I’d known about L.A.-based jewelry designer extraordinaire, Jean Dousset, in the abstract for a while but I was excited to rediscover him earlier this spring when it was announced that he was the designer of Maria Menounos’ custom engagement ring (remember when she was proposed to live on he Howard Stern show?) Dousset, the great-great grandson of legendary jeweler Louis Cartier, has also designed custom engagement rings for Amy Adams and Eva Longoria. So I thought he would be the perfect interview for a post on what you need to know about custom-designing an engagement ring. Not surprisingly, Dousset, best known for his collection of Seamless Halo engagement rings, had lots of advice and opinions to share.
Since it seemed apropos, and secretly hoping I’d get the inside scoop on an upcoming celebrity engagement ring, I asked Dousset to tell me about some unique custom engagement ring designs he’d worked on recently. No celebrity scoop for this jewelry editor, but the talented designer did reveal that flowers are becoming a popular inspiration point among his clients. “I have recently created a few of our Seamless Halo rings by using different flower petals as the part of the ring’s basket,” he says. “I did cherry blossom petals for a couple who had had their first date at the Washington Memorial park under the blooming trees. Another engagement ring design had tulip petals, as a nod to Holland, the bride’s native country. We also used May’s flower, lily of the valley, as the inspiration for an engagement ring for a client whose most significant month has always been May.”
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First, Think Practically
No surprise here, but like any engagement ring purchase, whether custom or not, you need to know your budget—that is, for the whole kit and caboodle, including the diamond and the setting. “Before you start imagining, and working on design ideas, I recommend your approach to be first financial and analytical, before jumping into designing,” says Dousset. “You have to reconcile the dream with the reality.”
And familiarizing yourself with the Four Cs, says Dousset, is also a critical preliminary step. “Diamond prices vary exponentially from one weight to another, depending on how you combined the Four Cs, so the budget range is paramount,” he adds. “This way, you may have an educated conversation with any jeweler you come into contact with, which will take the edge off and calm your nerves. While the budget amount might evolve over time as you get more familiar with the different options, having a number or range in mind means you will be better able compare ‘apples with apples’ among different jewelers.”
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Everything Starts With the Center Stone
At a minimum, most brides know the shape/cut of the diamond center stone they’d like; as such, this is essential info you should know when you set out to meet with a designer or jeweler about a custom design. “The center stone shape is a crucial element because it will influence the nature of the design you choose,” says Dousset. “Because an engagement ring is a milestone purchase in one’s life, there is a tendency to explore many, often too many options, for fear of making the wrong decision—emotionally or financially.”
Once you’ve narrowed the options down to the particular cut, or shape, you’d like to go with, “deciding on your preferred stone is all instincts,” says Dousset. “The one you go back to consistently, upon reviewing all the options, is the one you should choose. It is most likely the stone you, or she, have always been thinking of when thinking of the day you would get engaged and what the ring would look like.”
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Put the Bride’s Tastes First
“Women have a fantasy-like relationship with their engagement ring and have likely thought about its design for many years,” says Dousset. “They more often than not have a very clear idea of what that dream engagement ring looks like.” So if you’re not ring-shopping together, don't create an engagement ring based on your own personal preferences in terms of diamond shape or design style. “If you want to surprise your fiancé with a ring and proposal, the ring needs to be designed with her in mind,” says Dousset. “She must be at the center of the creative process.”
No idea what she’d like? A good designer can help steer you toward a classic design, something that is more or less universally, objectively regarded as beautiful. Like a round diamond solitaire engagement ring, for example. But if you really are going into this cold, honestly, going to the trouble of custom-designing a ring might have disastrous consequences. Because there’s no returning an item that was made just for you!
So if you have your heart set on a one-of-a-kind, completely bespoke engagement ring, the bride really needs to have expressed her preferences to you explicitly in advance. If she hasn’t, think hard: Maybe she mentioned she liked a certain style one day when you were casually window-shopping, or when she saw a mutual friend’s ring. “If she has not overtly shared her preferences with you, the answer is out there somewhere,” says Dousset. “She must have liked a picture on Facebook or Instagram, or pinned engagement ring photos to a Pinterest board.” In other words, play detective, so you don’t have to use your time with your jewelry designer aimlessly trying to extrapolate what the bride may or may not like!
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A Bespoke Ring Costs Big Bucks
Let’s be clear on what “bespoke” means: You’re having the jeweler design, and hand-cast, a mold from scratch, completely according to the specifications of your vision. If you think about wedding cakes—imagine how involved (and costly) it would be to have a baker develop a unique recipe for you, plus a design inspired by your love of an obscure castle in Scotland. Such a request would require time to research the design, time to perfect the recipe and time to develop custom tools and molds to aid in replicating the details of your inspiration point (in this example, the Scottish castle). Alternatively, you could choose a cake design from the baker’s already-established repertoire—while still being able to personalize the color palette, along with many of the details and your desired combination of flavors.
“At large, jewelers will prefer to guide consumers towards a ‘pre-set’ design that will require less steps—and time—to complete the ring (and sale),” says Dousset. “Meanwhile, a bespoke design requires that the jeweler be able to interpret the client’s ideas, which takes time and will therefore likely incur a surcharge.” (Think of it as a consultation fee.) “The surcharge typically comes from the added time it will take for the jeweler to meet with the client, the renderings it might require the jeweler or designer to develop as a way to illustrate the client’s ideas, as well as the workshop having to execute a ‘one off’ ring design versus a ‘pre-set’ mounting,” says Dousset.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Consider a “Custom” Look for Less
A better, more cost-effective plan? “I recommend that your approach to a custom design combine different elements of the designer’s existing styles into one original and personal design,” says Dousset. “Everyone aspires for their ring to be unique and different, whereas in reality an engagement ring is, and should be, a timeless and classic design.” In other words, it’s okay get creative with the details but there’s no need to go crazy and reinvent the wheel.
So as you review the different options, and start imagining how you might mix and match different elements to achieve your desired look, pay close attention to the ring’s head (that is, the center stone’s setting, whether you go with a prong-set design, a halo or a clean, unadorned bezel or a combo of all three). The metal color, number and style of prongs can be adjusted. You can have multiple halos. You can detail the undercarriage of the ring’s head with filigree or micropavé or even a surprise diamond “hidden” somewhere on the design knowable only to you and your fiancé. “Every ring we create has at least one custom element,” says Dousset. “We also incorporate a Signature Stone in every one of our creations—you can choose the color of the gem as your Signature Stone, adding yet another meaningful sentiment to your engagement ring.”
The band can also take many forms—it can be thick and wide or super slim and elegant; tapered, knife-edged, shiny, brushed, engraved with an inscription or detailed with channel-set (or invisibly-set or bead-set or gypsy-set) diamonds and/or colored stones.
Basically, the possibilities for customization are plentiful—and don’t have to come at a premium. With apologies to the late, great Sam Cooke, Ain’t that good news? Man, ain’t that news? Now, as the French say, Allez hop!