When my boyfriend and I had "the talk" about getting engaged, we decided to tackle this overwhelmingly huge life moment together. That way, the stress and burden of picking out the perfect ring is lifted for him, and I get a design I truly love. We set out to look at engagement rings, trekking all over Manhattan and Brooklyn and scheduling appointments at jewelry stores. But to my disappointment, I didn't find anything that resonated with me. And then a colleague of mine suggested we build a custom ring. Cue the breakthrough moment.
We worked with the great people over at Beladora (if you're interested, ask for Winnie Wang and she'll take care of you), and the whole process sparked this story idea: rounding up the best, coolest places you can customize an engagement ring. We spoke with 10 of the most amazing designers in the business, whose specialties range from modern architectural designs to unique clusters, and who all also create custom one-of-a-kind engagement rings for brides-to-be. Scroll through to read up on each one and learn about their process, and if you're in the market for a ring, maybe—hopefully—you'll find something that speaks to you.
1. Anna Sheffield
Established: Anna Sheffield in 2007
Location: New York
Her aesthetic: "Classic, with a twist. Unconventional, but timeless. There are art deco elements, but they're still modern."
How to start the process: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the store 212-925-7010 to start the dialogue.
What have previous clients asked for? "I've done everything, from slightly modifying pieces we have in the collection to making fully custom rings where we come up with a concept and a design that's fully unique, whether it's with an interesting stone we've procured or an heirloom stone they own."
Do you need your own stones? "Absolutely not. We have an entire business built around procuring beautiful stones. I work with a lot of beautiful antique stones. The sky is the limit in terms of size, cut, color, and shape."
Do you need to be based in New York? "Not at all. We work with people all over the world."
What's the process like: "At the beginning of the conversation, I'll ask questions about what style you want, like: Are you looking for a solitaire? A three-stone design? Do you want a black diamond? Or no diamond at all? What's your budget? And the conversation will go from there. If I'm helping them with a stone, I'll send them pictures—or we can Skype—of three to five different stones, along with stats and information about each one. We also work with moonstones, morganites, labradorites, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. And if it's a truly custom design, there will be multiples sketches (because I'm going to be inventing and designing for them) and there will be different iterations, along with pictures. Once design and ring size are confirmed, we'll finish the ring and ship it when it's complete."
What you should bring to the process: "Knowing your budget. It's the most imperative determining factor. I love hearing stories about the soon-to-be fiancée, something historical about the family or culture, how you two met. It's important to know what her aesthetic is like, both her personality and personal style."
What you shouldn't do: "If you have a stone that's not an heirloom, but a diamond you purchased separately to cut cost. If that stone has a giant chip in it or if it's cut poorly, we'll have a dialogue about taking it back and finding something that's more brand-appropriate. Your ring shouldn't decrease in value. We work in so many different budgets and there are many options with different styles and cuts."
How much time you should allocate: "Six to eight weeks."
Fees: "No fees, but there's a deposit to hold the stone once we've made the selection. When we finish the work, the other half will be paid."
Engagement ring prices: "More are between $5,000 and $15,000, but you can get a ring for $3,000 or $35,000."
What about wedding bands? "Very seldom do I have to custom design a band. My whole line is designed in a way that there are many different bands that can sit with and fit the curve and shape of different rings."
2. Caitlin Mociun
Established: Mociun in 2011
Her aesthetic: "Unexpected, simple elegance."
How to start the process: "Request a consultation by filling out an online form, which asks for basic information that my assistant can gather. It's so we don't waste anyone's time if we can't accommodate their requests."
What have previous clients asked for? "Custom is best for someone who likes our jewelry, has a general idea of what they want, but is open to being surprised with what they're going to get."
Do you need your own stones? "Preferably not. Once in a while, someone will bring in an amazing stone that I want to work with. For the most part, I spend a lot of time and energy sourcing interesting stones, so I like to use what I find. We've used family stones in the past. We'll look at it first and charge them for using it (we call it a corking fee)."
Do you need to be based in New York? "No, you don't have to be local. I prefer to work with people in person, but that's not always the case."
What's the process like: "After the questionnaire, they would start emailing with my coordinator, who figures out the budget, what kind of stones they're looking for, and what style ring they want. We try to get as much information as we can before I meet with them, so I'll have the appropriate materials for them and know what direction they're looking for. The consultation, whether it's on phone, Skype, or in person, can last from 30 minutes to two hour. We send sketches and photographs of stones and how they work together in a cluster. For some, they see a CAD rendering, but usually the next thing they see is a finished ring."
What you should bring to the process: "Inspiration photos, whether it's a photograph of furniture or a landscape, or some of my previous pieces. One of my favorite custom pieces: A client had a photograph that his girlfriend took, and I found a stone that looked like the image."
What you shouldn't do: "Asking us to copy a ring from another designer. That's something we don't do. Or bring in a low-quality stone."
How much time you should allocate: "Four to eight weeks, but three months to be totally safe. Some clients ask for one month, and we can usually accommodate them, but we don't recommend that."
Fees: "A $100 consultation fee (and a corking fee if you're using your own stone). When a ring design is decided, we ask for a 50 percent deposit to hold the stone and to start production. Once the ring is complete, payment is to be made in full, before we ship."
Engagement ring prices: "A minimum of $5,000."
What about wedding bands? "A lot of our clients ask for custom, and we waive our minimum if we've made a custom engagement ring. We also have a wide wedding band collection."
3. Jennie Kwon
Established: Jennie Kwon Designs in 2013
Location: Los Angeles
Her aesthetic: "Clean, modern, but with a slightly vintage feel."
How to start the process: Email email@example.com
What have previous clients asked for? "Some point me to certain pieces from the line that they're drawn toward and just want a slight variation on a particular piece (example: brides have asked to switch out the center emerald of the Lexie ring for a diamond), while others have a diamond that they want want me to use and create something entirely unique, which is fun."
Do you need your own stones? "It depends on the customer. Many want their pieces repurposed, but we've also had brides who want us to source the center stone for them, and we can definitely do that and work in their budget."
Do you need to be based in Los Angeles? "No. We've done custom pieces all across America and also abroad."
What's the process like: "There's a lot of back and forth. It's easy to communicate via e-mail, photographs, Facetime, and Skype. If I'm sourcing the stone, we'll discuss the specs and budget. We'll provide three options, show them pictures, and help them decide which one to go for. For fancy engagement rings, we use CAD (computer-aided design) and have a couple of renderings sent back and forth. Then, we'll print the wax and get it made from there. For handmade pieces (assuming I've nailed the design), we'll take it to the jeweler and have him create the piece from start to finish, set the stones, and then we'll send a picture for them to sign off on it."
What you should bring to the process: "It's helpful to provide a couple of pieces that inspire you from the line, a clear idea of budget, specific stones you want to use, the lifestyle you have—all of that is important during the process."
What you shouldn't do: "Bring your own custom designs; then there's no point in involving me in the process. Or, if customers send me pictures of other designers' rings."
How much time you should allocate: "It depends on how much back and forth there is. If it's a simple variation or if a client has relegated all design to us, the whole process can take three to four weeks."
Fees: "There's a $75 consultation fee, which goes toward the cost of the ring, along with a 50 percent deposit upon the start of production."
Engagement ring prices: "It can be $500 for a less traditional ring and go up to $18,000."
What about wedding bands? "We've been getting more requests for custom wedding bands, and it's something we're growing in our line. We have open cuff rings that nest well."
4. Ariel Gordon
Established: Ariel Gordon Jewelry in 2009
Location: Los Angeles
Her aesthetic: "I like pieces that I can put on and leave them on for years at a time. On a basic level, that means I only use real metals and real stones."
How to start the process: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
What have previous clients asked for? "A lot of people who already have my everyday jewelry contact me for an engagement ring because they can relate to my aesthetic. Usually when a person wants something custom, he or she already has something in mind for design. But there are some who say, 'I like your aesthetic, this is my budget, go.'"
Do you need your own stones? "No. Often a couple will have a family stone, and I'll incorporate that into the design, but if not, I have a network of diamond dealers. If you don't have one, I would recommend purchasing the diamond and the design separately, as opposed to the finished product (diamond in the mounting in the setting). You'll get a better bang for your buck that way."
Do you need to be based in Los Angeles? "No. If they're in LA, they can stop by the showroom, but I've designed rings for people all over the country through a combination of phone calls, Skype calls, Facetime, and e-mail."
What's the process like: "I have people send me inspiration pictures (both rings and lifestyle) and I'll put together a moodboard of what the ring should look like. They give me their feedback, we exchange images back and forth, and it keeps going until we settle on a final design."
What you should bring to the process: "Be as educated about the process as possible. That means doing research on what you like and what you don't like. I can give you as much information, but you need to find your voice and your aesthetic. Go to every possible jewelry store—Tiffany's, De Beers, Cartier—and try on everything. See what a 1 carat looks like on your hand, a 2 carat, a round diamond, an oval diamond, and so on. And then balance what you like with your budget. I recommend having the bride be a part of the conversation because she's going to be the one who wears it, and she should have a say in the design process."
What you shouldn't do: "When you want an antique ring. That's when I tell people you're better served if you get an actual vintage ring—it's less expensive and easier that way. And, it's not my specialty."
How much time you should allocate: "It depends on how quickly you're able to zero in on a design. If you have a specific idea in mind, it can be as quick as a month. If you don't, it could take as long as a year. On average, it takes 2 to 3 months."
Fees: "A $750 consultation fee, which covers the back-and-forth design process. For the setting and diamond, I do a small markup (around 15 to 20 percent) of how much it costs me. Payment occurs before I ship the completed ring."
Engagement ring prices: "The diamond can start anywhere from $5,000 and up, while the setting can range from $2,000 to $15,000."
What about wedding bands? "Wedding bands are a part of the design process while we're working on the engagement ring. It's a separate budget and price, but we'll keep the band in mind when designing."
5. Andrea Lipsky-Karasz
Established: Tilda Biehn in 2014
Location: Michigan and New York
Her aesthetic: "Modern, sculptural."
How to start the process: Email email@example.com to schedule a custom jewelry consultation
What have previous clients asked for? "Sometimes it's a take on a design that I already do, modified to fit what they're looking for. Or, it's fun to start from scratch and make something totally unique. My design aesthetic is fairly strong, so people who are coming to know that it's not going to be a traditional design. They're looking for something special and unique."
Do you need your own stones? "I love using clients' stones, usually because it came from their mother, grandmother or great grandmother. For me, that's incredibly fun, especially since I'd be working with stones I wouldn't necessarily pick up on my own. It's a design challenge. These stones come come with history, and the fact that someone will entrust me with those stones means a lot. But if you don't have your own stone, I love to find the right stone for the right person. I have a lot of unique, strange stones (salt-and-pepper diamonds, diamonds with unique inclusions, unusual cuts, etc) that are very special, especially for a one-of-a-kind piece."
Do you need to be based in Michigan or Brooklyn? "I always hope I can meet people in person. I've made rings for people I haven't been able to meet physically, but I like to have them over and spend time talking, to get to know their lifestyle (example: if you're a doctor, you have to take that into account—a high setting would be problematic when it comes to taking gloves on and off), to see what jewelry they like to wear, and to spend time looking at stones."
What's the process like: "After the consultation, I'll send the multiple beginnings of designs and get a feel of what they're responding to the most. We'll go back and forth for a while on design until we have the right ring. Design conversations can be done through e-mails or phone calls, or both. I'll make mockups with 3D modeling. When we've agreed on a design, I'll take it to my production team and stone setters in New York."
What you should bring to the process: "For consultations, bring in jewelry that you like to wear most. What often happens, people come in with an idea about what they like, but it changes when they see them in person. Come in with an open mind about what you're looking for. People always ask me if it's ok to use colored stones. And the answer is: It's always ok if it feels right for you. It's about what brings you joy."
How much time you should allocate: "Two to three months for a totally custom design. Six weeks if it's a modification. I've had people come to me with two and a half weeks, and we can make it happen, but that's not the best scenario."
Fees: "No consultation fees. There's a deposit if a special stone needs to be purchased for the ring."
Engagement ring prices: "Usually between $1,000 and $3,000."
What about wedding bands? "Definitely. A lot of my designs will interlock, so people can decide to do both at once. Also if the two halves of the couple have different aesthetics, I can find a way to unify the wedding band designs."
6. Jamie Wolf
Established: Jamie Wolf in 2003
Location: New York
Her aesthetic: "Feminine, but not saccharine. Chic and modern."
How to start the process: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
What have previous clients asked for? "Designs that range from something bold to something elegant and quiet. Understanding those nuances really helps me inform the direction of the piece."
Do you need your own stones? "No, not at all. I always advise clients to start by picking a stone, whether we do that together or whether they have something for me to work with. All of the decisions we make flow from that point."
Do you need to be based in New York? "No. I do a lot of work remotely. If you're in New York, we could meet in person, but I can usually get a sense of the direction over the phone."
What's the process like: "I like to have a phone call first to understand what the client is looking for. I usually ask for reference points in the collection, so I can see where they gravitate toward, what kind of pieces they like, whether it's more of a geometric feel or floral. I quickly get a sense of their direction and learn about their personal taste. After that conversation, I then create a design for them to see, which could be a sketch or imagery. We always send imagery before somebody signs off on something. When everyone is happy, the piece is handmade in New York and then delivered."
What you should bring to the process: "Images are really powerful. Seeing imagery and examples of pieces you like and what you don't like is very important. The two work in tandem."
What you shouldn't do: "Ask for me to copy another designer's ring. I'd say no."
How much time you should allocate: "On average, 12 weeks."
Fees: "We request a design deposit upfront. Once we've decided to work together, we'll bill a design fee, and as soon as we understand exactly what we're making, we'll bill for the project itself. We also take a deposit on the piece itself once a diamond is selected."
Engagement ring prices: "$10,000 to start."
What about wedding bands? "I design custom wedding bands 99 percent of the time. For couples who are customizing an engagement ring, I don't think I've ever not done the band, actually."
7. Logan Hollowell
Established: Logan Hollowell in 2014
Her aesthetic: "It's delicate, but strong. Modern with vintage."
How to start the process: Email email@example.com to schedule an appointment.
What have previous clients asked for? "It varies. Some are very specific with what they want, like a cushion-cut diamond with a halo, and I'll make that, but it's fun when people are open to exploring other designs. That's the most exciting."
Do you need your own stones? "No. I have access to any diamond, any shape, any quality, any carat weight. If I'm working with the partner, I ask if they can find out if she has a Pinterest board as a starting point."
Do you need to be based in Venice? "No. I've made rings for people all over the world."
What's the process like: "It’s an intuitive process. You pick up on the person's style and personality traits. For example, I made a ring for someone who was very organized and I knew she was an emerald-cut diamond, and it was exactly what she wanted. I like to talk on the phone first to find out about the person's lifestyle, her likes and dislikes. Then, I put together a moodboard, a collage of photos and inspiration, with major themes, to make sure it's an entire reflection of their being and to make sure we're all on the same page. I'll draw up a few sketches and they'll pick their favorite. And once we've decided on a stone, we'll do a 3D rendering, or a CAD, and send it to them. If they like it, I'll print that into wax and either take a video or photos of it before I cast the wax into the metal they want."
What you should bring to the process: "Definitely budget and inspiration images."
How much time you should allocate: "About a month, depending on how responsive you are."
Fees: "I take a 50 percent deposit up front to cover my bases and to make sure we’re all committed to the project, and the other 50 percent upon delivery."
Engagement ring prices: "I work with everyone's budget—it could be $500 or $85,000."
What about wedding bands? "Always, unless they already have their own band."
8. Misa Hamamoto
Established: Misa Jewelry in 2008
Location: Los Angeles
Her aesthetic: "Hand-sculpted. Very unique."
What have previous clients asked for? "Some will know my line to the T, so they'll tell me exactly which style they love, but they'll ask for modifications (a bigger center stone, diamonds on the ring band, or a more organic texture). I've also had boyfriends contact me and say, 'My girlfriend loves your line, here's my budget, any ring you make she'll love.'"
Do you need your own stones? "No. Some people have all the research done, so I know exactly what stones to get them, but of course, I have no problem educating the client and find them stones that fit their budget. I source and hand-choose every stone I use, whether it's an opal or a diamond."
Do you need to be based in Los Angeles? "Not at all. More than half are outside the state, some even outside the country. We do everything over e-mail."
What's the process like: "We'll start with the center stone and we work our way around that. I'll first give them two, three options for them to select. I do sketches, but for the most part, we take pictures of the sculpted form, so they get a true visual of what the ring is going to look like. It's fun for them to see the transition of the jewelry wax sculpture into metal and then set it with diamonds. That's when they realize this is all handmade. This is a wearable piece of art. My clients have been very free-spirited, so they're willing to trust the process completely."
What you should bring to the process: "Knowing your budget, and also making sure you like the designer's aesthetic, because mine isn't very traditional."
What you shouldn't do: "Bring me a ring design from a mall jewelry store. I'm not going to replicate that for you.
How much time you should allocate: "Three to four weeks."
Fees: "There's a 50 percent deposit after a design is agreed upon, but before I start making it."
Engagement ring prices: "Anywhere from under $1,000 to over $60,000."
What about wedding bands? "Absolutely. I would say almost every client who has requested a custom engagement ring has returned for a custom band. And men's too. It's a fun family process."
9. Laurie Sarah
Established: Laurie Sarah Designs in 1972
Location: Los Angeles
Her aesthetic: "Anything goes."
What have previous clients asked for? "Every ring on our site has a 'customize this' button, and most people think they're limited to that design, but once we start talking, they realize that we can do anything."
Do you need your own stones? "No."
Do you need to be based in Los Angeles? "No. We have customers all over the world. We ship anywhere the shipping companies are comfortable insuring."
What's the process like: "We start with the center stone, since that's where the majority of the price comes from, so before we give them a quote, we go out and find the perfect stone. We give them a few options to choose from, with different price points and colors (we'll take a video of it for the customer, so they can see a 360-degree view) and once the stone is approved, we work up the price quote. After that, we begin computer sketches, which is completed within the first 24 to 48 hours. We usually go back and forth two times, sometimes three. Once it's approved, half of the payment is made, and we cast the ring. After it's completed, they pay us the other half, and we'll ship it. Some people want to make payments for a year. If that's the case, we'll stretch out the process."
What you should bring to the process: "To bring in designs that you love already. It gives us a feel for what the bride is looking for and we can figure out how to incorporate that into the design. Having an idea of budget is always helpful."
What you shouldn't do: "Not listen or have expectations that aren't realistic. We have 40 years of experience, and if they're expecting something that's not possible, we'll let that go. We do our best to help you design a ring that will last."
How much time you should allocate: "At least two weeks. In a crunch we can do it in four to five days, but we don't recommend that."
Fees: "No consultation fees. But if you want to try on a ring before it's made, we can cast it in silver and charge $50."
Engagement ring prices: "Between $2,000 and $5,000 usually."
10. Jack Danziger and Gretchen Anderson
Established: Jack + G in 2015
Their aesthetic: "Modern minimalist."
How to start the process: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
What have previous clients asked for? "People have come to us with a stone they have or a little bit of metal, and we work with them to build a story, letting them be involved in the design."
Do you need your own stones? "Absolutely not. If they have main stones, we'll help source flanking stones and complement the main piece they brought to us."
Do you need to be based in New York? "No, but if you are local, we'll invite you to our studio and show samples of pieces and metals. It makes it a lot easier."
What's the process like: "Before the first design session, we'll ask them to gather a story board of pieces they like—jewelry, design inspiration from anything, from cars to bridges—and put together a package for us to review, to get a sense of their aesthetic and the direction. We'll interpret that and propose three different design options with either hand sketches or computerized renderings. Once they've picked a final design, we'll make a quick prototype. We'll print it in plastic resin that they can try on and give us feedback. If they're completely comfortable with the design, both visually and physically, we'll go into production.
What you should bring to the process: "Budget, design intent, and favorite colorways (example: if you like yellow gold with sapphires or white gold with emeralds). Also, the metal you prefer to wear."
How much time you should allocate: "Around three months. The quickest turnaround has been six weeks, and the longest was 12 weeks."
Fees: "The initial consultation is free, but after a proposal is written up, we ask for an initial design deposit, which can range from $200 to $500. The prototype can be about $100 to $300."
Engagement ring prices: "Anywhere from $500 to $5,000."
What about wedding bands? "Everyone has come back for a custom band so that it nests perfectly against the engagement ring."