it’s not every day that anyone has a custom ring designed and created just for them. So, I like to make this process easy, fun, and informative. The information I offer helps clients make the best decision for their lifestyle, taste, and budget, as well as potential social and environmental concerns. I cover quality, longevity, and practical concerns, too. As we determine what the “ground rules” of the project are, my client’s imagination is freed up, and the project becomes more fun. I help make it easy for people to express themselves in their jewelry. I hope this post will help clarify some details and guide your thoughts when considering custom wedding or engagement rings.
1. Activity level
Will you wear your ring at all times, including cooking, hiking, working out, swimming? If so, your ring should be made of tough materials like karat gold or platinum. For active types, gems may be set in lower rather than taller settings. Most of my clients who want gemstones usually choose to have them set in a bezel setting, in which the whole gemstone is wrapped in a thin strip of metal. This protects the edges of the stone from damage. Clients will often want a larger colored stone and we discuss how tall the stone should sit so they’re comfortable wearing it every day. I also make a lot of hand-carved bands, which are heavy duty, comfortable, and look great without stones.
2. Band width and thickness
Everyone’s fingers are different, and everyone’s comfort level varies when selecting a daily wear ring. As a starting point, I recommend a ring of two millimeters thick and two to three millimeters wide for a “thin” ring. This keeps the band from bending or wearing through too easily. For wider rings, 1 1/2 millimeters thick is usually sufficient. I keep an array of band widths in my display case for people to try on. For example, visitors to my gallery can get a visual and physical clue as to how to four-millimeter wide band looks and feels on their hand versus and six-millimeter wide band. For virtual clients, I recommend making strips of paper to try on for a somewhat similar experience.
3. Type of metal
I’m old school, and recommend karat gold for everyday-wear rings, wedding bands, and engagement rings because of its density and resistance to chemicals and wear. Many people think of gold as being soft. While it is true that 24 karat pure gold is very soft, gold is alloyed (blended) with other metals like copper to give it strength. My clients generally choose 14 karat or 18 karat yellow or white gold for their custom rings, or Palladium white gold, which is yellow gold with the addition of Palladium (from the platinum family) to make it white in color. The benefit of Palladium white gold is that it contains no nickel for those who are sensitive to that metal. It is also very dense and slightly costlier than white gold. Examples of two wedding bands in Palladium white gold are below. The metal appears more gray than white gold, so it looks similar to platinum. Silver is sometimes desired for price concerns, but it is much softer than gold, can be attacked by chemicals such as the chlorine found in our water supply, and can wear away around any gemstones set in it. It is perfectly fine for occasional wear, but I would not set a diamond in sterling silver prongs because it would not be a secure way to treat the diamond, which could fall out due to the inherent weakness of the material in an everyday ring.
4. Type of gems
Diamonds, colored stones, or no gems at all? My clients tend to be alternative gemstone clients. We then discuss the many non-diamond options out there, along with their qualities. Due to their toughness, array of colors, and wide price points, I recommend sapphires, rubies, tourmalines, or lab-created emeralds, spinels, or zircons. The most popular choice are sapphires, as they come in a rainbow of colors and are almost as tough at diamonds. Montana sapphires are mined in the United States, and white sapphires are often used as a more economical white stone than diamonds. Gray and blue spinels are stunning, and blue zircons are a clear watery blue that have the same refractive index as diamonds, making them super sparkly. I also make plenty of rings with lots of character and no gems at all!
5. Natural, lab-grown, or imitation
Most of my clients are alternative gemstone clients, and want natural stones. Colored gemstones are in general much less expensive than diamonds. Even in cases where a stone is more rare than a diamond, it may be less expensive than a diamond due to the tightly controlled diamond market. So, I am often able to obtain natural colored stones at reasonable prices. Emeralds are an exception. If an emerald is desired for everyday wear, I recommend a lab-grown stone. Natural emeralds are fragile by nature, and those with a rich, green shade are enormously expensive. They also require maintenance. Natural emeralds are oiled and need to be re-oiled on a regular basis or they become dull and cloudy. I obtain high-quality lab-grown emeralds from a U.S. supplier and they are lovely. Rubies aren’t as high-maintenance as emeralds, but many suppliers offer low-priced and low-quality glass-filled rubies. I do not use these rubies in my work. Good quality rubies are rare and expensive, so I often offer a high-quality lab-grown ruby as an alternative to a higher-priced natural ruby. Red spinel is a rich colored natural stone that I’ve used in rings, and they are stunning. Imitation stones are lower-priced, natural gemstones that have been colored or treated to resemble higher-priced natural stones. Be sure to discuss the differences between lab-created gems and imitation gems when thinking about what’s best for your design. So far, I haven’t been called on to use imitation stones in custom rings.
6. Type of setting
The types of settings I do most often are bezel settings, prong settings, and flush-mount settings. The majority of my clients prefer a full bezel setting, as mentioned previously. This means there is a full strip of metal around the gemstone (see diamond ring immediately below). A bezel setting offers good security for the gemstone, but wrapping the gem in metal can also dim some of the stone’s brilliance because light can’t reflect off facets hidden by metal. An example of a partial bezel or half-bezel ring is the second ring shown below, featuring a marquis sapphire. Prong settings consist of small claws of metal that hold gemstones. Prongs allow light to reflect off the facets of a gemstone most brilliantly. However, prong settings leave the girdle (widest part) of a stone vulnerable to chipping and/or getting caught on hair or clothing. Flush mount (or gypsy setting) is a type of setting I use as an accent for smaller stones of 3 millimeters or less. Stones are set flush with the surface of the metal in this method. The metal has to be as thick as the stone is tall for this type of setting to work. I’ve used flush mounted stones to accent larger stones, or on their own, scattered across a band. Bead setting uses small strips of metal raised up with a sharp tool and pressed into “beads” to hold in the stone in place.
7. Incorporation of family gems
Jewelry or loose gemstones can sometimes be incorporated into a client’s custom project. I need to see the pieces in person to determine the viability of any gemstones and assess how they might be used in a new design. Bring in grandma’s jewelry and let’s see if anything can be used in your new jewelry. Bear in mind that there is labor involved in liberating gemstones from an existing piece of jewelry, and a cost attached to the labor. There is also the possibility that stones will become damaged during removal. I can’t guarantee that that won’t happen. If karat gold is recovered after stone removal, credit can be applied to the project I make for you.
A personal choice. I will honor my clients budget requirements. I offer a two- or three-payment plan, accept major credit cards, and offer PayPal Credit.
9. Methods of Making Jewelry
I’ve been making metal jewelry for over twenty years, and it has been my full-time job since 2008. I started out as a fabricator, meaning that I make jewelry from sheets of metal and wire which I cut, file, sand, hammer, solder, and polish myself. Hand fabricating jewelry was my first love, and is the method I employ most often when making rings. I also do cast pieces using the lost wax method, in which a wax is carved, a mold made, and molten metal poured into the mold. Casting can also be done using sand, which I use for small or not very detailed pieces. I carve waxes myself, or use 3D software to have a wax printed based upon drawings that I create with my clients input.
10. Studio Practices
I use recycled metal in my work, obtained from reputable suppliers. I scrupulously save and send all of my precious metal scrap so it can be refined and reused. I have many gemstone suppliers and can get gems mined in the USA, fair-mined or recycled diamonds, lab-grown gemstones and imitation gems. Making jewelry is taking from the earth, and I try to have as little impact upon her as possible. To that end, I use safe studio practices, taking my oversaturated chemical solutions (such as pickle solutions used to remove oxides from metal after soldering) to tox-drop sites every few years. I neutralize and dispose of other chemicals where it is safe to do so.