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Monday, August 2, 2010

I do a lot of custom work in my jewelry business. A customer comes to me with an idea and I make it a reality. Sometimes I create a piece from scratch, like I did with these dog cufflinks.

Click to read more about these cufflinks.

Other times, customers come to me with old jewelry that they don’t wear anymore and I turn an old piece into a ring or a necklace that is worn every day.

When the custom piece is a new engagement ring, I prefer that the woman becomes involved with the design. If she’s not personally meeting with me because the man is trying to maintain some element of surprise, I want him to come in with pictures she has torn out and/or specifics she has written down. My attitude is: let’s be adults. You two have presumably discussed your lives together. You should be able to discuss your ring options. Seriously, ladies, you wouldn’t have a man surprise you with a wedding gown that you only wear once, so why should he make a decision on an item you’re going to wear every day for the rest of your lives together? The fairy-tale moment of the surprise proposal is going to be ruined anyway if he opens the box to reveal something you hate.

I see it all the time. When a guy comes in knowing absolutely nothing about his intended’s wishes, he is guaranteed to go wrong in one of two ways. First, he might simply be completely oblivious to issues of taste. Remember when Aidan bought Carrie the ugly engagement ring during the Sex and the City series?

Aidan’s first choice. Courtesy Entertainment Weekly.

Luckily, she found it before he proposed and, with Samantha’s help, Aidan returned it and got something more suited to Carrie’s style.


The more common mistake results from the male fondness for statistics, ratings, and grades. Diamonds are graded according to the “four Cs”: color, clarity, cut and carat weight. Your average straight dude has no idea what a woman thinks is beautiful, so he reads up on the four Cs and decides to get his darling the most perfect diamond he can afford. This usually means a D color grade (that’s the top grade, assigned to colorless diamonds) , VVS1 clarity (very, very slightly included) and excellent cut. However, if you spend your money on those qualities, you have less to spend on carat weight. The fiancée winds up with a teeny weeny diamond that will only impress her friends if she takes it out of the setting, puts it on a piece of white paper and hands them a magnifying loupe. The characteristic most noticeable to the naked eye is size. You’ve got to leave some room in the budget for that by compromising on the other qualities.

Guys who don’t get good advice from someone like me (I described the amount of research I do for an engagement ring here) and instead rely on the idea of “perfect grades” to pick a stone wind up like some friends of mine. Years ago, before they knew me, Mr. X, as I shall call him, proposed to Ms. X with a flawless diamond from Tiffany. The stone was 60 points — just over half a carat. Unfortunately, Ms. X was 6 feet tall and given to wearing bold accessories. The tiny but perfect stone was almost invisible on her and she never wore it after they were married.

Ms. X’s original ring.

Ten years down the road, Ms. X met me and was cooing over one of my Gravity engagement ring designs. I told her to give me her flawless, 60-point diamond and I would create the ring of her dreams. I got the best gem-setter I knew to set tiny diamonds very tightly all around the original Tiffany stone.  I put the combination into my Gravity setting to create a chunky, bold ring that appears — on first, second and third glance — to have a 3.5 carat stone in it.

The Wendy Brandes redesign.

Ms. X wears it all the time. Mr. X is thrilled and declared the ring to be “rock and roll!”, which is his highest accolade. Since then, engagement-ring redesign has become a specialty of mine. Sometimes women never got the right ring to begin with. Sometimes they’ve outgrown a look they used to like. Sometimes they’ve gotten divorced and need to turn an old ring into a wearable pendant. The reason doesn’t matter; I’m happy to use the original stones to create a whole new look.

Gorgeous blogger Deja Pseu (aka Susan) of Une Femme d’un Certain Age is one of my redesign clients. She was ready for a more modern, edgier look, so last August, at dinner, she handed me her ring and said she wished for something in the style of my Siobhan perma-stacked stacking ring.

My Siobhan ring. Click for more information.

Susan’s ring had one center stone of just under a carat and six side stones.

There was no way her stones were going to fit in the skinny Siobhan bands, so I came up with a variation on the design with a thicker center band.

We agreed I would use a mix of yellow and white gold. Then I took the stones out of the original ring to measure them for a wax model, and discovered that two of the side stones were badly chipped. (I’ve said before that diamonds aren’t indestructible. If they were, we wouldn’t be able to cut them into pretty shapes.) Damaged stones are likely to slip out of a setting and therefore need to be replaced. But in this case, we were faced with some unexpected issues to work through. The diamonds in Susan’s rings were old. They predated the color-grading system, but if I had to guess, I’d say they were an M on the scale of D (colorless) to Z (very yellow/brown but not enough to be classified as a yellow diamond). No one buys M diamonds now. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of getting dark diamonds to match the other old ones when Susan was investing so much in her ring design. But if I got her whiter diamonds, they wouldn’t match the others and, indeed, would make the old ones look dingy in comparison. While Susan considered her options, I kept working on the wax model of her ring.

Eventually, Susan made a bold decision to replace ALL the stones, even the original center one. Off I went to shop for a new center stone for Susan. I usually work with colors D through I on the color scale, but Susan’s original stone was so dark that I thought we could be thrifty and still see a huge improvement with a K. Imagine my surprise when I put the K in the setting and discovered that, although it was much whiter than the original stone, it lacked the sparkle needed to set it off from the matte white gold band that it adorned. More consultations with Susan resulted, after which I selected an H stone (and side stones to match) that was both white AND sparkly.

At last, the ring that turned out to be trickier than expected was finished. Note the matte finish, interesting textures and different designs for each band.

Susan’s new ring by Wendy Brandes.

Just like with the original Siobhan ring, the bands making up Susan’s ring are connected in only one spot, giving them range of movement and a true “stacking ring” feel — without the risk of losing any of the little bands. Don’t forget to scroll back up to compare the color of the new stones with the ones in the original setting.

The rings in action.

I delivered the ring to Susan this April. Here’s a shot of it on her hand. Nice manicure!

Click for a close-up.

Don’t feel sad for Susan’s original center stone. I have big plans for it, involving a yellow-gold setting constructed in a way to reflect a maximum amount of yellow into the stone, making it look like a covetable “fancy-colored” yellow diamond rather than a too-dark white diamond. Meanwhile, if you have any jewelry that needs freshening up, holla at me at wbjewelry at hotmail dot com and I’ll let you know what I can do.

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65 Responses to “Adventures in Engagement Ring Redesigning”

  1. Cynthia says:

    Love the “rock and roll” ring. Too bad I’m unlikely to need an engagement ring, or I’d know exactly who to call!

  2. M says:

    Gorgeous results on both rings!


  3. tiffany says:

    amazing redesign. the details are so beautiful.

  4. OnTheRacks says:

    your redesigns are STUNNING!!! Susan’s ring… wow.

    xx Laura

  5. Lara says:

    You are so right about the concern with clarity. I would much rather have a larger stone with the tiniest inclusion I will never see!

    Totally agree that the woman should have some say in the ring. The bf and I had the marriage convo a while back and talked about rings. He had no clue but thought it should be his choice. Oh hell no! I promptly found about a dozen pictures and sent them to him in email. I think he’ll be okay now.

    I was married before and the guy picked out my ring. I hated it for the very long year it was on my hand before I angrily threw it into a pile of snow. (not a fan of yellow gold or high profile settings)

    Love what you’ve done for those ladies! I had no idea about the tiny diamonds around the center stone until I read it.

  6. Fasshonaburu says:

    holy crap that’s beautiful

  7. Kristen says:

    Here from Susan’s blog! That ring is absolutely stunning, and I love the story of how it came to be.

    Hmmm, now I am wondering what a re-imaging of my wedding band would look like…

  8. meligrosa says:

    wendy I read this whole thing and i typically skip anything with the words engagement and wedding you know, havent really thought of that.. but these rings are absolute awesomeness
    you are the $@*&ing best<3