Heirloom Engagement Ring--is this possible?
November 28, 2011 5:56 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are planning on getting engaged soon--hooray! She would like to use some family heirloom stones for the engagement ring. We're not sure how to best proceed.

The stones are one large diamond and two smaller diamonds. She has a vague design in mind and would like something vintage-y. The question is how, and where, to get the ring made to optimize price, convenience, and uniqueness. The stones are currently with her parents in Iowa City, IA (they just moved there from Davenport, IA, where my girlfriend is from). I am from Chicago. We will be spending time in both Iowa and Chicago around Christmas. However, we are both currently living in Boston.

So our question is two fold:

1) What do we look for in a jeweler? Can we fit stones into a pre-made setting or would we be better off with someone who can create a custom design? We are not sure the exact sizes of the stones (since they are coming from separate family rings), so we are not sure if they would fit into normal pre-made settings.

2) Where should we look? We are both in graduate school, so cost is an issue (since we already have the stones we are hoping to keep the price between 1,000-1,500). Will jewelers be cheaper in Iowa or Chicago than Boston? Will the convenience of being able to work with a a jeweler in Boston outweigh the excess cost? My girlfriend's mom knows of a custom jeweler in Iowa that she is comfortable with, but we are concerned with being so far away. Do you have suggestions for jewelers in Boston, Iowa, or Chicago? Are there other details we should consider that we may be overlooking? Or other internet forums that may be of help? Any other advice?
posted by notswedish to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
my biggest suggestion would be to look/ask at pricescope -- they are THE diamond people.

They should also be able to give you some suggested jewelers (and/or custom jewelers)

Pricescope really is probably the best resource for this kind of question!
posted by knockoutking at 6:19 AM on November 28, 2011

Please mail me.
posted by Yellow at 6:23 AM on November 28, 2011

I do not have a suggestion for local jewelers, but just so you know, your $1000 - $1500 budget is totally sufficient. We did the same thing and had an heirloom center stone and two side stones set in a custom setting and it was well under that.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:44 AM on November 28, 2011

Best answer: When I had stones I wanted to do something with, I found a small jeweler whose work I really liked and asked them if they did custom work based on stones I had. They did; I gave them the stones and we discussed what I wanted, they came back with a sketch which I adored, then they showed me a mockup and I gave final approval. My mother got something done with them as well based on stones she already owned and she went through a few sketches until she found something she loves, too. (My friend and her husband then got their wedding rings made with them, and her sister is getting her wedding ring from them as well.)

This didn't optimize price, but it did get convenience and uniqueness (the price was fair, and it would have been well under your range). You should find a jeweler who does the kind of work you are imagining and work from there. What I liked was that I could point to their other work and say that I liked this and that but not the other thing. The sketches were done via email -- it's the first meeting that I think you want to do in person.
posted by jeather at 6:47 AM on November 28, 2011

Best answer: My engagement ring was custom designed with an heirloom stone, by a jeweler in the small city where our parents live instead of the big (expensive) city where we live.

I think that if $1000-1500 is your budget, you might as well go for something completely custom. Find a local independent jeweler, take the stones with you, and print out some photos of settings that she likes. Look for a jeweler that will work through several revisions with you; if they seem impatient when you're in the store, walk away. You want to make sure that you get exactly what you want. Talk to the designer instead of the salespeople. Keep in mind that custom rings can be hard to fit a wedding band against. This is where your local jeweler comes in handy again! They already have a rendering of the e-ring, so they can use that to create a design for the wedding band. As for Boston/Iowa/Chicago, I suspect that Iowa will be a little cheaper.
posted by specialagentwebb at 6:59 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might look to the Internet as well. We were very happy with Tamara of McFarland Designs made very nice rings for us. She would be well under your budget.
posted by rockindata at 7:23 AM on November 28, 2011

I should say that I own a jewelry store and I can help you with all of your questions.
posted by Yellow at 7:24 AM on November 28, 2011

I think that if $1000-1500 is your budget, you might as well go for something completely custom.

Seconding this. We did something very similar for very much this price range (though we bought stones as well). As a bonus you get exactly what you want, particularly if you're working with a good artist. I chose our man by looking at the portfolios of local custom jewelers on their websites, then following up by face-to-face interviews of two or three. Most were very much in your price range for custom work. Prices were surprisingly stable---I was able to choose the jeweler whose work I/we liked best rather than having to choose on price.
posted by bonehead at 7:33 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

My spouse and I had custom rings made at a local (very small town) jeweler. They made all 3 rings (my engagement and wedding rings, his wedding ring) using our gold and stones for $700. That included selling our leftover gold to them, however. We had the rings appraised for insurance purposes about six years ago (before gold went crazy), and they were worth well above $5k. Have fun! We enjoyed the process, and people often comment about our rings.
posted by summerstorm at 7:35 AM on November 28, 2011

Congratulations! My husband and I had a really good experience doing something similar. First, I'll warn you that the price of gold right now is absolutely awful, so going online will likely save you a ton of money without losing originality. (And if you're looking for plain gold bands later... Amazon. Cheap in price, more solid in look and feel than any we found locally.)

J. found Leigh Jay Nacht/AntiqueEngagementRings.com by Googling "antique engagement rings" (crazy, I know). They are a very small company with maybe three or four people, so he dealt with Winona exclusively, and she was super friendly. They are located in New York City.

He had a stone set in a ring from his mom, so he took it to a local jeweler and had it measured. Then he called Winona and had her recommend some styles that would work with that size of stone. He picked this one and had it sent out with a CZ stone in it so he could propose. Then we sent both the setting-with-CZ ring and his mom's ring back to New York. (We did it via Registered Mail, which was a royal pain, but I believe they used Express Mail with insurance. The key is just to make it look innocuous.) They had the stone set, the ring resized and the setting of his mom's ring back to us within a week or so. They did all the work and included an appraisal.

We did have a minor design issue, but they fixed it immediately at no charge and were very easy to deal with.

I am SO happy with my ring. I wear very little jewelry, so having such a honking huge thing is new to me, but it still feels classy. I have never seen a ring like it (which was the most important thing to me), and it's gotten admiring comments from friends whom I know had a lot more money to spend. I think he spent something like $1000 on the setting, and now that it's all done it was appraised at something like $4k.

Feel free to MeMail me if you'd like. My husband is from CR and has a lot of friends in Iowa City, so we may also know of some local folks.
posted by Madamina at 8:50 AM on November 28, 2011

(ugh, improper use of "whom" -- sorry!)
posted by Madamina at 8:52 AM on November 28, 2011

My wedding band was custom designed to match my engagement ring. Your budget should be fine. Look for a local jeweler who does custom work. There are certainly stock settings which will accommodate your stones, but you may want to go fully custom. (The stock setting catalogs are huge.)

I'd go with a jeweler wherever you live. You want to stop by occasionally and let the jeweler clean the ring and tighten the prongs.
posted by 26.2 at 9:13 AM on November 28, 2011

Best answer: The suggestions to go to a local jeweler are right on. (I'm a goldsmith for a shop exactly like the one you should be looking for, but we're on the west coast.) If you like technology, you can probably find one that will do the modeling on a computer vs hand-carving it. It can be easier to make revisions to a digital model. Either way, go with someone whose style you like. Make sure you have an appointment to view the wax model; don't let them

Do keep in mind that we're coming into the super-busy Christmas season for most custom jewelers. If you don't want the ring for Christmas - and it would be better to wait so you have more time to think/view revisions.

You should absolutely choose one near where you live. Long-distance designing is a pain. The diamonds can be mailed to you through the USPS (use a box and insure it.) We mail diamonds/jewelry like that all the time. When it's done, ask them to take photographs of it and email them to you for your records. Photographing jewelry can be surprisingly difficult.

Thanks for supporting my industry :D
posted by WowLookStars at 10:05 AM on November 28, 2011

Oops, forgot to finish a line: Don't let them cast the wax without your approval.
posted by WowLookStars at 10:06 AM on November 28, 2011

Best answer: One more thing I forgot to mention. Don't have the jeweler design only the engagement ring. Have the jeweler design a wedding set. Even if you don't plan a "matched" set, you want the rings to have a harmonious look. I had problems finding a wedding band because of the shape of my engagement ring and the height of the setting.

If you're going to the bother of having an engagement ring made, then plan for the wedding band. She's going to wear the rings together for the rest of her life; you want them to look good together. You don't need to have the wedding band cast and made immediately if money is tight.
posted by 26.2 at 10:52 AM on November 28, 2011

I had a custom engagement ring made with 3 (small) heirloom diamonds at Burnie's Rock Shop in Madison, WI - a relatively easy drive from Chicago or Iowa City. I was able to talk with the designer directly, which was great. It's been 3+ years now and we are quite happy with the ring. (We had our wedding bands made there also, so we could coordinate as pointed out above.) Feel free to MeMail me if you want specifics on price, etc. The website doesn't mention that they work in platinum and titanium but they do (or at least they did in 2008).

Oh, and congrats!
posted by Jorus at 12:11 PM on November 28, 2011

Another custom option if you're willing to go to Madison (which, I know, is neither Iowa City nor Chicago) is Studio Jewelers.
posted by Madamina at 12:26 PM on November 28, 2011

For Iowa City jewelers, I would try Hands. They've been around and are well-regarded. I live in Cedar Rapids, IA; please MeMail me if you're looking for more local jewelers.
posted by epj at 3:01 PM on November 28, 2011

I was also going to stop in and recommend Hands. We were going to do something similar with our wedding rings, and they were extremely helpful. We ended up not going that route, but they were very patient in describing quite a few different options. They were also very respectful of our budget (which being grad students at the time was fairly low).
posted by statsgirl at 4:12 PM on November 28, 2011

Congrats to you!

I've been a delighted customer of Chicago designer Christopher Duquet for a long time now. He's talented, award winning, a great guy and will work within your budget.

And, no, I have no connection to Christopher other than being a customer.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 7:06 PM on November 28, 2011

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