A customer got in touch to ask me to design an engagement ring for his girlfriend.
The couple moved to Scotland four years ago from France and they have fallen in love with the beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the people. The brief was to design a ring that reflected their passion for nature and the environment. Recently they changed their lifestyle to a plant based diet to reduce their carbon footprint and he wanted a ring with moissanites or lab grown diamonds which would reflect their values. He wanted the ring to be inspired by plants with intertwined branches around the finger, blooming into leaves and a "flower" that would be the main stone. The ring was to have a contemporary design but they also both love the art nouveau style. He sent me this sketch as a starting point.
I love the idea of an engagement ring design that symbolises a couple’s shared values. My husband and I have recently made changes to our lifestyle, eating less meat, giving up our car for environmental reasons and we have championed the use of moissanites as an alternative to diamonds so this commission was very exciting. I also absolutely love art nouveau, particularly the works of Gaudi. The first time I saw his work was Casa Batlló and my first thought was how on earth did he convince the joiners to make skirting boards to fit onto a wavy wall! Art Nouveau is a completely uncompromising style that sets the artisan an unimaginable challenge to create something that looks alive and constantly growing as if from a dream world. These magical creations unlock in me the belief that anything is possible.
The final design he chose was inspired by nature reclaiming areas of the world that man has abandoned. I wanted to create something completely unique for them, not a copy of another piece of Art Nouveau jewellery and I wanted it to encapsulate a connection with nature. During my research I came across the Greek legend of Arcadia. Arcadia was a little piece of Heaven on Earth, a landscape with steep mountains, lush and untouched wildernesses, forests of many kinds, mossy rocks, fresh springs and rivers, colourful flowers and abundant vegetation. A place unspoiled by human greed. During the Renaissance period in Europe, around the 15-16th century, various artists, such as painters, writers, and musicians, turned towards ancient history to find inspiration. They searched for something greater, purer and more beautiful than human life; something that could represent a better world, long lost but possible to find again and they too rediscovered the mythical place of Arcadia. I imagined a world where nature was allowed to have greater influence, one where we lived in harmony with it and learned from it. I started to search for images of buildings that had been abandoned and places where nature is allowed to roam freely, filling empty spaces with life and beauty.
So how to take these ideas and transfer them into an engagement ring? I started with a basic structure of a typical engagement ring and removed some sections of it around the setting. The idea was to have a framework for the leaves of a plant to grow up and around, taking over as if it was alive with life.
I created some sketches to get out of my head and onto paper what I was imagining. They didn’t have to be precise or to scale because they were just for me.
From here, 3D CAD drawings of the design were made to scale; but at this stage the concept was still kept free and unrestrained to ensure the creative process was not compromised. I presented these ideas to my customer, letting him know these were concept drawings to help us discuss the idea now he could see what was in my mind.
After over twenty years of designing jewellery, I still feel nervous presenting images to customers because I am so invested in the process and really hope that they like my unique ideas. It was therefore a real joy to read my customer’s reply:
“It is so beautiful, really stunning! It looks straight out of a fairy tale or from an ancient realm! I love it! I really love what you have done with my idea and can’t wait to see it in real life!”
From here lots of work was done to create a practical, wearable ring. The ring had to have many changes to ensure the leaves provided the strength needed for the setting without being too visible from the top. Each leaf had to be smoothed so that it was comfortable between the fingers and wouldn’t catch. I also changed the design to make the back a little narrower so it will sit better with a wedding ring in the future. The leaves were lifted higher at the top of the ring to add more detail where it wasn’t touching the fingers. Each side of the ring is different with one side having a tendril around a claw and the other having leaves that sit at different angles. I always revisit the original brief when working, so I investigated the possibility of having a stone cut with a flower pattern in it. There are some really outstanding gem cutters specialising in unique cuts but I discovered that most of the designs are on larger stones. I contacted our stone cutter in Germany and they advised to go for a simpler cut on this size of stone. They sent me this image of a tanzanite that I showed to my customer.
I know how good their cutting is and that’s why we go to the trouble of importing stones from them. The have traceability on all their gemstones and cut each stone in house. However, their photographs often don’t do the stones justice so I let my customer know that I would send him an image of his stone when it arrived with me. He had requested a tanzanite because this is one of her favourite gemstones.
When the drawings were finalised, I sent them to him for his approval. A resin was then made from the CAD drawings and I sent him a video of the resin with the stones set in place.
I also sent a video of the resin without the stones to show him what it looked like from different angles. At this stage the customer needs to take a leap of faith as the resin, even though it is identical to the final piece, looks very different because you don’t see the colour of the metal or the reflections that will be there.
We then used the resin to create a succession of different prototypes of the ring in platinum, each of which was examined and then tweaked. In total, seven different versions of this design were created before I was happy with the finished ring. The other six rings were melted back down, they were not kept. I sent the customer a video of the ring after it was cast and before it was polished.
Now followed what was the longest polishing process I have ever carried out on a single item. I lost count after forty hours of polishing this ring by hand, taking time to smooth each detail to make it comfortable without losing the form. I sent the customer a short video of the ring after this first stage of polishing.
The ring was then stone set with the tanzanite and two moissanites and hallmarked.
It then went through another polishing stage.
Instead of showing him a video of the ring I asked if he would like me to keep the final images and videos from him until he had opened the box because this way he would see the finished ring just as his girlfriend would.
I also had a little surprise when photographing the ring that inside the centre stone the facets make a perfect flower shape. I hadn’t noticed this detail until seeing it in the photograph and it has added an extra piece of magic to the final piece.
The customer asked to add an engraving inside the ring. He chose the words “Amor Crescit” which means in Latin “Love Grows”. An absolutely perfect choice.
I had a few weeks of wondering if he liked the finished ring, which I admit did prey on my mind but I assumed he wanted to wait until he proposed before telling me, so I was overjoyed to receive an email with pictures of them, the place he had proposed and the ring on her finger, telling me that everything was perfect.