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Diamonds in Hertfordshire: 3 top jewellery designers

PUBLISHED: 12:52 07 February 2017 | UPDATED: 12:52 07 February 2017

A jeweller working

A jeweller working

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Diamonds have long been a token of love; an enduring symbol of a relationship. With Valentine’s Day this month, Hertfordshire Life spoke to three leading Herts jewellery designers to discover the journey of this precious mineral from mine to will you be mine

This platinum ring was designed around an 0.75 carat trillion cut E VVS1 certificated diamond. It's inspiration comes from the iconic architecture of the Sydney Opera House This platinum ring was designed around an 0.75 carat trillion cut E VVS1 certificated diamond. It's inspiration comes from the iconic architecture of the Sydney Opera House

Around three billion years ago, a combination of tremendous heat, pressure and volcanic eruptions more than 100 miles beneath the earth’s surface led to the formation of the most prized gemstones in the world. As the hardest naturally occurring mineral, diamonds have long been coveted as a symbol of strength, prosperity and love, particularly when incorporated in jewellery design.

From our prehistoric ancestors’ use of bone, stone and shell to fashion jewellery, to the Victorians’ creation of terms of endearment attached to particular gemstones, jewellery has been used as a way of symbolically representing relationships, status and wealth for millennia. It was in the 15th century that the first bespoke diamond engagement ring was presented by Archduke Maximilian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy; so began the customary gesture of offering a diamond ring as a promise to marry.

In 1948, mining company De Beers launched its A Diamond Is Forever advertising campaign, reinforcing the romantic concept that, like a diamond, love is eternal. By 1951, eight out of 10 brides in the United States received a diamond engagement ring. De Beers’ slogan still serves as the company’s motto while the desire for diamonds continues to grow – the global forecast for rough diamond demand is set to exceed $26bn by 2020.

Any coveted item can attract conflict and crime, and ethical issues around the sourcing of diamonds, particularly from war-torn areas of Africa such as Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo are a major issue for governments and the jewellery industry.

In 2000, the South African diamond-producing states met to discuss ways to stop conflict diamonds entering the market. In 2002, the United Nations General Assembly, in conjunction with the international diamond industry and key government representatives, created a certification scheme enforcing stringent checks on the production and trading of rough diamonds. Each supplier signed up to this Kimberley Process is required to issue a certificate of compliance with every shipment. Jewellery designers using these diamonds also sign up to the scheme. This traceability helps to reinforce social and environmental standards relating to the mining and trading of diamonds.

Once a diamond has been mined, which could be from open-cast pits or alluvial, coastal or deep sea contexts, it is sorted and categorised in its rough state according to the ‘four Cs’ – cut, colour, clarity, and carat size. It is then graded, priced and sold. An expert diamond cutter will then cut the stone to optimise its shape and value before polishing. Then it is sold on again to manufacturers and wholesalers. While many diamonds go into mass produced and machine-made jewellery, some are chosen by jewellery designers, and this is where the magic and affiliation we have with diamonds truly begins.

It’s the designer’s job to work with a client to turn the client’s vision into a bespoke piece. This typically involves a process of consultation, drawings (by hand and using computer aided design), soldering, mounting, stone-setting and engraving among other specialist techniques.

These highly-skilled craftspeople understand the architectural and functional aspects of gemstones and precious metals and how to work with them to produce an aesthetically pleasing, wearable design that meets or ideally exceeds a customer’s expectations. I spoke to three leading designers in the county to discover more.

Christopher Wharton examines a tear drop diamond Christopher Wharton examines a tear drop diamond

Harriet Kelsall, Fairclough Hall Farm, Halls Green

What does designing bespoke diamond jewellery mean to you?

Bespoke design is all about telling someone’s unique story. We like to incorporate a customer’s interests and personality into a piece and we always ensure that each piece suits the look and lifestyle of the wearer.

During the last recession, we noticed that people who had previously prioritised the size of their stone were now even more interested in showcasing the significance of the story behind their design. Also, customers realised that mass-produced jewellery does not usually represent good value compared to individually designed and made high-quality pieces.

Every commission is different and it’s part of our role as specialist bespoke designers to ensure that we meet the brief of our clients while injecting our creativity and expertise.

What’s important to you when designing with diamonds?

We assess clients’ requirements very carefully so that we can work with their priorities. Some customers want a lot of sparkle, in which case the particular cut and quality of the diamonds are vital, as are plenty of shoulder stones. If a customer prefers a simpler Art Deco look, we select squarer cuts with excellent clarity.

Some want coloured diamonds or to combine white diamonds with other coloured gemstones. Some prefer spending more on the precious metal than the diamond, whereas others prioritise their spend on the diamond, and the metal takes a back seat. We regularly have some amazing diamonds in stock like kite shapes and flower cuts. Once, we were asked to source a diamond cut in the shape of a horse’s head and we managed to find it!

Fiona at work in her Hatfield studio Fiona at work in her Hatfield studio

The Kimberly Process is designed to prevent conflict diamonds entering into the legitimate supply chain and so we only ever buy diamonds which comply with this. We also go one step beyond that and buy our diamonds from a supplier who can provide traceability – this is a very rare thing in the diamond supply chain, as usually they are untraceable. Having this traceability provides us with another level of ethical assurance.

We also do quite a lot of glamorous recycling and often rework a customer’s inherited or unworn jewellery by melting the metal and resetting the stones in a completely new form, but we’re always really careful about the provenance of these diamonds. It’s wonderful to be able to breathe new life into a piece and to know that it’s going to be enjoyed and worn rather than stuck in the bottom of a jewellery box.

How important is the role of the designer in the jewellery-making process?

We have noticed that more and more customers really value the contact with the designer/maker of their jewellery and being able to chose their own diamond. Over the 27 years we’ve been in business, our clients have developed a greater understanding and appreciation of unusual cuts and coloured diamonds, and are interested in creating something that is personal to them. This makes the relationship with their jewellery much more meaningful than it would be with a mass-produced piece.

Our bespoke service allows us to work with a customer’s budget to create something individual and unique. It’s my intention when designing and producing a piece of jewellery to exceed expectations and create something timeless.

How do you select the diamonds to be used in a piece?

We tend to find that people who are looking to invest in diamonds want something that they can enjoy wearing now and yet could also be handed down as a family heirloom, so this is at the forefront of our mind when choosing the stones for a design.

A bespoke design by Harriet Kelsall - 'it's our role to ensure we meet the brief while injecting creativity' A bespoke design by Harriet Kelsall - 'it's our role to ensure we meet the brief while injecting creativity'

We always have a comprehensive consultation process with clients to enable us to determine exactly what they are looking for. It’s important to ascertain whether it’s a statement piece or something for everyday use, as this will influence the type of stone that we use. For example, some diamonds such as brilliant cuts add sparkle and dynamism to a piece, where old cuts are much quieter and more understated.

Diamonds add a luxurious and precious quality to any piece of jewellery; they provide a fantastic focal point in a design and contrast well with other coloured gemstones.

While I only use non-conflict diamonds controlled by the Kimberley Process, for further peace of mind I also offer Canadian mined diamonds which come with certification which tracks the stone from the mine in its rough state through to being polished and graded by the Gemological Institute of America. With coloured gemstones, I have visited mines and cutting factories in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand to see the conditions for the workers.

Christopher Wharton, George Street, St. Albans

What’s the fashion for diamond jewellery in the county and have you noticed a change in tastes and demands over the years?

Since I started designing jewellery back in the late 70s, I have seen continual change in customers’ tastes, but there has always been demand for a complete spectrum from very fine, delicate pieces to a heavier and harder design.

Currently we are experiencing increased demand for oval, princess and cushion cuts; however, the brilliant cut is always way out in front. Styles are constantly evolving, but the truth is that good design lives forever and fundamentally doesn’t change that much.

With regard to ethical issues, the subject of diamonds is always to the fore. As a long-standing manufacturer of diamond jewellery, we have always taken this subject extremely seriously. As end users, we are signed up to the Kimberley Process and will buy only from recognised sources. We also buy from some Russian and Canadian sources.

How do you approach designing to realise a client’s vision?

When designing a specific piece for a client, I start by sitting down with them and discussing their tastes and ideas. This can take from 15 minutes to two hours. As long as the end result is as good or better than expected, we are happy.

Once I have built up an impression of their preferred style, I do some preliminary sketches showing various ideas based on our initial discussions. When the client is happy with the design, we transfer it on to the CAD system and produce life-size photographs from all angles of how the finished piece will look, as well as a life- size wax model for the client to try on. This process eliminates any doubt in their mind as to how it will look as a finished piece. Our goldsmiths then hand-make the design using the wax model as a template.

Customer satisfaction, quality of product and value for money are the cornerstones of our business. We always carry a large and varied stock of both white and coloured loose diamonds, with great emphasis placed on quality and variety. All our team are able to offer expert advice when choosing that special diamond.

Fiona Rae, Stable Yard, Hatfield House

How important is the role of the designer in the jewellery-making process?

We have noticed that more and more customers really value the contact with the designer/maker of their jewellery and being able to chose their own diamond. Over the 27 years we’ve been in business, our clients have developed a greater understanding and appreciation of unusual cuts and coloured diamonds, and are interested in creating something that is personal to them. This makes the relationship with their jewellery much more meaningful than it would be with a mass-produced piece.

Our bespoke service allows us to work with a customer’s budget to create something individual and unique. It’s my intention when designing and producing a piece of jewellery to exceed expectations and create something timeless.

How do you select the diamonds to be used in a piece?

We tend to find that people who are looking to invest in diamonds want something that they can enjoy wearing now and yet could also be handed down as a family heirloom, so this is at the forefront of our mind when choosing the stones for a design.

We always have a comprehensive consultation process with clients to enable us to determine exactly what they are looking for. It’s important to ascertain whether it’s a statement piece or something for everyday use as this will influence the type of stone that we use. For example, some diamonds such as brilliant cuts add sparkle and dynamism to a piece, where old cuts are much quieter and more understated.

Diamonds add a luxurious and precious quality to any piece of jewellery, they provide a fantastic focal point in a design and contrast well with other coloured gemstones.

While I only use non-conflict diamonds controlled by the Kimberley Process, for further peace of mind I also offer Canadian mined diamonds which come with certification which tracks the stone from the mine in its rough state through to being polished and graded by the Gemological Institute of America. With coloured gemstones I have visited mines and cutting factories in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand to see the conditions for the workers.

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