The Pitfalls of Jewellery Photography

OR... Buying an engagement ring online after seeing the image (and then regretting it)

It has caught your eye on Pinterest, or Instagram, or a retailer site. Now you are in love with that engagement ring...

You don’t need to know more other than it is perfect for you/her – the image is like a work of art, it is all going to be great...

The problem starts when you open that box and wonder if your piece has been swapped for something else. The image can be very misleading.

There is always a lot of controversy over airbrushing of actresses and models to make them look better, and even McDonalds have been pulled up over their quarter pounders.  So why would buying an engagement ring online from an image (or maybe two) be any different?

Everyone does it, even we do it.  The difference is in relation to how much.  Permit me to demonstrate.

How we retouch our jewellery

Here is our Artemis engagement ring, in our client’s hand.

We had picked the very glamorous location of Costa Coffee in Liverpool for the ring handover, given that my client was in a hurry. I wanted to ensure that he was happy though, and so got him to check the ring. The ring image isn’t that sexy as it was snapped on my phone, but you can see that it is a nice shape and a nice diamond which looks a bit yellow in the image because of the lighting.

The professional image – studio

I did have it photographed professionally as well. Here is what it looked like when the studio sent me an image through for positioning approval. You can see the blob of glue that the ring is being held in place with. There is an obvious advantage over a mobile phone camera because this state of the art lens takes about 24 shots down the ring so that nothing is out of focus. Then does the same again with the diamond to ensure the best of the stone is captured (this is the metal shot).

There are a few reflections and shadows where I think that it has distorted appearance slightly, and a few finger marks on the side of the shank. Part of making the life of a jewellery photographer easy, is to have a really well made well finished piece of jewellery to start with. But this is the ring with NO RETOUCHING. It's the fresh faced piece of jewellery.

engagement ring london hatton garden by heirloom

Professional image post retouching

The un-retouched image is still a great shot.  It takes a lot of skill to get jewellery looking this crisp and lifelike and it starts with a good image – they just make it look easy.  Some might argue that a less retouched shot looks more natural, but shooting a shiny object tends to throw up reflections that can distort the appearance slightly.  It is important when I’m featuring a ring there is no confusion over appearance.

Retouched, this is what Artemis looks like.  It is just a bit cleaner, the fingerprints have been removed, the background taken back to white and reflections minimised.  My hallmark and logo is also in view (mainly as a kind of watermark – it is near the diamond on the real ring).

engagement ring london hatton garden by heirloom with round diamond

I am happy with the photography, because it gives the viewer a clear idea of how the stone and the setting look, which is what I want on the site.  My prospective buyers have a clear idea of how this ring setting works from top and side.  I take my own snaps too, from a more editorial perspective.

This isn’t the greatest example, because I don’t have to do a lot to my jewellery, as I’m always saying, I supply pieces that look so much better than the images which is the right way to do things!  But you can see that retouching can make such a difference, and overused can completely mask bad solder marks, scratches, holes etc.  You can even insert a whole new diamond image of a better stone!

The other part to this subterfuge is the ring angle.  So I’ll do a more practical application with a ring I remade for a client recently.

How a jewellery image can lead to a disappointing piece of jewellery

When the jewellery received is not exactly what was implied from the images it all goes a bit wrong.  And it is not uncommon.

a cheap hatton garden engagement ring of low quality

I recently remodelled an engagement ring for a client where this is the original ring image they saw online.

The ring has a very pretty and dainty appearance, helped by the base being slightly out of focus to keep the attention on the top of the ring.  The second shot below is even cleaner looking (the stone is morganite which has been brought into a more pinky lustre. Note how neither image shows the sides.

Online jewellery image showing CAD drawing of ring

There are two reasons for the appearance of the engagement ring in the image above.  Most likely is because the image is not a photograph. It is computer generated, rather than an actual shot of the ring. When it was delivered, the reality of the ring was slightly different..

pitfalls of buying online - a cheap hatton garden engagement ring of low quality
a cheap hatton garden engagement ring of low quality

Rather than looking light, airy and delicate, the ring setting was quite clunky, and if I am going to be critical, not very skilfully put together with some stone damage under the setting which could not have been the client’s fault.

It was delivered in a dark box with an LED light built into it.  A neat touch basically to shine as much light into the setting as possible in order to distract from how it actually looked on the hand.

Engagement rings are supposed to be special and made to be worn forever. Unfortunately in this instance, the intended recipient said a resounding YES to the proposal, but confessed that she didn’t feel happy about the bespoke engagement ring itself even though she'd been involved in its' selection.

That is the problem with any online purchase that has an aesthetic value.  Care needs to be exercised, especially when a piece is being made ‘bespoke’ for you.

Advice for deciding on a piece of jewellery online

  1. Be mindful that the stone size in the image, is actually the stone size quoted.  It is very easy to pick up a half carat engagement ring with a ‘descriptive image’ that looks like it is a carat.  If in doubt, email and ask what size the diamond in the picture is.
  2. Make sure you have an idea of the overall piece proportions.  Looking at a pendant, earrings or engagement ring that is 350 times its actual size may be good for detail, but it doesn’t explain how much space it is going to take up on you.
  3. Check a few elevations when choosing an engagement ring or indeed any kind of dress ring.  Otherwise, it is a bit like those dating websites where there are a few nice portrait images, but nothing to give away that the height/shape/girth is not as supplied..
  4. If the image really looks too good to be true, try to search for it, and see if you can find a few images from existing owners or wearers.  Sometimes the lines between a photograph and a picture are very blurred.  Again, don’t be afraid to ask if the image is a photo, or CAD.
  5. Check some of our hand shape guides to get more of a feel as to whether the ring is the right shape for the wearer.

While most of what I do is face to face, I have helped clients as far afield as Indonesia!  Information is key.  When I start a commission there is a lot of client involvement, and generally we try to ensure that a good image is supplied, and wherever possible, photographs to define different parts of the ring.  For bespoke I will start with sketches, move on to CAD outlines and finish with renderings.  If you are spending a few thousand pounds on something, and not getting any communication online (or indeed, in store) you are basically gambling with the end result.  Sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you aren’t.

Final thoughts

It is very easy to ‘edit’ the perfect ring image, as Instagram so ably shows us.  A lot of pieces are made to order, just make sure you have chosen the right people to deliver yours.  The fantastic thing about good jewellery is that it looks a world better than any image sent through.  Rather than trying to make a picture pretty, I prefer that I have a goldsmith make the jewellery pretty!

I should also add since I wrote this blog, that we have a very small selection of engagement rings for sale online, in response to some requests where a classic engagement ring was desired, but the budget lower than where we can provide value and assistance. Having lectured on the above, some of the products are one beautiful image.. The irony is not lost on me! Hopefully more images will be forthcoming when I have time to get some snaps of rings worn.

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