The Perfect Custom Engagement Ring: A Gemologist’s Love Story

Sydney Strong is our resident Graduate Gemologist. She’s the daughter of our namesake artist, llyn strong, and a fantastic jewelry designer in her own right. (Check out her jewelry line, SS) Last fall Sydney got engaged to the love of her life, Michelle, on top of a glacier. But before she could do that, she had to design the perfect custom engagement ring! Sydney worked with llyn to custom design and make the perfect engagement ring for Michelle. Here’s her story of inspiration, moments of doubt, and sparks of brilliance, while designing the ultimate custom engagement ring.

“I design and make jewelry, am a colored stone advocate, and a Graduate Gemologist. So making this ring should be simple, right?! HA! Not in the slightest. This was something I did every day, but her ring was hard. I was terrified.”

Finding Her Ring Size & Style

Like many couples, Sydney and Michelle talked about the possibility of engagement and marriage openly, including discussions about Michelle’s favorite ring styles, stones, and what held special meaning to her. Sydney had known Michelle’s ring size long before marriage was even discussed. Being a jewelry designer may be the perfect excuse to get someone’s ring size. (If you’re looking to design a custom engagement ring or wedding ring and don’t know your SO’s size, Sydney advises “borrowing” their jewelry or asking for friends and family to help.)

“I knew the style that she wanted, something pretty simple and classic but not completely plain. And I wanted it to be very personal, and very us, so I made many changes to her ring. It had to be perfect. It had to be exactly right.”

Designing the Custom Engagement Ring

Custom engagement ring designs start with a sketch. When llyn strong sketches out a custom piece, she intuitively works in her knowledge of stone characteristics, materials, and various styles. llyn sketched a few ideas for Michelle’s ring, one of which was very close to the final design. The focal point—the stone—was the hardest part to nail down.

“Afterwards, llyn told me that I was the most high-maintenance customer ever. :)”

Selecting the Perfect Diamonds and Gemstones

Designers at llyn strong fine jewelry work with colored gem dealers and diamond dealers who specialize in sourcing unique, fine quality stones of all types. The ability to show clients loose gemstones and design a piece of jewelry around the stone truly sets them apart. Naturally, Sydney took the same approach, but deciding on the right stone wasn’t easy.

“After changing the shape and size of the diamond three times, I decided on a faceted 2.5-carat oval diamond with the highest color (D) and VS clarity. It looks like a glacier, which ties into the proposal.”

After finding the perfect diamond, Sydney could dive into finalizing components of the design:

  • A double four-prong setting with diamonds up the prongs would be secure and highlight the stone’s elongated shape.
  • A partial infinity band in just the right proportion to the center stone.
  • A squared band that would nicely compliment the oval and round diamonds; it was designed to accommodate Michelle’s future wedding band, which will sit flush against the ring.

Personalizing the Engagement Ring with Intimate Details

Next came Sydney’s favorite part: incorporating little details that would not necessarily be visible to others but carry deep meaning for Michelle.

“There is an ‘M’ and an ’S’ on either side of the ring under the center stone, with a small Paraiba Tourmaline (which is the same gemstone type as the center stone of my ring) next to each letter. The coolest part of her ring, I think, is our hand engraving of the Alaskan Range (Alaska is very sentimental to us) with the North Star on the inside of her band.”

Hand engravings are a relatively common part of engagement ring customization, but most people think of initials. In fact, you can create artistic patterns, include illustrations, reference meaningful phrases or experiences…the list is endless!

Setting stones on the inside or bottom of the ring is another personal touch that can’t be accomplished with boilerplate settings. Michelle’s ring has a small Paraiba Tourmaline on the underside, which ties into the ring that Michelle created for Sydney.

“Seeing her wearing the ring that I designed for her, that I made for her, that I gave her when I asked her to marry me, makes me melt.”

The Proposal

After a great custom engagement ring story, comes an even better proposal story. Told in Sydney’s words:“Before I had settled on a time and place to propose, the option of her being in Alaska over the summer for a travel nurse assignment was discussed and eventually decided upon. A lightbulb went off. Of course, I did not want her to be 4,277 miles—and 4 time zones—away, but the idea of being able to propose to my girl, in Alaska—a place that was unbelievably special to us and a huge part of where we are today—was incredible.With a little help from Heather (my Maid of Honor), Allison (my Maid of Honor), “Baby” Llyn (my Bridesmaid, cousin, and the one who introduced Michelle and me), Jacque (Michelle’s Maid of Honor), and Jess (Michelle’s Maid of Honor), we devised a plan. Michelle and I love to adventure, explore, and do new fun exciting things. So I mentioned a fly-in helicopter glacier tour, which is nothing out of the ordinary from what we would normally do. I sent her some pictures, and she said that it looked cool.

Little did she know that it was already booked, planned, and a count-down begun!I wanted it to be absolutely perfect and, I wanted her to feel like the most special human on the earth. I wanted to take her breath away, so I did some research and found an amazing photographer to come and capture the whole thing. We had a 4-person helicopter, and with Michelle, the pilot and I, that left one seat open for “a random tourist doing the tour on his own”—AKA our photographer.It was about a 45-minute flight out to the glacier, and you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. (We saw a bear and mountain goats on the way!) We landed on Colony Glacier, right next to the more beautiful, Hugh glacial pool.I was shaking as I got out of the helicopter trying to get the ring out of the pouch and into my pocket. We started walking around and exploring. I knew that I wanted to do it as soon as we got off the helicopter, but I had to find the right spot. (Also, there was no “getting down on one knee,” so I told the photographer to keep an eye out for me to scratch my back as a sign that it was about to happen.)Low and behold, there was the most perfect “aisle” of ice that jutted out into the middle of the glacial pool. It was about two feet wide, just wide enough for us both to walk out onto it, into the middle of the most crystal clear blue water you’ve ever seen.

I lured her down the “aisle” of ice, turned her around towards me, and pulled out the ring. Of course, I had this whole speech planned out and completely went blank. I managed to get the words “Michelle, I love you. I want to adventure with you forever. Will you marry me?” I don’t actually think she heard me say anything she was staring at the ring so hard. Hahaha, but of course, she said ‘YES.’ (And yes, these pictures are real, no filters, no photoshop. 

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