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How to design your own engagement ring: the jewellers we recommend

Charlie Boyd
·7 min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

For many, the thought of going into a shop to spend more money than they've ever spent on one piece of jewellery before, is daunting enough. Selecting from rows and rows of seemingly similar (yet vastly different) sparkling stones can be overwhelming.

But suggest that a prospective groom doesn't even choose from anything in front of him, but instead dreams up his own design and it can quite frankly be enough to push him over the edge. Even if the bride offers her assistance (more and more couples are now opting to choose a ring together), it can still seem an impossible task, no matter how clear an idea you might have of what you want.

So where to start? When choosing to design an entirely unique ring, it's important to find a talented expert who does the right amount of hand-holding, while still inspiring you to design an ambitiously individual piece of jewellery. We spoke to some of Bazaar's favourite bespoke jewellers to get your creative juices flowing...

1. Jessica McCormack

Jessica McCormack is the fashion industry's darling; editors have developed an addiction to her blackened finishes, punk-Georgian settings and her eye for selecting fiery, characterful stones. McCormack has engagement rings available to purchase as they are from her Mount Street boutique, will happily transform inherited heirlooms into new pieces, and also encourages her clients to select loose stones to propose with, so that brides can come in and design their own unique settings. "Lots men have an important jewel, something from their mum or grandmother, but they want to add a part of them to it too – just giving their bride the original ring feels too much like a shortcut," she explains.

McCormack presents various examples to her clients, gradually opening their minds to different levels of unusually beautiful settings not found elsewhere. "We take it step by step, it's a little journey," she says. Her clients often come in with sketches, paper tears, screen grabs or a moodboard, much like you might design a wedding dress. "Sometimes I've seen people get much more stressed about their wedding dress," she points out, "but you're wearing that for one day – you are going to wear this for the rest of your life."

Her bespoke pieces range from dainty bands of round stones that spell out secret messages, such as her own ring, which reads "my love" using the first letter of each gemstone type. Another popular purchase is the "party jacket", often bought to upgrade wedding jewels; surrounding an engagement ring with a blazing, jagged halo of diamonds.


2. Ara Vartanian

The Brazilian designer Ara Vartanian (a favourite of Kate Moss) has a fairly new Mayfair store and is gathering a cult following for his bespoke service. "I always want my wedding rings to be coded to the couple," he says. "A wedding band is probably the only piece of jewellery you will wear 24/seven after you're married, and your child might even wear it after you." Vartanian's own wedding bands are enough inspiration alone – they follow the zigzag line of his and his wife's heartbeats on an electrocardiogram monitor, and the two rings slot together when stacked as one, which he describes as a "coded connection".

"All the wedding bands I create click together in one way or another," he explains. Vartanian likes to meet with the couple and ask a whole host of questions – the date they met; where they were born; how long they have loved each other; which countries they have travelled to. "Songs are often sources of great inspiration for me, as I use the patterns created by the written melody to design something entirely unique for them," he says. Vartanian also experiments with black diamonds and topsy-turvy gems, setting them upside-down to create sharp, scintillating bands.


3. Mappin & Webb

If you feel like starting completely from scratch is a step too far, Mappin & Webb's 'By Appointment' service offers a simple, straightforward design system to create a made-to-measure engagement ring.

Customers can choose from seven signature ring settings and select their preferred type of gold and stone, before refining the size, cut and colour of diamond. You can go into a store to create your design, or play jewellery designer from the comfort of your sofa, fiddling with carat and sparkling settings with Mappin & Webb online tools.


4. Bear Brooksbank

Bear Brooksbank excels at reinventing jewellery – taking heirloom pieces and transforming them into contemporary engagement rings – saving them from a lifetime of lingering in a dusty safe. "I start by asking customers what makes the piece special, which parts, whether stones, metal or shapes, would they like to use in the new ring?" she explains. "It's up to the couple, whether they want an extreme change or just a subtle update."

Previous pieces Brooksbank has worked on include a sapphire and diamond cluster ring mounted in platinum, which had belonged to the groom's grandmother. "The bride was a yellow-gold girl, so I encouraged her to go for it, while keeping the grandmother's stones." Another commission used gems from a brooch that the groom had been given by his mother to make a ring for his wife-to-be; he was given half of the diamonds and his brother received the other half.

If, however, you're struggling to see a new lease of life in great aunty's fussy brooch, you don't have to arrive with a fully formed plan. "I always say just come with as many or as few ideas as you want," she explains. "As soon as you meet a couple you start to build a picture of who they are, and designing a piece that you think encapsulates their love is a real privilege."


5. Daniella Draper

Engraving has long been a popular choice for wedding jewellery, with dates, initials and small messages often hiding beneath the surface. Daniella Draper, a jeweller from Lincolnshire, built her brand by making contemporary stamped silver and gold jewellery for both men and women that carries personalised quotes, lyrics or codes – Ed Sheeran is just one of her celebrity fans. "The words transform a plain piece of metal into something that has a meaning and a far greater significance," says Draper.

Her most unusual bespoke offerings are her "Cinderella rings"; to create them she chooses a stone and hand carves the metal setting in one piece, which means the size of the band is fixed. "The Cinderella idea came about because if the ring fits, it's meant to be for you," she explains. Each ring is completely original, waiting for its wearer to choose it from a sea of antique diamonds, denim-blue sapphires, emeralds and aquamarines.


6. Jessie V E

"I wanted a subtle way to hide the messages in plain sight within my designs, readable to nobody but the wearer," says Jessie Evans of her eponymous jewellery brand. "Disguised as three stacked-diamond pavé bands, my rings hide dates, words, messages or initials using the Braille alphabet," she explains. "By flipping certain stones and setting them upside-down with their points in the air, they hide a secret that can be felt but not seen, which is symbolic of the sentiment that tends to go into these hidden messages," she says.

Sometimes, wearing overtly personalised jewellery can feel too intimate to have on show, and this invisible code removes any coy embarrassment. Jessie's own bridal jewellery includes a ring that reads her wedding date in braille, and she has even had commissions for "marry me" Braille rings – perfect for proposals.


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