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Anna Sheffield launched her bridal line in 2011, but her background in the arts means she's been doing custom work throughout her entire career. Her engagement rings are a welcome alternative for couples who want anything from a non-traditional wedding band to off-white diamonds to mixed-metals.
Her custom rings generally start around $4,000, but her bridal collection also offeres gorgeous alternatives for as little as a grand. We met up with her at her showroom on Lafayette Street to talk about exactly what goes into making a ring from scratch.
How long have you been doing custom bridal work?
I did custom jewelry when I was still making sculpture. Being that my background is in artisanship—I studied sculpture, which is how I came into doing jewelry—I've kind of always done commission work. We started the bridal brand in September of 2011, and I started doing a lot more bridal in the few years preceding that, which was the impetus for launching that collection.
Can you walk us through how you get started with a custom bridal project?
Well, there are a few different ways that you can define custom. Almost every single thing we make is customized: we make it to a ring size, we choose the center stone in an engagement ring often times, or even if we're brought an heirloom stone we'll adapt the ring to fit that. That's all part of customizing a ring.
Then there's the adapting, which would be if someone said, "I love this rosette ring, but I have a marquise and you've never done a marquise rosette in the collection yet." And I say, "No problem! We can custom make you one." And we look at that silhouette and talk about the things that they like about it. I'll do some schematic sketches, we'll pick out the stone or they'll bring a stone, and we'll work out a new design from the vocabulary that already exists within that series.
And then there's the full on custom, which is when someone says, "My girlfriend likes flowers. And I want to make something for her that sort-of, kind-of means that..." Or, "We already have a child together and I want to do a center stone and then two stones, one for me and one for the child." That's for when people just have an idea, and I sit down and do a lot of sketching and we talk about what sort of visual influences you want, do you want it to have a reference to a color or a design era? Sometimes there's tons of reference material that I'm looking at, and other times it's very much "you do what you do, kind of like this."
Do you get a lot of couples coming together, or a lot of guys solo?
It's sort of a mix. We even get girls coming solo sometimes for the "go see" trip, if there's already been a proposal and she knows that she wants to see the rings in person, or maybe he works during the day. We definitely see a mix of couples, men solo, men coming in with a best friend or family member, or just the couple.
For any men that are coming alone, is there anything they should really be aware of beforehand?
Ring size. Always the ring size. Sometimes they're like, "I think she's an 8?" Definitely the a-number one, last thought is always the ring size. Some guys have done tons of research and then they forget about the ring size.
Is there a certain color of diamond or style that you tend to use the most?
There are two really great wonderful dynamics that happen when you go off of the white spectrum of diamonds. One is that often times you get something that's less expensive, but for me aesthetically I really like those stones. The sort of off-colors; like if you're looking at paint chips, the creams and champagnes and yellows. They're tender hues—they're not vibrant, which is why they end up being less expensive.
The other bonus is that often times they're antique stones. I like the way they're cut, the way they look, and that they have an obscure provenance. You also know that the stone wasn't mined recently, which is probably the most eco-friendly thing you can do in terms of picking out a diamond. And conflict free—all of the stones that we use are conflict free, but antique stones were mined before there was conflict. Anything that came during that period we do Kimberly Process. By and large you can't really get a conflict-laden diamond at this point in the world.
Is there anything else you can do to keep the cost down, in addition to the color of the diamond?
It's all in the center stone, really. Going off white, maybe going with something that's a little smaller and doing a halo, you can add and make a lot of bulk. And definitely going with something antique over GIA certified cause that's always going to be a less expensive cost-per-carat. Once it's certified it becomes more expensive.
Do you also do a lot of bands to specifically match the ring?
Yea, we do that a lot. I'll make them for the ring and sometimes for people that have a ring already. Maybe they bought an estate piece and they want me to design something that goes with it. I also sell them just as rings. The Crescent Moon and the Two Nesting Moons I really love together.
Is there any style you find to be particularly timeless?
I think round is always going to be timeless. It really depends on the setting I guess, but round is probably the most failsafe across the board. The solitaire can go so horribly wrong, so even then it's sort of an interesting conundrum. We probably get the most love for the hazeline, which is very antique inspired but a little bit modern with a twist in the way that we do bimetal and stuff with it.
That and just the round rosettes—something that's simple with a halo. Girls love sparkle, so the more diamond dust you can get onto that thing the better. And you can really make something smaller feel bigger by doing that.
Is there a price range you tend to stick to?
Our sweet spot is probably between $4,000 and $12,000 for the engagement rings, and the bands are much less than that. We also do a lot of things with sapphires and rubies, but sometimes you'll get a ruby that's really quite expensive because of the quality that you want that color. We've done some really great sapphire pieces that ended up being very affordable for the size.
It's good to have something under $5,000. Some people want to spend $5,000, some people $8,000, some people $9,000. Very rarely do you get people who are saying $15,000 to $18,000. If you're there, it's just like trying to stay under $50,000.