Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Ring Part 2: Creation

Now that you've designed a perfect ring, it's time for the best part - making it a reality! *whee*clap*squeal* 

In our case, Mr. NM really wanted to take on this project himself.  It felt important to him to be the person solely responsible for getting it made and that the final outcome be a surprise for me (well, as much a surprise as is possible when I had designed it myself).

In order to adequately walk you through the ring creation process, I saw down with Mr. NM last night so he could tell me the whole story.  Even though I already knew most of the bits and pieces, it was thrilling to hear it all over again!  I'm going to take his words and try to fit them into some coherent outline of steps for you (ya know, because I'm meticulous about these things.  And he isn't.  Duh!)

For those of you who are planning to have the ring/proposal be a surprise, keep in mind that Mr. NM went through all these steps completely without my knowledge.  If you don't care so much about the surprise (or couldn't live with being surprised, cuz I know that feeling, too!) you can absolutely do these steps together.

(All statements in quotation marks are Mr. NM's exact words.)

Step 1:  Get Quotes

Mr. NM started the process in January by requesting an estimate from an online retailer I had suggested in the infamous folder of information I gave to him.  That quote came back "ridiculously high," which discouraged Mr. NM enough that he "abandoned the project" for about 3 months.  In March he again began emailing for estimates, creating one email with all the pertinent details and sending it out to somewhere between 15 and 25 custom jewelers he found online.  From that group, he heard back from 8-10 jewelers.  "Some of the quotes were outrageous."  Mr. NM told me the number of the highest quote, and it was almost exactly double our budget.

Step 2: Pick a Jeweler
Based on the information they provided to him in their estimates (cost, quality of materials, general sense of whether they seemed knowledgeable and trustworthy), Mr. NM picked a jeweler who said they could work within the budget.  Mr. NM sent them pictures (again, from my file), and they sent back ever-more-detailed estimates that listed specific diamond weights for the various parts, costs of those diamonds at that weight, cost of the metal needed to hold everything together, etc.  Mr. NM was feeling good that it was all coming together. 

Step 3: Confirm Everything Before Paying a Penny
The jeweler sent a final detailed estimate, after which Mr. NM was supposed to send the initial $300 for the jeweler to provide a computer design of the ring and thus begin the actual process of creating it.  Mr. NM carefully looked over this estimate and noticed a slight omission.  Apparently there was a miscommunication and the jeweler hadn't included the two sidetrap diamonds (one on each side of the halo), because they thought for some reason that Mr. NM had decided he didn't want them.

The addition of these two diamonds was going to put the ring $1000 over budget, or it could've been on-budget but with a lower quality center stone.  Mr. NM again became discouraged, so he took a break from this jeweler and decided to look for someone else.
Step 4: Pick Another Jeweler - One Who Knocks Your Socks Off
(optional, of course, if you're already left socks-less from your first jeweler)

This time Mr. NM decided to give local jewelers the old college try.  He looked on Yelp and found Chabo's amazing reviews and ratings.  Armed with a printed out picture of my hack-job edited ring image, he went in to meet Rafi.  Before Mr. NM could utter a word of his requirements for the center stone, Rafi "rattled off" the exact specs Mr. NM had on his list.  Rafi told Mr. NM that he could create the ring within our budget, but only if they could buy the diamond from the wholesaler that day because supposedly diamond prices on Asscher cuts were going up 2 days later. 

(Mr. NM independently verified this later that day, but he didn't know in that moment whether this was truth or the hard sell).  I'm proud of Mr. NM that he didn't force himself to make an on-the-spot decision.  I'm also a little bit in love with Rafi who, because Mr. NM was really towing the line, went ahead and bought the Asscher-cut diamond, had it sent to the store, and said Mr. NM was under no obligation to buy it if he didn't like it once it arrived. 

Step 5: Confirm Costs/Details and Put Down a Deposit

Mr. NM got to see the loose center stone in person and look at it with the little diamond looky-thingy (okay, just looked this up and it's called a loupe, apparently).

Rafi reiterated that this diamond (which was way better than Mr. NM's/my "ideal" specs) was $1000 over budget, but he offered to split that cost with Mr. NM because he thought that ring would be far more lovely with that stone than any other.  After thinking long and hard about this, Mr. NM agreed to go $500 over budget.  Two days later he brought Rafi a check for half of the total agreed-upon amount, and Rafi started to work his magic!

Step 6: Computer Model

A computer model of the ring was created for Mr. NM to review.  This seemed to be generated as a result of scanning the image Mr. NM brought to them and inputting measurements and dimensions.  Then somehow the computer magically "spits out something similar."  After the initial review, the model was altered to incorporate Mr. NM's feedback.  Mr. NM said this step was "really difficult because the computer model does not approximate the ring.  It's very angular, and the proportions are different.  You see way more metal in the picture than is actually there in ring."

above pictures above are the actual 3-d computer models of my engagement ring and wedding band

Step 7: Wax Model

Once the computer model was finalized and approved, the jeweler moved on to a wax model.  Here's what Mr. NM had to say about the wax model: "It's an exact version pretty much.  You can pop in the center stone and see how it looks.  The only thing that sucks is that it's 30% bigger than the actual ring.  I thought to myself, 'F*ck, she's gonna hate this.  It's huge!'  In your brain you don't know what 30% less actually looks like.  This thing is literally an imagination the whole time.  You've seen a computer model and a wax model, but never what it will actually look like."

Not being a blogger himself, Mr. NM doesn't have pictures of my wax model.  (By the way, *boo* to that!  I would've loved to see pictures.  Hell, I would've loved to have the wax model itself!)  But here are some examples:

At this point, you can still make changes, and Mr. NM went in on two separate occasions to verify that the wax model was exactly what he wanted.

Step 8:  Your Ring Is Built

Computer model - check!  Wax model - check!  So now the diamonds are sent off to the diamond cutter, to be custom-fitted for your ring design. 

Step 9: Pick Up The Ring / Make Final Payment / Leave Yourself Some Wiggle Room

As the date approached for the ring to be completed, Mr. NM was trying to plan a proposal while also preparing to defend his dissertation (say what?!  Yes, my man is fan-freaking-tastic.)  He planned the proposal for the Friday night of his dissertation defense, but at the last minute he found out that the ring wasn't going to be ready in time because the diamond cutting took longer than expected.  We rescheduled our "dissertation celebration dinner" (at least, that's what I thought it was) for the next night.  On Saturday Mr. NM took a trip to Target and also clandestinely picked up my ring and made his final payment.  That day, the day he planned to propose, was the first day he'd seen the actual ring. 

Then he really did have to pick up some stuff from Target for us.  Nothing like walking around Target -  in sweatpants, looking for toilet paper, with a gigantic ring box in your pocket, knowing you're going to propose that night - to get the warm fuzzy romantical feelings flowing!

And that's how it all went down.  But our ring journey was not quite over yet, so stay tuned.  If anyone else out there had a custom ring created, did you get to keep your wax model???

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Ring Part 1: Design

**Warning - Super long post with lots of pictures**

Everyone wants to know what the rings looks like, don't they?  Well I knew what the ring was going to look like LONG before it ever made it's way to my finger.  See, when I care about something, I research the hell out of it.  Then I get creative, and I get obsessive.  I get stubborn, and I usually get my way.  (Right, honey?)  And I cared about the ring. 

My engagement ring (and eventually wedding ring, too) are really the only nice pieces of jewelry I will likely ever own.  I don't wear a lot of jewelry - with one significant exception.  I am obsessed with big earrings!

(Check back to see how I'll try to incorporate this into the wedding)!  The majority of these earrings come from places like Claire's or Target, so they were...  highly affordable, if you know what I mean - which you need if you're going to own over 150 pairs of earrings (no lie.) 

If we were going to spend big money on the ring, I damn sure wanted to L-O-V-E it.  I also wanted it to reflect my personal aesthetic.  I wandered around in several jewelry stores and looked at the engagement rings there, but I just couldn't find anything that felt like me.  So I turned to my best friend...  the internet.  And it was all downhill from there.

My fiance knew all along that I was working on this.  Honestly, I don't think he'd have it any other way.  He wanted me to love it and he probably preferred to live without the pressure of having to pick something that would live on my hand for-ev-er. 

For those of you wanting to take on designing your own ring, here are my tips about the various phases of the design process.

Research  phase - Compile a folder full of the zillion rings that you ooh and ahh over.  They need not be similar at all.  Some you may like outright.  Some you may like because of a particular details.  Some you may like just because the overall feel is what you're going for.  Also include rings that are examples of what you definitely do NOT like.  This will be helpful for your fiance so he'll know what to stay away from.  The goal here is just to start seeing if there are some things you tend to gravitate towards more than others. 

Some key points you will want to clarify during this phase are listed below.  You don't necessarily need to finalize these, but you should start getting an idea of what fits into these 3 different categories:  1)  Absolutely MUST HAVE this element; 2) Like this element, but it's not a deal-breaker; and 3) Definitely CANNOT LIVE WITH this element.

1)  Stone shape

(For me, I knew I wanted a square or rectangle-cut stone that was more "window pane" than "sparkly" in appearance.)
    2) Number of stones
    (I learned that I love a beautiful center stone, but I wanted more than just a solitaire.)
      3) Type of stones


      Colored Gemstone:

      Other stones/materials:


        (Because I wanted my design to be clean and simple, I opted for all clear stones.)

        4) Layout of stones

        (I bookmarked tons of halo rings, so I knew that's what I wanted, but it was challenging to find a halo that wasn't sparkly or princessy.  Those rings are beautiful, but they weren't me.)

        5) Setting styles



        V Prong:


        (Bezel-set had a sort of Art Deco feel that I really thought would go nicely with the more clean-cut stones I was considering.)

        6) Color of Metal -

        (either sterling silver, white gold, or platinum usually - although there are other options as well)

        Yellow Gold:

        Rose Gold:

        Mixed Metals:

        Other Materials/Mixes:

        (I'm a silver metal girl, all the way.)

        7) Profile of the ring (this can be seen as both the distance between your finger and the top of the ring as well as the distance between amount that the ring head rises above the band)

        Low Profile (center stone peaks somewhat above the band, but overall look sits low to the finger):

        Relatively Flat Profile (center stone does not rise much above the band, and it sits low to the finger):

        Tall Profile (center stone sits high above band and high above the finger):

        (I knew I wanted a flatter ring so that it wouldn't catch as often on hair, pants pockets, etc.)

        8) If you're going to have a separate wedding band, you should consider how/if you want the two rings to fit together. 



        Band on each side of ring:

        Band Under Head of Engagement Ring:

        Space Between Band and E-Ring:

        (I'm such a stickler for symmetry and neatness that I wanted the band to sit flush against the band of my engagement ring.)

        Creative phase:  Once you've decided on elements you like, begin digitally chopping up your inspiration photos and putting them together in some sort of photo manipulation program.  (Even though I have Photoshop Elements, I actually did this in Microsoft Publisher because it was more simple for me.)  Guesstimate things like how wide the face of the ring should be on your finger and the size of the stone(s) and settings that will be needed to accomplish this.  Once you've created some composite pictures of rings you like, now you move on to the obsessive phase.  (Here are some of mine as I was in progress.  I've lost the original sources of the composite images.)

        Obsessive phase:  What you're looking for now is the approximate cost of this ring.  This should include the cost of the center stone, the side stones, the metal, and the labor to create the ring.  You likely won't know all of these things at this point, so it helps to find other people who've created rings similar to yours to use their numbers as a ballpark figure.  I found several helpful threads on that gave me some good information about the cost requirements for a ring like the one I wanted.  One way to go about this is to create "ideal" specs for your ring (size/quality of the center stone, type of metal, number if side stones, etc.).  Another way is to create "at minimum" specs for your ring.  Pick the method that works best for you.

        If you have a clear sense of what your fiance wants to spend on this heavenly creation of yours,

        (and I highly suggest that you get a clearer sense, if you don't know already), you can begin manipulating elements of your dream ring to better fit yours and your fiance's dream budget.  You can lessen the financial impact of the size/quality of the center stone, the number/shape of the side stones, the type of metal, etc.  For instance, maybe you want an eternity-setting for the band, but you'd be okay with an all-metal band.  Or maybe you want a 1.5 carat stone but you'd be totally happy with a 1-carat stone. 

        Be sure you TAKE NOTE OF ALL THIS somewhere you can pass on to your fiance.  It will be easier for him to have these specs and thus have a better sense of what he's looking for.  You might want to call this document/folder on your computer something like... oh, I don't know...  "everything you ever wanted to know about my engagement ring."  :-)  Yep, sounds good to me.  In this creatively-titled document, it's super useful to include a document listing ranges/preferences that you could live within, such as (and I quote):

        "As for the halo stones, there are picture of 8-baguette haloes and 12-baguette haloes in the folder, and I don’t have a strong preference one way or the other (depends on the day ).  Regarding how the halo baguettes are set, the picture called “8 baguettes halo with bezel set center stone” also has bezel-set baguettes.  The picture called “Daniel K design (12 baguettes, bezel set)” seems to have the baguettes in some sort of invisible setting.  I will let you choose on that one, because I don’t have a strong preference one way or the other, and I trust your eye. "

        You should also include all the inspiration pictures and composite pictures, titled with helpful names such as "love this ring overall but do not like that center stone sits up above halo."  You get my drift.

        Stubborn phase:  This one is simple.  Save the folder "everything you ever wanted to know about my engagement ring" onto a flash drive.  Insert flash drive into fiance's computer and copy said folder on to his desktop.  Just to be sure he doesn't miss it, email fiance to tell him said folder is awaiting him on his desktop.

        Stay tuned for The Ring Part 2: Creation, and I swear I'll show you the ring then!  (You didn't think I forgot, did you?  Not a freakin' chance!)

        Anyone else out there have a ring custom-designed?