How to make a custom engagement ring

Gemstones, metals, and a solid story. My process to craft the perfect engagement ring for my fiancé.

The custom engagement ring I made for my fiancé

TL;DR Skip to step 6 below if you want to learn about hiring people to get the ring designed and made. Also, look at these specs to see what I said to actually get it made.

Step 1: Ring Research

Engagement rings are meant to be worn and shown off.

A durable metal and a sparkly eye-catching gemstone cut are vital to achieving that objective. I’m no jeweler, of course, but my suggestion is to understand why current engagement rings look the way they do before you start riffing on the tradition.

The more traditional Diamonds are cut in a way that helps them sparkle and are naturally very, very strong stones. Strength is a useful trait for something that’s worn every day on a finger for decades — helps it not get destroyed by the knocking and jocking of everyday life.

For the metal, you’ll want a precious metal like platinum or gold since they are corrosion resistant which helps them endure all the dunkings they’ll take.

So when thinking about the stone remember: it needs to be hard and eye-catching.

For the metal, it needs to be corrosion resistant and hard enough to endure a beating.

Now that you know why engagement rings are made the way they are let’s start discussing gemstones and metals.

Engagement rings are essentially a stone or stones set in some metal to let people know that girl is taken.

Let’s learn a bit about the metals.

There are three main types of metal for woman’s rings: platinum, silver, and gold.

Each of these metals have different platings, alloys, and finishes. These three features affect how the metal looks, feels, and endures.

Alloys

On alloys, for instance, 24k gold is pure gold. Pure gold is too soft to retain its shape and isn’t really used for jewelry. 18k and 14k gold are both gold alloys strong enough for jewelry albeit with a slightly lighter color. There are other gold alloys such as rose gold.

One important thing to note about alloys are allergies. Some people are allergic to metal. If they have this allergy, they are likely allergic to cobalt, nickel, or chrome. Cobalt is sometimes alloyed with 14k gold, so if you’re going with a gold ring know that it will be a mix of different metals and your partner might be allergic to one of those.

You can always ask the jeweler or metal supplier to double-check none of these metals are used in any alloys you plan to use, but it’s good to take allergies into consideration when thinking about a metal that will be worn non-stop for years.

Finishes

Next up is the metal’s finishing. There are many, many types of finishes as you can see in the image below for a better idea. Depending on the look you’re going for, the finishing is mighty important. Most people just go with polished, but there are so many variations it’s worth looking at some others to see what might work with your ring.

Plating

Finally, there is plating. Some metals can get plated with other metals that change their color and tweak their properties. Rhodium can be plated on white gold to make it stronger and shinier. This plating can be useful to get colors or properties you couldn’t otherwise achieve with the base metal.

Platings are not as permanent as pure metal and can chip off or brush off over time. That could be an interesting design characteristic or something to avoid. Either way, platings are an interesting way to expand what is otherwise possible with the metal parts of the ring.

Step 2: The gemstone

There are many, many possible gemstones out there. All of them have five main features you should keep in mind: hardness, color, cut, clarity, and size.

All of these features drastically affect prices. A 1kt diamond could be cheaper than a 0.5 kt diamond with a very high clarity rating. Gemstones are frankly where I spent most of my research. It’s a massive rabbit hole to go down and the reason I ended up working with an expert.

Diamonds alone have many nuances to their grading and pricing, but one thing you don’t need to worry about with diamonds is hardness.

Gemstones are all rated for their hardness on a scale from 0–10. That scale is called the Mohs scale. For our purposes, just don’t choose a gemstone under 7.0 on this scale since it will likely chip away as the gemstone gets nicked and scuffed with daily wear. Rings are in a very vulnerable spot, so they need to be built tougher than other jewelry.

The color between gemstones varies a ton and some gemstones can be heat treated to change their color. This treatment means great color, but at a lower value than a gemstone that’s naturally the same color. Some gemstones, like Alexandrite, have different colors depending on your viewing angle. Other gemstones have a wide variety of colors they can come in, so if you find a gemstone with properties you like there’s a good chance it might come in other colors such as blue, red, or clear.

Diamonds also come in different colors, but that color is often at a pretty hefty premium.

Cut

A gemstone’s cut also affects its color and vividness. Most gemstones you see are cut in the round brilliant shape to reflect the maximum amount of light back out to get the sparkle. There are lots of other cuts to choose from, most of them are designed with an objective like unique shapes such as a heart or just maximizing that trademark engagement ring sparkle.

Clarity

Clarity refers to a gemstone’s purity. Often there are tiny imperfections inside the stone that look like little scratches. These tiny scratches are barely noticeable without considerable scrutiny but do affect the stone’s price and vividness. The fewer imperfections the more the gemstone is worth.

Size

Finally, size. A gemstone’s size is one of the most important aspects of buying a ring since the gemstone is usually the centerpiece. A big diamond is not necessarily expensive, while a small one is not necessarily cheap, but a big diamond might look weird on a thin ring and a small diamond might look microscopic on a large thick band.

Beyond the base characteristics of the stone itself, different gemstones have additional meaning such as being a birthstone or having a deeper cultural significance.

The elephant in the room when talking about alternative engagement gemstones is the diamond. If your partner is more traditional, they’ll want a diamond. They won’t be happy with anything else, so save yourself the trouble and enter the diamond rabbit hole.

Step 3: Before you design

Designing the ring can be a daunting task. I started by figuring who I’m designing for.

Are you designing a ring that fits your significant other’s aesthetic and emotional needs (ego)? Or are you designing a ring you love and want to see them wear (their ego be damned)?

This is a vital part of the process. If you design a ring that compliments them you’ll need to know what type of jewelry and aesthetics they like. Are they the type of person who wants a big diamond from a name-brand jeweler to show off or someone who wants the ring to tell a story?

On the flip side, if you are designing the ring you want your significant other to wear then what do you want the ring to mean and what do you want it to tell the world? Everything you create tells a story, this ring tells yours.

Personally, I designed the ring I wanted to create. My wife is a designer. I asked her thoughts on my initial material choice of rose gold and a champaign sapphire gemstone. She said that’s some basic girl shit….I scrapped the design and opted to design the ring I wanted to make instead 🙂 Depending on your relationship, it might be ok to ask for feedback on some aspects. I always kept the design a surprise and didn’t ask for any more feedback on materials or sizes (spoiler alert, I messed up the size)

Step 4: Design tells a story

I think it’s hard to design in a vacuum without context. Looking at thousands of ring designs a day is nice, but there are always more incredible rings you can see instead of making a decision. Rather than go down that rabbit hole, I suggest you come up with the story you want the ring to tell.

What does the gemstone mean? What do the metals say? What story does the shape convey?

For instance, my original story was about how we love to watch sunsets together. So I selected citrine for the main gemstone with a setting that’s partially sunk inside the band looking a bit like a setting sun. Then a polished platinum band to indicate the smooth calm seas of our relationship with a little etching on the inside of the band referencing an inside joke of ours.

So the story of that design was smooth sailing into the sunset. This story helps lock down aspects of the design so instead of choosing from a thousand gemstones and metals you are telling a story and figuring out the best way to tell it.

There are not many hard orange gemstones, so citrine was relatively easy to pick. Silver does not look as placid as platinum, and I couldn’t find a palladium supplier so I opted for platinum to convey the calmness of the sea.

So, what story do you want your engagement ring to tell?

Once you have that story, it’s a matter of finding the materials and a design that helps convey it.

Now let’s get into shape.

I made a pinterest board with a hundred rings I liked. I then shortlisted the ones with elements that worked with my story.

Once you have a shortlist of elements that work like the band, setting, and general design you can start sketching out what it will look like. Don’t worry, it does not have to look nice. Just look at my drawings:

At this point, you’ve got a bunch of reference designs and a sketch of what you want. I’d recommend figuring out your top metal and gemstone choices then discussing them with the jewelry designer we’re about to hire.

Step 5: Decision checklist

Once you have the store you want to convey with the design you’ve got a bunch of decisions to make. There are many parts of the ring beside the gemstone(s) and the band. Each part of the ring needs a decision. Here’s a checklist of what might be helpful to think through before talking with a designer. It’s fine to have multiple options you’re choosing between. The designer can render different variations for you to see and choose from.

1.The Band

  1. Metal(s)
  2. Finish
  3. Shape (flat, tapered, twisted)

2. Setting (where the gemstone rests)

  1. Traditional
  2. Custom

3. Gemstone(s)

  1. Stone
  2. Size (carats)
  3. Color
  4. Cut

Step 6: Jewelry Design

A lot of jewelers offer design services, but they also have many clients so they won’t necessarily care about your project as much as a solo designer would. You and I don’t know much about making rings. Getting a dedicated knowledgeable expert who can advise you without making any money from the ring manufacture helps get unbiased advice….That was my thinking at least.

To hire that jewelry designer, I went over to Upwork and posted these specs to find a jewelry designer. If you’re serious about making a custom ring, those specs are the most valuable thing in this post.

I got around 15 applicants and went through all their profiles to select an incredibly talented designer that closely matched the aesthetic I was looking for.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, he talked me through the different metal and gemstone options as well as patiently rendering dozens of permutations on the design. He then converted my reference designs and awful sketches into the perfect ring to tell my story.

Ring specifications here: https://bit.ly/3wR5Nfp

He sent over the CAD file and renders so I could get the design 3D printed.

Again, most jewelers who make custom rings will also design them with you, but all the ones I found were insanely expensive while Sid on Upwork was $200 not to mention insanely dedicated and patient with a know-nothing like me.

Step 7: Validating the design

Before dropping a ton of money on getting this design made you probably want to validate the design. 3D printing is a key part of the jewelry creation process and is relatively cheap to order a high-quality print. This ring has a lot of small elements, so I needed to use powder bed printing which is able to make much smaller geometry than your average home 3D printer.

I went over to Shapeways.com, uploaded the CAD file, and ordered the cheapest plastic version I could. This is just a structural test to ensure the ring is somewhat strong and fits as expected. (Pro tip: Shapeways will usually flag any geometry less than 0.9mm in diameter, as long as you are larger than 0.5mm it should print fine)

The print came out perfectly, but came after my girlfriend had to go back home due to Covid. Not able to test the size out on her, I just trusted my initial measurements and went full steam ahead (big mistake!)

Now that I had the print and could “validate” the design it was time to get this made.

Step 8: Making the Ring

Did I mention I didn’t know what I was doing? Cause that’s pretty important. I opted to go with a metal called black zirconium. It looks great and really helped nail the story I wanted to tell with this ring. Nobody uses black zirconium. Sid, the designer, warned me, but I found four people on Etsy who advertised they could make it so I felt confident. I was wrong.

Those four people either could not make this type of ring or simply never responded to my weekly messages. After expanding my search to Instagram and designer’s websites without finding anyone willing to make this design. I returned to Upwork and hired a project manager to these people down for me or find someone else who could create a twisted ring with black zirconium.

After a few weeks, she found three creators who could craft the design. Prices ranged from $600 to $1,600. My budget was $1,000 but the low-quality rings the cheaper jewelers had made scared me away from them. The $1,600 jeweler’s incredible confidence and absolute refusal to negotiate even a dollar off the price ultimately won me over.

I worked with the Benati team through Etsy to pick the gemstone, verify their 3D print, and then craft the design.

It took about two months from deposit to delivery but was well worth it since the quality of the final ring was *chef’s kiss* perfect.

Conclusion: Project Details

Project Cost

  1. jewerly designer $200
  2. Plastic 3D print of the ring: $20.82
  3. Project manager: $357
  4. Jeweler: $1,669.50

Total cost: $2,247.32

I probably put in around 100–150 hours researching, designing, redesigning, and then working with the experts to get this made. Working with the experts from the get-go could help you drastically reduce the time you spend.

Timeline

  1. I started researching on October 19th 2019
  2. Hired the designer on April 8th, 2020
  3. Completed the design on April 13th
  4. Ordered 3D print on April 26th
  5. Received 3D print on May 9th
  6. Hired the project manager to help find a ring creator on July 1
  7. Put the deposit in for the ring on September 27th
  8. Received the completed ring on December 11, 2020

It was a big project. If I had chosen a more traditional set of materials like diamonds and gold this could have been done in a quarter the time….but I was pretty set on the story I wanted to tell with this design.

In the end, I used Swiss Blue Topaz, Polish Platinum, and Polished Black Zirconium plated platinum for the materials. Few Etsy folks had the Topaz or Black Zirconium let alone both, but that’s part of the beauty of this design and the fun of the process. If it was easy there would be no story. It’s the challenge of its creation that makes this engagement ring mean something beyond the metaphor.

Retrospective

What went well

  1. She said yes 👍
  2. Having the ring tell a story was the key to making this work. Without a story it’s impossible to make decisions.
  3. Finding an incredible designer was the key. I actually hired two designers. One on Fiverr and one Upwork. The Upwork designer blew everyone out of the water and make this whole project possible.

Improvements

  1. Get your ring measurements right! I measured a ring she wore on her middle finger instead of one she wears on her ring finger so the engagement ring fits the wrong finger 🤦‍♀️
  2. Materials. I’m super happy with my material choices and was very picky about them, but they did make the project take much, much longer than necessary not to mention the extra cost of needing to hire a project manager.

Product Manager and designer writing about ideas. Living and working in SF. See more of my projects at www.alexcreates.me