3 Things to Avoid when choosing a Bespoke Engagement Ring

When choosing an engagement ring think long term.

We've got a number of articles that discuss engagement rings, and all the levels that 'bespoke' means with them too. These days, almost every store in Hatton Garden, London as well as online offer a bespoke engagement ring service. Technology means that it is ever easier (and more cost effective) to produce an item of jewellery tailored to the client specifics. Good news. As usual, this isn't without a number of pitfalls, the biggest being creating a ring that will go the distance (second biggest being a ring that looks good but that's a different topic).

An old gold ring where two of the emeralds are chipped, and two pearls have dropped out. The setting is very worn, and has been repaired a couple of times. It's pretty, and unsuitable for daily wear.

The bit that we are focusing on here, is about suitability for an engagement ring, versus suitability as a dress ring. It's being worn over a 30/40/50 year period. So it has got to feel comfortable, last, and retain it's looks.

Nice people can sell inappropriate jewellery

There are lots of really good people in the jewellery industry. I have worked with loads of them, both in this business, and my previous life in platinum jewellery. Just because somebody is well-intentioned and really nice doesn't mean they know everything about jewellery. Sometimes, that sentence may end with 'anything about jewellery', depends where you go.

There are good ring designs that look amazing out there. They just aren't all made to be worn daily.

This still doesn't mean that with designs produced there is anything wrong with the design or workmanship as a ring. Let's consider the ring like a pair of shoes. Shoes in London are a fact of life - you wouldn't want to spend much time barefoot on a London pavement! But there are different shoes for different functions. Some are built for comfort, support or protection. Others are built for glitz and special occasions.

Apart from absolutely loving them, the best shoes should take a lot of punishment. They still won't last as long as an engagement ring, but those that are made to be worn daily will continue to look a lot better over a longer period of time, than those which aren't..

Walking in glam heels, even if you aren't crippled by them, you are likely to wear them out with all the pounding they are going to get (I remember snapping a heel once running to catch a train - you can do 10 mph in 3" - I just don't recommend it..) which is a decent analogy for ring consideration. There are lots of really pretty designs out there, that don't fit the "to be worn forever" category as they weren't really made that way. All that happens is that over time they just look rather battered, and nothing like when they were new..

Alright, but how do I know what the right Engagement Ring design is?

We've got a several bits of guidance on this (there is a pdf you can download either to the right on your computer screen, or end of article on your mobile), so I'm not going into the details here, but it comes down to;

  • Her personal style
  • Her lifestyle
  • How she wears jewellery
Visit the Heirloom engagement ring buying guide if you are looking to get even more clued up..

When I'm working on a client commission, unusual requests always involves consultation with one of my London goldsmiths. Having made thousands of engagement rings in their careers - I can ignore their advice, at my peril. They really get the make-up of an engagement ring, how it is most comfortably worn and where the problems can start.

We get a lot of unique requests. We're making engagement rings to last past the next generation, so if a red light goes off we have to put our foot down. Some designs are not going to keep their looks for 5 years never mind 50..  Style matters, but lifestyle will drives appearance. Some engagement rings could be will be worn 24/7 (we do recommend taking them off for heavy duty activities and sport) which means over a 30 year period that is nearly 11 thousand days in action!

In our opinion, these are the the things to avoid for everyday (aka engagement) rings;

01 - Avoid Soft or Brittle Gemstones

  • Emeralds (brittle - chips/cleaves easily)
  • Tanzanite (soft - facets wear down - you can get similar coloured sapphires)
  • Morganite (soft and brittle and never as pink as it looks in online photography) look to peach and pink sapphires or spinel)
  • Garnets (soft - the faceting will wear, sapphires rubies or spinel may be better options)
  • Tourmaline (soft and can discolour - sapphires or spinel again will wear harder)
  • Amethyst (soft - the faceting will wear - you can get purple sapphires)
  • Pearls (susceptible to chipping and chemicals)
Here you can see the wearing of the facets on this tanzanite from sustained wear. Bit heartbreaking on a beautiful stone like this. Stones can be re-polished, however this will decrease their caratage (size).

Gems work on the Moh Scale - which basically looks at the overall harness of a mineral. Anything below 8 on the Moh Scale is going to show wear and tear in a ring. We advise against soft stones in engagement ring settings for this reason - you want the stone to still look pretty in 5 years, never mind 30. It is unfortunate that the harder gemstones occurring naturally all carry a price premium, although hardness means longevity.

02 - Avoid Diffused Claw Set Stones

There is definitely a trend for rings with a lot going on. And bands that have claw set baguette stones set at angles to the shank are a popular look, unsurprisingly as they make a very pretty looking ring. But they aren't ideal for everyday punishment, the reason being that the claws are both small, and more exposed which means that they will wear over time. And in addition to this, they leave the stone open to more punishment, even diamonds chip, and moving down the Moh scale stones are in for even more punishment.

Several diamonds in this vintage ring remodelling project were chipped on the corners, meaning we had to be very careful resetting them.

03 - Avoid Super Skinny Bands

By this, I'm talking about those bands that are less than 1.8mm in diameter.. I have had clients get a bit obsessed with these, because they think that it will make the diamond look bigger. It would have to be a pretty small diamond to start with, and actually it can make the finger look a lot stockier than it is. What they often do is roll around the finger a lot, and also (more importantly) they break if they aren't deep enough because there is not enough strength. You need a minimum width and depth of metal to hold the stone effectively, as what happens otherwise is a little pressure and something snaps. Even gold or platinum. We taper settings in if clients want to create a wider diamond effect, but only to a point, and we won't provide our normal guarantee if a client wants something really skinny, because we aren't prepared to have to fix the ring in the next 2-3 years..

I realised that I don't have any really skinny bands, mainly because I tend to talk clients out of them! The right ring has a thicker base to it, which offers a little more strength (and the top is still 1.8mm) while the left ring has a curved profile making it look thinner, as well as being deeper (the band is 1.8mm wide and 2.2mm deep). The right hand ring is by our friends at Henrich & Denzel with a 0.10ct diamond.

Other things to consider

These aren't 'no no's as such - it's just worth figuring out whether you want appearance longevity with the engagement ring. If tastes dictate, by all means go for these ring designs, but they are better suited as anniversary gifts or special presents (buy one for yourself ladies!).

04 - Lots of metal detailing

As I've spoken about elsewhere, all precious metals scratch. Platinum forms a patina when it scratches, gold develops a high shine. Another trend that found popularity with ring designs, is to have lots of delicate details, little round 'granules' or intricate elements and carvings. Again, they are really pretty and look great. On the flip side of the coin, in time they will also scratch, and show up punishment, fast. For some, this will make no difference, as it reflects the relationship evolving over time. For others, it's really going to bug them that the details that were part of the ring are either now missing or unrecognisable. In addition, you need to keep these beauties clean, as they will collect soap, hand cream and all everyday dirt.

05 - Avante Guarde designs which 'stick out'

This is a practicality, if the wearer likes wearing woolly fabrics, or more open weaves, it is worth ensuring the makeup of the ring doesn't include details which are going to catch. People think about the stone settings here, I'd recommend extending that mental checklist to any part of the ring that is 'pointy'. Keen wearers will over time adapt to the design, however for some, the continual trashing of knitwear and laddering of tights may get a bit much..

06 - 100% diamond coverage

In pictures, engagement rings can look very opulent covered in diamonds all around the shank and it's very popular in the USA. There is a difference to fully diamond or gemstone covered wedding rings, because with an engagement ring, the setting is meant to be worn one way up. So it will be the same patch of diamonds receiving the same punishment under the finger on a daily basis. Which can lead to stones or claws breaking, and being lost. In addition, 100% stone coverage makes the ring more expensive to resize, as adding or removing a diamond can have a bigger impact on shank size than the adjustment required. You can't see the diamonds underneath - so just leave part of the ring clear in order to be able to resize it more easily should your hands change shape over time.

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Final Thoughts

The four/six claw engagement ring design has endured over time because it endures over time. This doesn't make it the only option for an engagement ring, and today there are a lot more designs out there to choose from, in order to reflect the multitude of styles that women have. We look at some of the amazing celebrity engagement rings out there and think "ooh, I'd like something like that" but for a lot of the celebrity engagements, they don't even make it down the aisle! So it is worth keeping perspective that you are looking for a ring that is going to be good for DECADES. You both may wish to upgrade/remodel as time moves on. But keep the long term view whatever you do, as that is a better reflection of your relationship.

Have you seen our hand shape guidance? More tips for picking the right style to look good on the hand.

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