Designing a bespoke engagement ring for the love of your life is a daunting prospect. Luckily, there’s expert help at hand, says Emma Hughes.
Poor Prince Harry. As if facing the world’s press with your new fiancée wasn’t nerve-racking enough, he had to deal with the fact that it wasn’t just his and Meghan Markle’s outfits and body language that were being closely scrutinised – also in the spotlight was the ring with which he had proposed, which he had designed himself.
His Royal Highness followed in the footsteps of his grandfather (who gave the then Princess Elizabeth a ring set with diamonds from a family tiara) and went bespoke to create something truly meaningful. One of the three diamonds set in the ring is from Botswana, where the couple had holidayed early in their relationship; the others come from the collection of his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. The band itself is fashioned from yellow gold – Miss Markle’s favourite. ‘It’s incredibly special,’ she beamed during their first joint television interview. ‘It’s perfect.’
Cleave and Company, the Royal Warrant-holding jeweller that created the ring, has downplayed its role in the process, saying only that the firm was ‘greatly honoured to have been of service’. However, if you’re going down the bespoke route, there’s no getting around the fact that the right support and creative input can make all the difference. The stakes are uniquely high.
‘It shouldn’t be a daunting process – it can be really fun,’ enthuses Beanie Major, founder and creative director of luxury-jewellery consultancy In Detail. Miss Major provides a ‘matchmaking’ service for would-be grooms and couples, pairing them with the perfect designer. ‘Most of my clients are couples creating the ring together, which is quite a development,’ she explains. ‘Women are buying jewellery for themselves much more now and they want to wear pieces that represent them – something they really love and want to wear every day. It’s less about the status of a piece now and more about the design.’
During an initial meeting (often in her Hatton Garden office), Miss Major will have an in-depth discussion with her clients to work out which designer will be the best fit for them. ‘It’s about understanding who they are, their personality and their lifestyle. Someone with a really hands-on job, for example, needs a ring that works with that.’ She’ll then make the introduction.
Within about a fortnight, her clients will receive an initial design, which she’ll fine-tune with them for as long as it takes – ‘we want to make sure we get it 100% right.’ Once the design has been finalised, it takes between four and eight weeks for the ring to be completed. ‘In total, I’d say you need to leave yourselves a good two to three months for the whole process,’ affirms Miss Major.
‘It’s amazing how many people leave it to the last minute – I’ve had men telling me that they’re going on holiday in a fortnight’s time and need to take a ring with them! Of course, designers will always try to speed things up if necessary.’
There’s a misconception that bespoke is always a budget-buster. In fact, the opposite is true – designers will happily work to the sum you have in mind and can find ingenious ways of creating a statement piece that doesn’t require you to remortgage. Alternatively, they can take a family ring, necklace or brooch and use it as the starting point for a brand-new piece.
‘It’s a real pleasure and a serious honour to be asked to create an engagement ring,’ declares Tessa Packard, founder and creative director of contemporary fine-jewellery label Tessa Packard London. ‘Hopefully, you end up with an ultimate, genuine reflection of a relationship.’
She designs pieces from scratch, but has also seen an increase in people bringing an heirloom to her to be remodelled. ‘It’s really sensible. So many families have a lot of jewellery that just isn’t worn. People used to feel really bad about remaking it, as if they were dishonouring the original owner’s memory. I think they’ve realised now that it’s actually a greater tragedy to not appreciate a piece and have it just staying in the safe.’
A thoughtfully refashioned ring can embody a couple’s past, present and future like nothing else, but the process does present its own challenges. ‘It’s incredibly costly and wasteful to cut down a stone,
so that’s a fixed element,’ explains Miss Packard. ‘From a design perspective, that can actually be really helpful – it’s like an interior designer walking into a room that already has green walls and a red sofa they can’t change. I really like the challenge.’
Otherwise, she works in much the same way that she would if she was designing a ‘blank slate’ piece from all-new elements, factoring in everything from personal taste to the size of the bride-to-be’s hands (‘it’s like taking a waist measurement into account when you’re cutting the pattern for a dress’).
Whichever bespoke route you go down, the relationship between designer and client is a special one that’s greater than the sum of its parts – together, you’re creating something unique and precious.
‘There needs to be a really good synergy,’ points out Miss Major. ‘The parties really have to get on and understand each other.’ A bit like a marriage, really.
Rock on: picking the perfect stone
The classic, never-fail choice, as sported by everyone from Pippa Middleton (now Matthews) to Amal Alamuddin (now Clooney). De Beers and Boodles are specialists and Heming offers grooms-to-be the option of buying a diamond in a box that they can propose with, before bringing it back in for setting.
Given a huge PR boost when The Duchess of Cambridge (then the newly engaged Kate Middleton) was given the 18-carat Garrard oval sapphire surrounded by solitaire diamonds that had once belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales. ‘It’s very special to me and Kate is very special to me now as well. It’s only right the two are put together,’ Prince William said.
An unashamedly romantic option. Gemfields supplies responsibly sourced stones – the company is also an expert in sustainable emeralds and amethysts.
Increasingly popular and a guaranteed eye-catcher. Actress Halle Berry’s bespoke engagement ring from her former husband, Olivier Martinez, features a four-carat, square-cut stone.
The best independent designers
Cassandra Goad (020–7730 2202; www.cassandragoad.com)
Julia Lloyd George (020–7373 5093; http://julialloydgeorge.com)
Hattie Rickards Jewellery London (07909 455129; www.hattierickards.com)
Georgina Boyce (07788 141071; www.georginaboyce.com)
Emma Clarkson Webb (07775 854353; www.emmacwebb.com)
George Pragnell (01789 267072; www.pragnell.co.uk)
Tessa Packard (020–7589 5979; www.tessapackard.com)
Our list of the top places to propose is a must-read if you're thinking about popping the question, as is
Read Country Life’s essential guide to choosing the right engagement ring before you venture forth and spend...
You'll be heading down the aisle before you know it.