An engagement ring and wedding band symbolize love, commitment and promise. For some engaged couples, the rings also reflect their personality and individuality when they work with a jewelry artist on custom-designed rings.
While the sparkling diamonds arranged in a display case are a jewelry store's stock-in-trade, certain shops offer a custom-design service and on-premises workshop where the jewelry is made. Many stores can set a diamond in a ready-made setting, but the jewelry designers who take custom design seriously begin from scratch.
Couples follow the custom route because they want a unique design. "For a design store like ours, people expect to see things they won't see at the mall," says Peter Indorf, a designer, gemologist and owner of Peter Indorf Jewelers in Madison and New Haven.
Other couples decide to update a family heirloom or build a new ring around a diamond or other gems that have been in their family. "A lot have jewelry left to them," says Kevin Gorkofsky, co-owner with Edward Karban of Kevin Edward Jewelers in Avon. "We can re-design and keep the sentimentality of a special stone from a mother or grandmother. That work is rewarding."
What can a couple expect when they decide to work with a designer? For obvious reasons, the process takes longer than visiting a jewelry store and buying a ring from the display case. Depending on the complexity of the design, creating a ring can take an average of three to six weeks, from the initial consultation and sketches to completion. The first step is a meeting with the designer to talk about ideas, materials and the size and number of precious gems.
The designer usually produces a sketch, either hand-drawn or a computer-aided design (CAD) that resembles a full-color photograph. With the convenience of e-mail and texting, couples can work long-distance with a ring maker.
Custom-made rings are not necessarily more expensive than buying a ready-made ring, these jewelers say. "Sometimes, custom work scares people because they think it is unaffordable," says Armen Manukyan, owner of Armeny Custom Jewelry Design in West Hartford Center. "Sometimes it can cost less, and we try to keep costs down. A more complicated piece might cost more, [but] we can do custom work for any budget," says Manukyan, who does all of his custom work from scratch in his shop and tries to give couples different options when he presents his designs. "I say, 'If we go this way, it will cost this. If we enhance it, it will cost this much more,' " he says. "But first, we have to capture what they are looking for."
The average bride might view upwards of 200 ready-made rings, Indorf says, but, despite that research, couples often don't arrive for their initial consultation with pre-set ideas. "I find they don't always know what they want," he says. "Or, some of those couples have too much information and are confused."
Indorf attempts to learn more about the couples, and their tastes, by engaging them in a lively conversation about all sorts of subjects. "We talk about a million things, and it helps me with ideas for sketches I do while the couple is here. I consider these concept sketches." The final sketches that he presents to the clients take the form of either an artist-style illustration or the photograph-like CAD.
Designing a ring is a collaborative effort, says Manukyan, who both designs and makes the rings in his shop. "It is teamwork. We have to work together. I send them images of the design," says Manukyan. "They either like it or make some changes to make it more personalized."
"It's easy to design a ring if people know what they want," Gorkofsky says, adding that he and his staff "are good listeners to what people want. It's all about listening. I also look at what the person is wearing. Is she modern or very classic?"
Just as brides collect images of wedding dresses from Internet searches and bridal magazines, they gather ideas for rings in the same way. Trends influence the shape of the diamond and the choice of setting materials such as gold or platinum.
"Platinum or white gold is still the color of engagement rings," Manukyan says. "I like a combination of colors such as 18 carat gold with platinum and colored gems." Indorf agrees that white metals are trendy now, but he often suggests materials such as yellow, white or pink gold based on a woman's skin tones. In his design work, Gorkofsky sees yellow gold "making a huge comeback."
Color also extends to stones. While the white diamond is still the stone of choice, "colored diamonds are big," says Indorf, who also specializes in sapphires of all colors. The round diamond remains most popular and offers the most brilliance and value, Gorkofsky says, followed by the princess cut and the cushion cut, a square with rounded corners. "Another trend in bridal jewelry is the halo ring — a diamond surrounded by smaller diamonds," he says.
Trends aside, each couple is different but anxious for guidance and the expertise of an artist. "What's interesting is the ring-buying ritual and how different couples work it," Indorf says. Women often come in with their girlfriends to look at rings. "We encourage them to start a 'wish list' of the rings they like," he says. "Later, if their boyfriend returns, we can point out which rings she liked."
The prospective bridegroom who comes in alone to shop for rings often resembles "a deer caught in the headlights," he says. "Men like to think they are smart but as far as jewelry is concerned, it is off their radar screen."
Indorf says he tries to discourage men from buying an engagement ring as a surprise. "If they want to buy the diamond from me, I encourage them to put it in the simplest setting, just to get engaged. Then, [the couple] can come back and make the ring of their dreams."