Buro Bridal Week: What you need to know before getting an engagement ring

Buro Bridal Week: What you need to know before getting an engagement ring

Interview with jewellery designer, Sarah Green

Text: Dora Aljoofri-Shrestha

Looking to custom make an engagement ring? Australian fine jewellery designer, Sarah Green tells you all

Can you give us an introduction to your fine jewellery label and how it all began.
I come from a crafty family and I decided I wanted to be a jeweller from a young age. For me, being a jeweller allows me to combine my artistic, creative passions with problem-solving skills. Nothing else makes me sit up and pay attention like a magnificent stone or piece of jewellery. I've spent over 10 years training and working in every aspect of the jewellery industry, giving me the skills and knowledge to offer my clients a unique and personal experience of having a 'family jeweller'. I've been creating custom pieces for a small base of loyal clients for several years and wanted to expand with new clients so I started Sarah Green Fine Jewellery (SGFJ).

SGFJ is about individually, meticulously hand crafted fine jewellery made using precious metals and natural gems. My label consists of two parts: A custom make service creating special and original pieces and regularly released collections of hand-made jewellery designed for occasions and everyday wear.

Sarah Green Fine Jewellery
Other than designing fine jewellery pieces, you also custom make engagement rings. Was this something you always wanted to do?
I have always wanted to create engagement rings. Throughout my training to become a jeweller, it was a goal which I pursued and this led me to seek an apprenticeship with Scott Anthony who is a master jeweller specialising in engagement and wedding rings in Adelaide.

Engagement rings are so important and the ultimate challenge as a jeweller.  This ring is a symbol of a couple's incredible bond through commitment. You're designing something beautiful that the owner will fall in love with, but it also has to be practical and stand up to the wear and tear of everyday use over a lifetime. This is a ring that will mean everything to the owner when they receive it and is often the most expensive piece of jewellery they will own. There are high expectations here. I wanted to be able to really help clients express themselves through this important piece of jewellery and enjoy its creation.

You need to look at the diamond in person to know if you like it or not. A diamond grading report can't tell you every detail and characteristic of a diamond.

When a customer comes in for a consultation, how do you start the process? Do you have a set of interview questions prepared to get to know the groom and bride-to-be? 
Some clients may have already been to other jewellery shops, done a lot of research online, and have been planning this for months — or, they may have an image of the exact ring they are after. And then there are those who may have not thought about any of it yet and be at the very start of their journey. I jump on board with where they're at and take it from there.

I begin the process with a relaxed meeting so that we can get to know each other. Ideally, I would like to understand the essence of who they are, what is important to them as individuals and of course, their ideas and plans for their ring. We'll also talk about the timing, practicalities of the ring and information about diamonds and metals.

How long does the process from the first consultation to seeing the ring come to life usually take? 
The process from start to finish can take anywhere from days to months depending on what is needed. If the client knows what they want, have their ring size ready and their diamond or stones are available at the exact time, it can progress quickly. The more elaborate pieces with rare stones or when the client has specific needs can take longer to source. The shortest timeline has been an eternity ring I made recently which took six days over a weekend to complete. The longest so far is over six months as the client gave me a huge amount of lead time to prepare. My ideal amount of time needed for a custom-made ring would be three months and six weeks for wedding bands.


Out of the 4 Cs in diamond grading, what is the most important 'C' to you?
This is a little bit of a trick question! The most important thing about choosing a diamond in my opinion is the balance of all 4 Cs. I've found there is no point having a diamond that is the very best colour (D) but is cut badly and full of inclusions (imperfections within the diamond) that you can see immediately with the naked eye. Therefore no C is more important than any other to me.

The grading system should be used as a guide for untrained eyes to know what they are looking at. I believe the grading system was invented to help buyers and it isn't necessarily absolute as grading is done by people with varying results across different diamond grading laboratories. There is more to diamond grading than the 4 Cs and little things that will make a diamond incredible versus average can be very important. For example, whether the girdle (middle edge) of the diamond is polished, faceted or neither.

That being said I do think the cut is more important than it gets credit for as it can make the biggest difference between two similarly graded diamonds. You need to look at the diamond in person to know if you like it or not. A diamond grading report can't tell you every detail and characteristic of a diamond.

I spend a lot of time looking at the measurements of diamonds too. A report or certificate may say that the diamond is cushion cut but until you look at the measurements, you don't know whether it is square or rectangle. Two diamonds that have the same carat weight can have completely different measurements and dispersions of weight.

How would you rank the importance of the 4 Cs? What comes first and what comes last.
I don't like to rank the 4 Cs because there is so much more to take into account and I firmly believe balance is the most important thing when considering a diamond.  Having a diamond that is solidly rated in all areas is better than having a diamond that rates highly in one area and terribly in other areas. However, I think the Colour is the most obvious or noticeable when first looking at a diamond, then the Clarity of the diamond, but overall the Cut (both the shape and quality of faceting) will create the impact and character that makes one diamond outshine another in the eye of the beholder. The Carat size is important too but this is only a measurement of weight and depends on the circumstances whether it should be the most important factor to a buyer. 

Does carat size really matter in your opinion?
Something I find important to explain to grooms early on is that carat is a unit of weight, not millimetre of size. Different diamond cuts have their weight dispersed differently and it is not always standardised. The weight of most round brilliant cut diamonds do relate to its size fairly consistently, but for example, a cushion cut is often smaller in diameter than the same round brilliant cut as it has a lot of its weight in its underside.

Diamond prices jump up when the carat weight increases. This is where the expertise of a jeweller is needed, as we can source you a stone that is beautiful but is cut in such a way that the weight is dispersed so that it will appear larger. The size of your main diamond is important as it affects the proportions of the ring. Some designs really need a bigger stone to allow enough room for detailed settings or to look balanced on the wearer's hand. I always aim to create a ring for the client that they are proud to wear so having a well-sized stone is important in that regard as well. However I don't think that the size of the diamond shows the amount you love someone.


From the classic round to the modern cushion cut, what are the most popular shapes for engagement rings?
The most popular is easily the round brilliant cut. Round brilliant cut diamonds are the most accessible and the largest number or diamonds are cut this way. Other than round brilliant cut, princess cut diamonds (square) were very popular for a time, but now popularity is moving more towards emerald cut stones.

Diamonds are the most loved stone for engagement rings, but in your line of work, have you noticed brides choosing alternative stones to diamonds?
Diamonds are the most loved as they are the strongest and best choice for day-to-day wear. There are some stones that just simply can't stand the test of time unless only worn on special occasions. I also think diamonds are the most popular because they have the best sparkle and are colour neutral.

Sapphires are the next strongest alternative to diamonds and come in a wide range of colours. Coloured stones have become more popular in custom-made designs. There is also a rise in interest for diamond simulates and Moissanite, a stone similar in appearance to diamonds, but they're more affordable. I've also noticed a recent liking for pale pink Morganite in rose gold settings.

Every jewellery designer offers a unique aesthetic. What design elements are unique to you? Are your designs more vintage or contemporary?
I am a bit of a chameleon so my designs do range widely depending on what the client wants. However, my rings will always have a sense of balance and proportion with an elegant, feminine refinement. I aim to make my rings strong and long lasting with beautiful lines, which flow into each other when viewed from any angle. My designs lean more towards the vintage sensibility but with a clean contemporary take. I have a great love for Art Deco and Nouveau style and often bring elements of this into my designs while maintaining a clean and classic finish. Something I also do which is somewhat unique, is to take the wearer's hands and body as a basis for the proportions of the piece I'm designing for them — it makes sure their piece is flattering on them and looks like it belongs.

What do you notice women usually look for when choosing an engagement ring?
I have noticed most women will naturally gravitate towards the biggest diamond in the room! Women are usually much more interested in the design than the technicalities or grading of the diamonds. Women will look for something that expresses their style and which they think they will like for a long time. They are also usually looking for what their wedding band will be like. Women often try both their engagement ring and wedding band together to make sure they like the final look.

What are some clever ways a groom can go about finding out his bride's ring size and metal preferences?
The most accurate way I have found — without actually sizing the bride's hand — is to take a ring or two of hers that she already wears to the jeweller and have them measure the size.  Take photos of her hand with you as well so the jeweller can examine the shape of her fingers. When you take the rings to be measured, make sure you have taken note of which finger and which hand she normally wears this ring on. If the groom isn't able to take the rings without the bride noticing, he can take a square of Blu-Tack and put it on a piece of paper backing, then press the rings into the Blu-Tack to create an impression that the jeweller can measure. In the past, I have been able to guess from photos if all else fails. Make sure you have a photo that shows her hands with an object as size reference.

If Your bride wears a mix of metals, look at which pieces she wears on a daily basis rather than pieces she puts on for special occasions. 

Your bride's current favourite jewellery and sense of style will give you cues as to which colour of metal you should choose (yellow gold, white gold, rose gold or platinum). White gold or platinum are currently the most popular metals for engagement rings, however, some ladies have an affinity with yellow or rose gold. If your bride wears a mix of metals, look at which pieces she wears on a daily basis rather than pieces she puts on for special occasions. If your bride doesn't wear much or any jewellery at all, consider which metal would look flattering against her skin tone and ask for advice from your jeweller.

How do you ensure that the design sketch translates well into the end product and comes to life?
I spend twice as much time on conversations and design development with the client than I do actually making the ring, so that I can really get to the 'essence' of what they want. I like to build a relationship with clients so that lines of communication are open for them to comfortably express any concerns they have with me.

I use photos of real rings to show how a certain element of their ring will look like and draw practical sketches so they understand the construction of their ring. With most of my engagement rings, I make a silver model of part or all of the ring for the client to see and we can talk about what needs to be different and they can rest easy knowing it will turn out how they want it. I also have a policy that I will work on the ring until the client is 100% happy. If there is an aspect of the ring that wasn't as they had thought it would be, I will make alterations.

Custom made engagement ring prices can vary drastically. How much should one be prepared to budget for such rings?
With jewellery you absolutely get what you pay for. The main cost of an engagement ring comes from the centre stone; its size and quality. The best thing about custom pieces is that everything is up to you — you set the price. A quality diamond engagement ring can cost around $8,000 with a diamond that is three quarter of a carat size. The rings I've created so far have mostly sat at a price point higher than this but I really believe in spending what's appropriate for you and your circumstances. There are always options to upgrade and have a larger diamond in the future with custom-made pieces. 


To shop her jewellery collections or book a consultation, click here