London-based jewellery designer Hattie Rickards recently launched a Bespoke Engagement Ring service following a string of successful private commissions. Her unique designs are ethically produced and often feature colourful gemstones in bold settings. But the key to a successful bespoke service is establishing exactly what your customer wants, so what advice does she have for those who are thinking about commissioning an engagement ring, particularly if they're not 100% sure what you're looking for in the first place? The Jewellery Editor spoke to Hattie to find out.
TJE: What are the most important things to consider when you are commissioning an engagement ring?
HR: First and foremost, your girlfriend - what does she like, what does she wear, what's her style; what kind of timeframe are you looking at; and, of course, how much do you have to spend. It's very important to find a designer you can trust - someone who will adapt their design skills to meet your requirements and provide you with the best-quality materials for your budget.
TJE: What are the most common apprehensions you encounter when someone is considering commissioning a ring?
HR: I find that my clients are generally more calm and trusting than apprehensive. I suppose it's the men going through the whole process on their own who have the most fear. The hardest thing for many to grasp is what the ring will look like when complete. I guide each client through every step so thoroughly that 'the wobbles' are kept to a minimum! I work hard at translating the design journey into reality - for example, incorporating CAD renders into the process, which show the client exactly what the ring will look like.
TJE: What should you bear in mind when you are looking for a designer to create a bespoke ring for you?
HR: Firstly, research the designers who offer a bespoke service. Who is making rings that you desire? Next it's important to meet the designer in person as soon as possible. Having a bespoke item made for you is an incredibly personal experience and you will know very quickly whether there is an understanding between you. Can they work within your budget? The great thing about bespoke work is that designers can cater for a broad range of styles, so don't be put off if you think your needs might not be met. Just ask the questions and you may well be surprised.
TJE: Some people love the idea of a bespoke ring but don't know where to look for inspiration. What's your advice?
HR: It is useful to do some research first. Take a look at other people's engagement rings and see what you do and don't like. Go ring shopping and try on some different styles and shapes. Think about the gemstones - colours and shapes, how many and what size - and the type of metal they will be set in. And take your lifestyle into consideration - what kind of ring will fit in with it? Remember, you can go to the designer with no ideas at all and they should be able to tease out of you what you or your partner does or doesn't like. They can try different options and designs out on you until you start to visualize what you want.
TJE: How do you go about personalising an engagement ring?
HR: Having regular face-to-face meetings allows me to extract minute details about the wearer and translate them into a ring. I love asking the subtler questions that give me a good picture of who the ring is for - it's the tiny things that can give the most away about someone's personality. If it is being commissioned as a surprise prior to the proposal, I like to ensure that the ring really reflects how the boy sees the girl. I look at their style as this is really an extension of their personality. What kind of jewellery do they already wear? Is it delicate or chunky? Is their style discreet or bold? If they're bubbly they may prefer some coloured stones; if they have a minimal but strong style, perhaps the actual design will be more of a focal point… but it really depends on each individual.
TJE: How can you ensure you get the right fit if you're planning a surprise engagement?
HR: This is always the biggest challenge of them all! Of course the best way is to 'borrow' an existing ring that has been worn on the engagement finger - in the past I have had men secretly drawing round the inside of their girlfriend's rings in the middle of the night. The best yet is a client who emailed me a photo of his girlfriend eating breakfast, taken unawares with a spoon of cereal in her mouth, so that I could get an idea of her finger size. However, don't worry too much - we don't always get it exactly right, and the ring can be resized slightly after.
TJE: Are diamonds always the best choice for a ring that you will be wearing every day?
HR: Few things in life can beat the beauty of a diamond, but they are not necessarily the best choice - it really depends on the individual. Some women's style, skin tone and lifestyle lend themselves more to coloured stones. There are so many wonderful options available, which can create a deeper and more personal story than diamonds. As long as you use them in a timeless manner then I think coloured stones are just as relevant as diamonds. Fire opals, rough diamonds, rubies, emeralds, blue sapphires and brown diamonds can all be enjoyed for a lifetime.
TJE: How does the bespoke process work?
HR: Firstly, the client contacts me and I email five or six key questions to try and extract their vision. From the information provided, I then sketch a handful of potential designs. The client and I will then meet in my studio to go through each one face to face. Once a final design has been agreed on and quoted for, I ask for a 50% deposit up front, after which the piece is put into production, which takes anything from four to six weeks. When the ring is ready, it is presented to the client, together with a sketchbook of photographs and hand drawings of the final design.
Read more on how to commission a bespoke engagement ring
TJE: You work solely with Fairmined gold. Why?
HR: My main goal is to design striking and refined jewellery. The fact that we can achieve this high level of design as well producing the piece responsibly is a real bonus. Today, clients require more than just a ring. They want ethical certification and to know where the different elements in their piece of jewellery come from, as well as a 100% traceable supply chain. Fairmined gold is extracted under stringent social and environmental criteria, without the use any chemicals. Independently audited, the miners receive a premium on the price, which enables them to invest in community projects, educate their children and improve their working conditions.
To find out more about Hattie' Rickards' Bespoke Engagement Ring service, please go to www.hattierickards.com.