The Journey to the Perfect Engagement Ring

Happy Valentine’s Day! Valentine’s Day is here and our thoughts turn to romance and love. The engagement ring is a true symbol of love, indicating that the person wearing it is engaged to be married. Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to propose with a wonderful engagement ring.

©Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery
Tiara inspired ring

The gifting of an engagement ring is said to have originated in ancient Egypt. However, the history of the engagement ring can only be reliably traced as far back as ancient Rome.

The first recorded use of a diamond engagement ring for a proposal was from Archduke Maximilian of Austria, in the imperial court of Vienna in 1477, to Mary of Burgundy. This ignited a trend for diamond rings among European aristocracy and nobility.

There are references to engagement and wedding rings in Shakespeare’s plays. Around that time couples in Europe often exchanged posie rings, silver or gold bands with a love message engraved on the inside.

At the end of the Victorian era diamonds became a more common feature of engagement rings, after a large deposit of diamonds was discovered in South Africa.

In 1947, De Beers launched its now classic slogan, “A Diamond is Forever.” This campaign spurred even more sales.

In the run up to Valentine’s Day, I spoke to Tom Wilson, Senior Designer and Branch Manager of Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery in beautiful Primrose Hill. The new studio and shop on Regent’s Park Road is the company’s third location and combines an innovative retail space with a working design studio.

Tom and Harriet in the Primrose Hill Studio, (photo by Lars Christiansen)

Tom tells me that: “We aren’t like other jewellery shops at all. We sell one-off pieces and work mainly on designing pieces for our customers to suit their style, story and budget – we never make the same thing twice. We’ve been dreaming of opening a shop in Primrose Hill for so long and we’re so excited that it’s now a reality. Primrose Hill has a strong community feel and is known as a place for specialists and experts. Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery was founded in 1998 and since then it has grown to be one of the most highly regarded UK jewellery companies with many national and international awards to its name so we’re confident that we’ll fit in well amongst the artisans of the area.”

Primrose Hill Studio

In terms of current trends for engagement rings, Tom explains that: “Coloured metals have definitely increased in popularity. Rose gold seems to be a lasting trend; the pink tint of the gold and copper alloys gives it a beautiful warmth that suits many skin tones. In the late 1990s white metals such as platinum and white gold led the way but yellow gold is now making quite the comeback. It is a timeless metal choice that complements vintage as well as modern designs.”

©Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery
Cognac Diamond Ring

Engagement rings have been very much in the spotlight with recent Royal engagements.

Prince Harry proposed to Meghan Markle with a ring he designed himself: a diamond from Botswana flanked by two diamonds from one of Princess Diana’s brooches. Meghan’s ring is a yellow gold, trilogy diamond engagement ring. Tom says: “We’ve seen an increased interest in three stone engagement rings since the royal engagement was announced. There are endless possibilities when it comes to the seemingly simple configuration of a trilogy engagement ring; it’s not unusual to combine diamonds with coloured gemstones or to consider a variety of cuts and metals.”

©Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery
Princess Cut Trilogy Ring

Princess Eugenie’s engagement ring contains a unique sapphire surrounded by diamonds, creating “a very beautiful cluster.”

Tom says: “It’s truly mesmerising when one stone showcases a display of different colours.”

©Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery
Rose-gold watermelon-tourmaline ring

Tom takes me through the bespoke experience. He says it’s about a 50/50 split between a surprise engagement ring ahead of a proposal and the couple creating the ring together with one of the company’s designers. Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery also has the wonderfully named ‘Proposal in a Box’. This is ideal if you want to propose but you’re unsure of the exact design that your partner would like. Tom says that: “It’s a lovely experience to do together as a couple.”

©Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery
‘Proposal in a Box’

“Inspiration for a ring can come from anything. We have worked on commissions inspired by everything from a VW beetle to the colour of cat’s eye to science inspired pieces such as the DNA double helix.”

“It’s not just about the ring, and the meaning of the ring, it’s about making the memories of the proposal special.”

“Christmas and summer holidays are always popular times for proposals, as well as Valentine’s Day. We design and make engagement rings all year round but Christmas is definitely a peak time.”

Tom describes his most memorable Valentine’s ring: “It was a yellow gold ring with a central diamond underneath individual petals of a rose that sat under the diamond itself. It looked like a miniature rose. It was very beautiful and romantic.”

“Cost wise – the starting point is £1,500-£2,000. We can work around any kind of budget as we make everything on a one-off basis.”

“Our studio and shop is staffed by a team of expert designers who are on hand to chat to customers about individual design commissions. We’re open 7 days a week and you can pre- book a design consultation or feel free to just drop in.”

In terms of gemstones, Tom says that: “Diamonds will of course always be popular and we specialise in coloured gemstones too. If a customer wants something unusual, we will be able to source it for them. We work with many sapphires – they come in a rainbow of colours but if they are red then they are classed as a ruby. Blue tones are always popular too.”

©Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery
Coloured gemstones

Tom tells me: “Construction of the ring takes approximately 4-6 weeks. However, I have done an engagement ring in a week. I have never missed a proposal!”

©Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery
Designer hand sketching

Being at the forefront of ethics within the industry is important to Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery. The company was in the first independent jeweller in the world that was both Responsible Jewellery Council certified and licensed by the Fairtrade Foundation.

Tom expands: “We love helping people learn about Fairtrade gold and responsibly sourced materials as we work on their creations. We spend a lot of time and energy finding the most responsible source for our materials, whilst making sure that we never compromise on quality.”

Tom’s last words on the journey to the perfect engagement ring: “There are simply no set rules. It’s all about the meaning behind the piece.”

©Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery
Vintage Inspired Ring

Many thanks to Tom Wilson at Harriet Kelsall

All images ©Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery

Check our Gallery for more engagement rings from Harriet Kelsall