it turns out, it’s impossible to experience any kind of negative emotion in the Laings showroom: as soon as I step inside, my guilty feelings evaporate faster than you can say ‘I’ll take the lot!’. It is all in the name of research, I concede, and give in to the bling.
Founded in 1840, the business is now in the hands of the sixth generation of the family, and I can sense the pride they feel for their work as I take a seat in a cosy corner next to the fireplace, where head of design Sarah Alexander and I chat rings over tea and biscuits. “We offer a very personal service,” she tells me. “You can come in as a couple or on your own to build an idea for an engagement ring or wedding band, or both. We can work with something from our own collections, tweaking it to suit, or start from scratch.”
I’m drawn to the brand’s core line, which has been inspired by influential Laing women, and to the Anna ring in particular. It has a graceful diamond halo, a crystal-clear central diamond, and a rose-gold band. There’s just one thing: a coloured stone is more my style. We land on hard-wearing ruby, which complements the warm, pink-toned metal. And the personalisation doesn’t stop there. Sarah suggests adding diamonds and more rubies to the shoulders and adjusting the cut to appeal to my love of Art Deco.
Were I to return for a second meeting, as brides and grooms-to-be would certainly do, Sarah would present me with a drawing, mapping out six or seven variations. Once I’d settled on a design, the weight and price would be estimated, stones would be sourced and the ring would be made in the workshop across the road in around four to five weeks.
“It is a leap of faith,” says Sarah of the bespoke process. “Ultimately, it’s a lifelong connection we’re establishing. Couples will return to have their wedding bands or eternity ring made, as well as special pieces – to mark the birth of their first child, for instance. Trust and communication is key.” I can’t think of anyone more capable of translating hopes and dreams into forever-proof diamonds and jewels. Roll on eternity (ring).