Valentine’s Day is the perfect day for a proposal. But which engagement rings go well with it? Gold or platinum? Grandmotherly style or modern-angled? Four jewelry designers open up their studios.
Santa Claus and the diamond engagement rings have something in common. They are both inventions of clever marketing guys. Santa Claus was invented by Coca-Cola. The diamond engagement ring came from De Beers, who were able to convince the whole world with the legendary advertising slogan “Diamonds are forever” that diamonds are an absolute must on your engagement ring.
And you thought it was a romantic tradition, under a sugar-sweet coating of love and eternal fidelity? The ring itself (without diamonds) does go back to an ancient tradition, though less romantic than you might think. In the Roman Empire, women were given not one, but two engagement rings. A gold one, for in public. And an iron one, to be worn at home.
Today one suffices, and all other conventions have been thrown overboard. Gold or platinum? Feel free to choose for yourself. Diamonds or precious stones? Anything will do. Left ring finger, where supposedly the “vena amoris” runs through that goes straight to the heart, or right hand? ‘Many of my clients wear their engagement ring on the left first. Until their wedding day: then the wedding ring comes there and the engagement ring goes to the right hand,’ says Brussels-based jewelry designer Sergiu Lom. ‘Or they design a wedding ring that matches the engagement ring perfectly. Actually, anything is possible.‘
Sergiu Lom of Esquisse Jewels
‘I am regularly invited to wedding parties. Once I even got to wear the wedding rings to the altar,‘ says Sergiu Lom, owner of Esquisse Jewels in Brussels. ‘A jewel is the bearer of beautiful memories, and I love creating those moments.‘
Esquisse Jewels is a boutique, but also hosts workshops and has a service for custom engagement rings. ‘That starts with a one-hour conversation. We talk about the couple’s story and the fiancé’s style,‘ says Lom. ‘I advise against overly original designs, because it’s a ring you wear every day.‘
His designs are delicate and often surprisingly asymmetrical. ‘I always keep the style of the fiancée in mind, but also try to create an imbalance by putting the gemstones or diamonds in special places. This keeps the jewelry intriguing.‘
‘I most often get men over. Sometimes they bring their mother-in-law or their partner’s best friend,‘ says Lom. ‘Regularly I also design rings for same-sex couples.‘
Lom is a self-taught designer who was a tattoo artist and furniture designer in a past role. He works exclusively with recycled gold, which his clients often bring themselves. The gems in his collection are selected by Lom’s wife, Aude Solyga, who is director of the Royal Belgian School of Gemmology in Brussels.
‘My wife had to wait a little longer for her engagement ring. Finding the perfect stone for her was not easy,’ Lom laughs. ‘In the end, I was able to pick up a beautiful hexagonal diamond. I placed another diamond underneath it. The two stones reflect each other, giving a kind of snowflake effect. It required a lot of traditional techniques, for which I had to retrain myself. But I couldn’t have left that to anyone else.‘
Jennifer Elliot of Elliot & Ostrich
‘An experience comparable to a gourmet dinner. Only we don’t serve food, we design customized jewelry,’ is how designer Jennifer Elliot, who founded the jewelry brand Elliot & Ostrich with her business partner Sylvie Arts five years ago, sums up their approach. In May, they will move their studio to a new location in the heart of Antwerp.
Jennifer Elliot says she has an African soul. She was born in South Africa and raised in Botswana. There, her father was financial director of De Beers, one of the world’s largest diamond companies, and her mother was a goldsmith. When she was six, she returned to Belgium, although she also lived in Kenya.
‘It was never my dream to become a jewelry designer,‘ she says. ‘Until my former partner asked me to marry him. I designed my own engagement ring with my mother. And I got so many spontaneous reactions to it, sometimes even at the baker’s, that I decided to start my own brand.‘
Elliot & Ostrich works with gemstones of all types, from lab ‘grown‘ diamonds or brightly colored gemstones to original diamonds. All have the ethical “Kimberley Process” label, and they come only from suppliers affiliated with the Responsible Jewellery Council.
Before choosing the stone and design, Elliot tries to know as much as possible about the fiancée. Is she “ballsy,” tough? Does she live in a sleek interior? ‘Then I readily choose the emerald cut. A sleek design with a brightly colored stone. Is the fiancée more of the romantic type? Then an oval stone in champagne color is more appropriate. But it also goes deeper, I try to get to the core of who she is as a person.‘
‘I’m not engaged yet, but I had already found the ideal gemstone, so I made a ring for myself then,’ laughs 27-year-old Laurence Ardies. ‘It’s a rare padparadscha sapphire of 2.73 carats. Love at first sight. You have to love a stone – a bit like you fall in love with a partner.‘
The designer is relatively new to the jewelry world, but quickly found a niche of her own and got noticed for her colorful designs. She was recently included as the youngest and only Belgian in “Women of Jewelry,” a book by renowned American jeweler Linda Kozloff-Turner that assembles 100 female contemporary jewelry designers.
‘I studied art history and initially did not want to follow in my family’s footsteps,’ Ardies says. Her great-grandfather had a diamond-cutting business in Antwerp; her grandmother and mother were jewelers. ‘I grew up in the diamond district, with a magnifying glass and tweezers in my hand.’ Yet after her studies, she trained as a goldsmith. Unlike her (grand)parents, she prefers not to work exclusively with diamonds. ‘Diamonds are really not that rare,’ says Ardies. ‘Colored gemstones are much more interesting‘.
Ardies has a small permanent collection, but mostly makes bespoke jewelry. Does she sometimes get unprepared partners over the floor? ‘Sometimes they don’t even know their partner’s ring size,’ she chuckles. ‘Fortunately, social media are around and allow me to capture the fiancé’s style. Not only taste and personality matter, skin color also plays a role. Someone with a pink undertone will not look that good with yellow gold.‘
Tiffany & Co.
Forget the brides-to-be, today more and more jewelry designers are putting the grooms-to-be front and center. Male betrotheds are pretty new, which spawned the neologism “mangagement“.
In 2021, one of the most iconic jewelers of all time, Tiffany & Co. also designed an engagement ring for men: “The Charles Tiffany Setting“. In the robust design, a large diamond – you get to choose the cut style – is surrounded by platinum and titanium.
Tiffany & Co. founder Charles Lewis Tiffany is responsible for the very idea we spontaneously have of an engagement ring. In 1886, he designed a “solitaire,” a pared-down ring with a single diamond set on six platinum supports. This enhanced the size of the diamond and allowed the stone to sparkle freely in the light. The ring was immediately so popular that it was copied en masse.
Of course, the “solitaire” – Charlotte York from the “Sex and the City” series received the ring in the iconic blue box as a gift – is not the only style of engagement rings. The “Toi et Moi” has two diamonds of equal size, a symbol of the union of the two souls, the “Halo” ring has a central stone surrounded by smaller diamonds and the “Eternity” ring is set entirely with a line of diamonds of the same size. But the classic of classics remains the solitaire.