Customization has been the buzzword in jewelry for the past few years and it continues to evolve particularly in engagement rings. Both small and large designers and manufacturers responded to women changing desires over the past 10-15 years in jewelry that they self-purchase as well as pieces that are gifted. The pieces which once spoke of status and keeping up with your peers transformed into styles that signify different times in a women’s life, pieces that will tell your intimate and personal story. Symbolism and meaning became as important as beauty and craftsmanship. Personalization as essential as the 4Cs in diamonds and the color of gemstones.
In engagement rings, we watched as independent designers introduced ‘alternative’ styles in the cut, color of diamond, gemstones and styling and how these styles outshined the traditional until they became the ‘new classics’. This shift also opened the door for more interest in antique and vintage rings and/or diamonds. It was only a matter of time until the next wave would take hold. Customization or bespoke isn’t a new concept—historically this is how engagement rings were created. Throughout the 19th and most of the earlier 20th century men who wanted to propose worked with jewelers to design the ring would best express their emotions and also capture the uniqueness of their relationship with their bride-to-be. It was in the latter part of the 20th century when women wanted to fit in and keep up with their peers and the status quo that manufacturers started offering options that would meet this demand. It became a ‘customer types’ approach to engagement rings. Today, instead of going after a ‘type’ of woman, the jewelry industry is focusing on the desire for individuality. This has created an entirely new market for custom and bespoke rings with many different large and small brands and companies featuring programs to ‘create your own’.
This trend which was already underway has now been influenced by imaginative ways to sell online and virtually, due to the global pandemic. It has also been heavily inspired by millennials who are seeking out rings that are completely original to their lifestyles. Greg Kwiat of Kwiat explains, “As a generation, the millennials are known to desire individual and customized jewelry. Over the last 10-15 years, we’ve seen the concept of “create your own” become a major driver of the business. This is true at the high-end, with our customization of engagement rings, but also in the mass market and smaller independent designer brands.”
Complete bespoke companies such as the UK’s Taylor & Hart to smaller brands like Jemma Wynne and antique dealers and designers Estate Diamond Jewelry to larger manufacturers such as Kwiat, continue to evolve their customization programs.
To find the company that’s the right fit, it’s important to have an idea of the type of ring you are looking for in mind. Instagram is a great place to start your research to see what designers might work best with your style and then head over to their websites. Find the sites that provide the most comprehensive customer service and talk to them to get a sense of how they will work with you. Greg Kwiat adds, “find the most creative integration of the online experience with in-person service which offers guidance and involvement from a knowledgeable professional.”
Whether it’s the stones, the inscription, or the setting, or all of the above, here is a range of small independent and larger companies, all of who have built up their bespoke and customized businesses over the past few years.
Jemma Wynne’s bespoke process starts with a conversation with the brand’s cofounders Jenny Klatt and Stephanie Wynne Lalin. In a non-COVID world that’s most often in their New York City atelier, but these days it can be a phone call, a Zoom, or sometimes as casual as a DM exchange on Instagram. The designers take some time to understand the client’s style and what they are looking for. Budget, style and stone selection then come into play. They focus on more unique settings such as their signature open rings, east-west bezel settings in yellow gold and other styles that have a modern yet enduring vibe.
Nigerian-born, London-based Thelma West jewelry is all custom designs. “These days a lot of the back and forth with the customer takes place via WhatsApp or Instagram. I get messages like ‘Can you make this in a different size?’, or ‘Does this design work with a different diamond cut?’. It can be as simple as a few messages exchanged with all the right information or more complex in finding a rare diamond.” Says West. Her Golden Sugarcane design is one of her favorites as brings back sweet memories from her childhood. The first Golden Sugarcane she designed featured a round brilliant cut but now has created variations on the theme. Her other designs range from feminine yet bold set with everything from cushion cut to pear shape diamonds.
Karen Karch has been designing custom rings for approximately 25 years. She has created almost a cult-like following with clients who are attracted to what she describes as “her glamorous yet gritty styling and her vision for timeless fine jewelry that both embraces and defies convention.” Her tiara rings for which she has become well known are rough-hewn takes on opulence. Brides often bring their own diamonds to be set into one of her layered tiara styles. Her textural interest is influenced by thorns, branches and other natural elements all figure into her design sense. “It was important to me to stretch the boundaries of bridal design which has evolved into an even stronger focus than when we began creating our rings,” She continues, “custom designs can take on different iterations. It can be a mix of your ideas/gems and previous designs we’ve made to begin the process of working together and then it can turn into something else altogether. Our favorite custom designs are the most challenging where we have to think out of the box.”
Kendra Pariseault started working with bespoke bridal in 2016 when a friend was getting engaged and commissioned her to help him design the ring. Before that Kendra had been designing for many years but more trend-inspired fine jewelry. Since she began custom designing engagement rings, her favorite part of bridal is stone hunting. She seeks to find the best and most unique stone for each client’s taste and budget. When it comes to designing, Pariseault looks for unique faceting patterns and cuts that create the beauty and magic within the stone. She is known not only for the quality of the stones sourced but also for their innate and inherent beauty. She attracts clients with her affinity towards rare colored stones like in this ring shown below.
Estate Diamond Jewelry has been in business for over 40 years with owners Michael Khordipour and Afshin Shaddaie providing their customers with rare, unique and diverse engagement rings from the Victorian, Edwardian/Belle Epoque and Art Deco eras. Their knowledge of the antique and vintage market offers them the unique position to continue to find quality and beautifully designed antique and vintage rings women want to wear today. It also has provided them with the resources to design their own styles with upcycled diamonds based on these decades of design for women who prefer to have the look of old but want something new and unique to them and their relationships. Their online presence offers a range of customer services and everyone there from the gemologists to the 2nd generation family members such as Benjamin Khordipour who grew up in the business is there to guide you through the process. Personal appointments can still be made at their Rockefeller Center showroom, however, these days much of their sales are online with Zoom and other virtual and social media support.
After 12 years at a luxury brand jewelry company (9 years as Global Marketing Manager) and three years as Senior publicist for dozens of jewelry brands, Lauren Addison realized that her passion was to work one-on-one with clients to help them design the ring of their dreams. “My clients are very much like me. They appreciate the power of jewelry, particularly engagement rings to reveal and tap into the expression of one’s inner self.” Therefore, I work closely to design the rings that will represent the individual it adorns.” Addison will create an entirely new ring, rework your heirloom diamonds or change your style of ring when it no longer meshes with your lifestyle anymore.
Katherine Kim of Kat Kim has been one of the main proponents of alternative bridal for over 10 years. She has taken her imaginative flair into the direction of more customized and bespoke engagement rings, realizing that women were coming to her for her unbridled creativity and instincts for tapping into what each bride-to-be truly desired in her ring. To work one-on-one with customers, she is communicating and showing her collection through her website and virtually during these months when studio meetings have become more rare due to the pandemic.
Grace Lee, another independent designer in the bridal realm for approximately 12 years is one independent designer who recently opened a Venice, California based by-appointment-only boutique where, with all the pandemic protocol in place, she works with customers on sketches, CADS, mood boards and with her diamond selection or the customer’s own stones. She continues to work online to create her one-of-kind, customized and bespoke rings. Her shop allows her the opportunity to provide the full-service experience through her online concierge service for clients who don’t live in the area or are more comfortable working virtually.
Kwiat What couples might not be aware of is that many of the larger brands have, for a long time, worked with clients individually to create personal and customized rings. Greg Kwiat says we have always worked with clients on individualization and the more important bespoke has become, the more we have leaned into it.” He adds, Our online presence has always been an important part of our total business. The circumstances around the pandemic dramatically accelerated us into the future. Out of necessity, customers and brands were forced to adapt to new ways to reach clients and methods of selling. It brought the future into focus which is to adapt, evolve and go forward with strategies that offer clients the best methods of creating their bespoke or customized rings.”
Taylor & Hart was at the start of the new wave towards creating a totally bespoke engagement ring business. The company sought to revitalize the idea that engagement rings and wedding bands chronicle important parts of our lives. Ashley Moy, Head of US operations explains, “We take pride in going above and beyond. Our focus is to provide transparency every step of the way and create a lasting experience that leaves our customers wanting more. Our overall goal is to influence public opinion about purchasing bridal jewelry and the industry as a whole. When our founders entered the industry, they felt they could improve the journey of engagement ring shopping, and that’s been their mission ever since. Our internal slogan is ‘Love Without Limits’ which we use as a backdrop to everything we do and ensures our team embraces the sentiment, emotion and significance of engagement ring buying.”