When Brandon and I became engaged in the fall of last year, we knew that we wanted a unique engagement ring! One thing that I told him when I hinted at our future, was that I wanted my engagement/wedding ring to tell a story. I wanted it to tell our story! So when he proposed to me on a snowy and freezing fall hike in the Grand Tetons, he did so without a ring. And that was because he wanted my input on the design! It had to be something special that would speak to us and the story of our engagement and life together!
For the first few days after the engagement we went walking around the towns in Wyoming and Montana where we were staying (did I mention that we were on a 3 week road trip?) in search of a ring that spoke to us. But honestly, I wasn’t drawn to anything! Most of the stores felt generic and had the same designs over and over. Then one night I asked Brandon what kind of ring he would have gotten me on his own. It was then that he told me he had thought of a Montana sapphire, since Montana was a large part of our fall road trip and reflects our love for mountains and the West. Well, it turns out that Montana sapphires come in a crazy amount of different colors, and it’s rare to find two that are alike! Of course it seemed like the perfect stone for both of those reasons! But even after looking through a bunch of stores in the state itself, we couldn’t seem to find a Montana sapphire in a color that appealed to us. (We were going for more of a rich teal/green color, whereas many of the sapphires we came across were a pale blue or purple.)
Fast forward a few weeks and we were on our way home via the Oregon coast when we decided we were probably going to be designing our own ring in order to get a unique style and the color of sapphire that we were hoping for! That’s when I stumbled across Pavé Fine Jewelry Design through on online search of jewelers in the Oakland/Berkeley area (they have a shop right down the street from us in Rockridge, Oakland; as well as a store on 4th Street in Berkeley). Their unique nature-inspired designs (they have the most amazing redwood bark textured rings) and colored gemstones immediately drew me in! It might sound cliché, but I knew right away that that’s where we would be designing the ring!
We walked into the store one day and were paired with a wonderful designed named Lora , who has the most positive and genuinely joyful spirit! She helped us source a Montana sapphire that was the perfect color and shape (and this color can be hard to come by!), and then found stunning matching trillion cut diamonds to flank it! Over the next few weeks she crafted the most beautiful colored drawing of our design (based on our previous meetings and likes/dislikes), and from there a wax model was created for me to try on and see the design come to life before actually casting it in the rose gold that we had decided on. The gemstones are placed right in the wax model so you can really see what the final product will look like (minus the blue color of the wax), and it was such a great way to try on the ring and make some minor changes before we committed 100% to the design. After approval of the wax model, we waited for the ring to be cast in the rose gold and the gems to be set by the master gem setter. I was so excited to see the final product that I had Brandon come home from work early so that we could pick it up before I had to go in to work night shift at the hospital!
See the final product below (along with Lora’s hand colored sketch)! Oh, and one of my favorite things about this stone is that the color changes in different light! Sometimes it looks way more green, and other times it’s a teal blue!
All in all it was about 3 months from the day we stepped into the store to the day we picked up the ring, and it was sooo worth it! It was a great experience working together with Lora and Pavé to design an engagement ring that has so much meaning to us (especially since we were a part of the design process). We never felt pressured into anything, but instead felt like we were listened to and guided through the process with the perfect amount of suggestions to enhance the design we had in mind.
We had such a great experience, in fact, that I wanted to create this blog post so that I could share our experience with you and hopefully answer any lingering questions you might have about the process of designing and creating a custom engagement ring! So I spoke with Lora (our designer) and Michael Endlich (owner and founder of Pavé Fine Jewelry Design) to see what they had to say about Pavé and any tips they might have about creating a custom engagement ring! Read on for some of the things we chatted about!
What is the history of Pavé Fine Jewelry Design?
Pavé Fine Jewelry Design was founded by Michael Endlich in 1983. The original store is in the Rockridge neighborhood of North Oakland, and a second retail store opened in 2007 on Fourth Street in Berkeley.
What sets Pavé apart from other jewelry stores and designers?
Pavé is known for their distinctive artistic designs with an emphasis on personalized service and impeccable workmanship. They are also known for their love of color! Additionally they have their own in-house workshop where all of their custom jewelry pieces are made, whereas most designers send their work elsewhere to be crafted.
What are the steps in the custom design process?
1. Meet with a designer to go over your preferences, ideas, etc. (Schedule an appointment here)
2. Your designer will source stones for you if there aren’t any in the store that fit your project (or you can bring your own if desired).
3. Your designer creates a custom hand colored sketch/rendering of the ring. Sometimes computer aided design (CAD) is used depending on what works best for the project.
4. A wax model of the ring is created with the stones in place so that you can try it on and get an idea of how the final product will look. You can change the design right up until it’s cast! In that case, another model will be created until you give your approval to move forward.
5. Final casting of the ring in the selected metal. The stones will also be set and the surface will be finished.
What is the cost for a custom design?
Design consultations are 100% free! You can call the store to make an appointment (either store in Berkeley or Oakland), or fill out this online form.
Custom designs in the past have averaged from $5,000-$7,000, but it varies a lot (from $3,000-$30,000). In general, the lost-wax custom process starts at about $3,000, but Pavé also has lots of semi-custom and ready-made options for much less, and they’ll work with you within nearly any budget! Once you’ve committed to the custom process, all consultations and meetings are included in the initial estimate – even if there are lots of revisions!
Are there financing options?
There are options for financing, such as a Wells Fargo Jewelry Advantage financing option, which (depending on credit history) is interest-free for 12 months and allows you to leave with the ring (instead of waiting until it’s paid off). There’s also an option for layaway at the store for 3 months, but in that case you wouldn’t be able to leave with the ring until it’s all paid for.
Can someone design from afar or do they have to be local?
Yes! You can definitely design from afar! In that case, consultations and appointments can be done virtually through FaceTime, and Pavé is happy to ship wax models to you so you can try them on wherever you are! There are currently some clients who are designing from afar using this method!
What’s the time frame for a custom ring?
The time frame averages about 3-4 months from the first meeting, depending on how many revisions are needed. The final product is usually delivered about 4-6 weeks from the time the drawing is completed.
Any tips on how to select a stone?
Choose one that speaks to you! Seeing them in person is a good idea because they can look so different in photos! Since you’re probably going to be wearing your ring every day, you’ll also want to think about durability and wearability. In that case, diamonds and sapphires are great choices because they’re the hardest material that the earth makes, so they’re very durable and can withstand daily wear. Another thing to consider is that softer stones may need certain ring settings in order to protect them from harm.
Where do you source your gems? Are they ethically sourced?
Michael (the owner) has people that he’s trusted and worked with for 30+ years! There are specialized vendors for different types of stones (special cuts, etc), and all of these vendors align with Pavé’s values of supporting ecological practices, human rights, and the local community. Pavé offers certified fair trade and conflict free stones, as well as use 100% recycled metals for all of their in house castings!
About 1/4 of the time, people bring their own stones, most of which are heirlooms. But be careful if you’re sourcing your own gems, as you may not know who to trust!
What kind of training do designers, makers, and setters go through?
Michael (the owner) started “on the bench” diamond setting. See more of his story here. Most of our goldsmiths (including Michael) have studied with Alan Revere (founder and director of the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts). After graduating from the Academy, many go on to specialize in different aspects of jewelry making such as becoming a master gem setter or master goldsmith. Pavé’s head goldsmith, Yas, comes from a long line of metalsmiths in Japan, and many of the current team members taught at the Academy.
As far as the designers, some have fine art backgrounds as designers, and some come from other places such as video production and fashion! Take a look on the website to see their varied backgrounds!
What types of metals do you work with?
All in-house castings and fabricated pieces use 100% recycled precious metals (gold, silver, or platinum). Platinum is the most dense, so it doesn’t wear away as quickly (it’s also more expensive). The other options are silver, rose gold, white gold, and yellow gold. Pure gold by itself is just too soft to work with, so their refiner mixes it with other metals to make their own alloys (combinations of metals). Their rose gold alloy is particularly beautiful and unique because it’s slightly more yellow than most rose golds and has only a hint of pinkish tint. (That’s the metal we used for my engagement ring!)
What are some design constraints when it comes to designing a custom piece?
From Lora: “Almost nothing is impossible! We try to encourage wild and crazy projects, we just advise on how it will hold up over time.”
What do you wish clients knew before they came in?
It would be great to know about different metals and their maintenance (see above about types of metals). You should think of your ring as a car; it needs maintenance over time. Even diamonds can break if not treated properly.
Should I take my ring off before showering or going to bed?
You ring will not need as much maintenance if you take it off here and there, but the more you take it off the more likely you might be to lose it, so consider that factor as well! If you wear your ring all the time, consider having it cleaned more often to check the settings (complimentary at Pavé). If the metal is worn down, it can be built up for an additional cost.
What is the most unique custom piece you’ve seen so far?
There was a client who designed a pinky ring that was pretty unique! It was a two-finger rose gold ring with an ornate, open filigree design that was encrusted in champagne diamonds and actually covered her pinky. It stayed in place because it was connected to a band that was worn on the ring finger.
What’s your favorite part of the process or of what you do?
Lora: A lot of the projects celebrate love and have incredible symbolism and love behind them. “It’s an unbelievable thing to be a part of!”
General tips for designing a custom engagement ring
1. Do what makes you happy; don’t do something just because you think you’re “supposed to!”
2. Think about what will fit with your everyday life (for instance, we opted for a very low setting because I wear gloves often as a nurse, and also because I want the ring to be wearable in my active outdoor lifestyle).
3. Like most things wedding related, I’d suggest going in with a budget in mind, because it can get pricy really quick if you don’t have a stopping point!
4. Consider designing your wedding band at the same time so that it fits well with your engagement ring. (Or do what we did and opt out of the wedding band entirely because you put more effort into the engagement ring and it’s special enough by itself!) 🙂
Think about the meaning and symbolism behind the project; it will mean so much more! And “come with an open mind; that’s where the magic happens!” The designers are skilled at helping you to figure out what you like and build it into a piece that’s wholly you. When you come with too narrow of an idea, you might miss the experience and the design process.
Continue on for photos of the Rockridge store as well as different parts of the design process!
(Below are a few of Lora’s hand colored sketches for various custom rings, including mine!)
A glimpse into the shop on College Avenue in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland.
Don’t forget about the groom! I’m absolutely in love with these textured mens’ rings! We’ll probably have something similar made for Brandon!
Below in blue and pink are some wax models of previous custom projects (not mine)!
Below is the final product compared to the original design. You can see that we made a few changes in between, including rounding out the setting to be a scoop instead of a V shape. We also rounded the edges holding the sapphire instead of going with square corners because they seemed a little bulky in the wax model.
Lora, pictured above!
If you made it this far, you must be ready to create your one-of-a-kind engagement ring! Schedule your free design consultation here!