When Jonah proposed to me, I told him I'd never seen a more beautiful piece of jewelry in my life—and I still feel the same way! I had no idea what I wanted (I gave him entirely conflicting pieces of information over the years), but he nailed it. It was only after he proposed that I learned the process for getting the ring hadn't been exactly easy: Three years ago, his grandmother (the same who turned one-hundred last April, and who we visited this past weekend!) gave him her mother's diamonds to use in an engagement ring for me. He kept his great-grandmother's small but beautiful diamonds safe until he found a designer he trusted enough to turn them into a ring that nestled around a slightly larger, new diamond. His guiding criteria were that any ring he bought me must be low-profile and unique, and use ethically-mined or recycled diamonds. A custom design fit the bill, but as soon as he received the finished product, he knew it was wrong. He doesn't have any photos of it on his phone (in case I saw them) but said the old diamonds clashed with the new one, and it felt too clunky, just off.
A few days later, as he was panicking over what to do, he stopped into Voiage, a store where he'd purchased a twenty-sixth birthday present for me (a small moonstone ring I wear every day). Within two minutes, he found the ring. He ultimately returned the non-custom components of the previous ring, for a restocking fee, and snagged the Tura Sugden design that would become my engagement ring. Part of his attraction to the ring was the designer's story.
Tura is a Bay Area-based artist who's one of the few ring designers I've come across who actually makes everything herself, from start to finish (she received a BFA in small metal arts, and worked as an assistant for seven years before starting her own business six years ago!). She specializes in creating designs around uniquely shaped stones, rather than shaping stones to fit her designs, which keeps their natural, flawed beauty intact. Because I'm such a fan of her pieces, and couldn't love my ring more, I asked her to share a little about what goes into creating an engagement ring:
How would you describe the style of your jewelry?
Feminine, architectural, alternative, wispy.
How is designing engagement rings different from designing other rings?
I purchased the stones for [Leslie's] ring with the intention of making a statement alternative bridal engagement ring—I knew it would have to find the perfect home! The set of three stones sat in my safe for an entire year while I contemplated how it would all fit together. Sometimes with engagement rings, it takes a long time to really make sure all of the stones match and fit just right, and if it’s a truly unique ring I take a lot of time to think about design.
For engagement rings, I think a lot about wearability every day and about the color of the stones. I love a colored diamond for bridal but a lot of my customers prefer more muted tones–champagne or white are my best sellers. I also consider how the ring will fit with a wedding band eventually. When I design an occasional or cocktail ring I don’t worry as much about neutralizing the color–it’s a great opportunity to play with shapes, size, and color of stones.
Can you tell me a little about the traditional techniques you use, and why?
I was trained to use a German blowpipe, which is an ancient tool used for soldering. It is controlled using the power of the user’s breath in combination with propane. It allows for an intuitive control of the flame that I haven’t experienced with any other type of soldering, and it has allowed me to continue hand fabrication rather than relying on new technologies like CAD. I love the idea of a traditional fabrication process for an engagement ring–I think it’s romantic.
Your jewelry is conflict-free and ethical. What does this mean? And why was it important to you?
The range of ethics within the jewelry industry is broad, to say the least. It’s really important to me that my company be transparent and to do what we can to minimize our carbon footprint and not contribute to human rights abuses in other countries. My father is a biologist and an activist for environmental rights and so my entire life I’ve had someone educating and advising me on my impact on the earth. It’s a huge part of who I’ve always been, and I want my business to be aligned with those values. We are a certified Green Business in the City of San Francisco (more info on our website). This is directly from our website, but it explains more about our industry and the position we’re in:
All of the diamonds we offer are conflict-free, regulated by the Kimberly Process which has minimized the distribution of conflict diamonds in the United States. Although well-intentioned, the Kimberly Process is imperfect. It doesn’t address human rights abuses and the environmental degradation caused by the diamond mining industry. That’s why we seek out certified post-consumer, antique, Canadian, and Australian diamonds in addition to our conflict-free offerings. We buy our diamonds and colored stones exclusively from a handful of trusted dealers who purchase and cut their own rough stones, which creates an ideal short supply chain from mine to market. Our industry is imperfect, but we remain committed to offsetting what we can’t control by supporting systems that we believe in, like purchasing recycled diamonds and gold.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs in general?
All of our rings are made with recycled gold and I source our stones from a small handful of diamond suppliers who have ethics that align with my own. Because these resources are limited I find a lot of inspiration in finding the perfect stone. When I’m buying diamonds I’m looking for something totally unique, that has special qualities that will help tell a story for the customer. When a stone has a special crystal pattern or a rainbow scintillation it really speaks to me, and that comes through in the finished piece.
Many designers don't also make their own jewelry. Why do you?
I like making my own pieces, it’s an art form and a practice. I hope I can always make time to be at the bench, although my time is of course split with running the business and designing. I’ve allowed my business to stay small, which does allow me to continue making my own pieces. I have an assistant who helps as well, but between the two of us, we produce everything that’s coming out of the studio.
Can you tell me a little about the design of my ring specifically?
The fact that it took over a year to make is pretty unique, I don’t normally let stones marinate on my mind for so long. I had been wanting to play with geometric shapes for bridal but because I knew this would be so unique within my collection of mostly organic shaped bridal I wanted to start with a design that would be a statement. I found the center stone and it really inspired me to search for the perfect geometric side stones to go with it–I think it turned out really well, and I love how the three stones contour above the band.
P.S., Here's the (shorter) story behind Jonah's ring... After my friend, Dasha proposed to her now-husband with a family ring, I knew I wanted to do the same for Jonah. I called my mom for her thoughts, and her suggestion was so obvious I didn't consider any other options. My grandfather on my mom's side made jewelry as a hobby, and for my mom's wedding as well as her three brothers' weddings, he made them each a replica of his mother's (my great-grandmother's) wedding band. The inscription has her grandparents' (my great-grandparents') initials alongside their wedding date: November 20, 1901. I'm incredibly close with my uncles, all of whom Jonah looks up to as well, so it meant the world to me to ask Jonah to join my family with a ring I knew would have so much significance to both of us. All of my mom's brothers live in Guatemala, where the mail service is spotty at best, so they had a ring copied there, then carried it to Miami before shipping it to me, via my mom. The ring was a bit big, but we worked with Voiage to find a jeweler who was able to resize it to Jonah's finger while keeping the inscription intact. On our wedding day, he's planning on removing it the day of, so it can be symbolically replaced as a wedding band!