Get a Clue
Inspect the jewelry that she or he wears to get a sense of your beloved’s ring personality. Decide if you want the ring to incorporate an element of cultural significance or to have a certain sensibility (to look Asian or antique, for instance) to help narrow your quest. Also be sure to scope out rings people are wearing at work or as you go about your daily life; when you see one you like, ask who designed it or where it was purchased.
Next, prowl jewelry stores and galleries to really home in on what you like — or hate, which can be an easier place to start. Take notes and make sketches of elements that catch your eye — an “invisible” tension setting, different shades of gold, or multicolored gems — and research designers whose work you admire.
If you want to create something totally original, the toughest part is pinpointing what you want the ring to “say.” It can be tough for a non-artist to translate emotions into a nonliteral, concrete form. Work with what you know: Try writing a paragraph — or a list of adjectives — that describes how your mate makes you feel or traits she or he has that inspire you. If words elude you, look for graphic imagery that does the job: a Mondrian painting, a soft romantic coverlet, earthy waves, or stars. Reference the list or image when browsing.
Keep the Wedding Band in Mind
The whole point of this engagement ring thing? There will soon be a wedding band to keep it company! Two options: Go wild and commission a ring that stands alone (she will wear it on her right hand after the wedding band moves in), or design something that looks beautiful alone but truly becomes complete with the addition of a coordinating custom-designed or store-bought band.
Expect a Higher Price Tag
Don’t be surprised to find that a made-to-order ring may cost up to three times as much as a ring “off the rack.” The obvious reason: Custom rings are more labor- and time-intensive since they must be hand-assembled from many different pieces.
Start the process early; allow six weeks for delivery of the ring once ordered. Not only will you need time for ring research and/or to find a designer you like and trust, but finalizing the ring’s specs may require some back and forth communication, not to mention the extra time it takes to hand-assemble a ring and to inscribe the inside, if desired. Look for a jewelry store with an on-site staff to save time.