If Cupid Were an Engineer

When my buddy Kyle approached me late last year about designing an engagement ring for him and his (hopefully) soon to be fiancé, I pretty much had to say “I do”.  I realize that sounds like an odd answer to the question, “Will you design an engagement ring for Susan?”, but the way he asked it was more like, “Do you solemnly swear to design this ring with enthusiasm, integrity, and love, for as long as we both shall live?”  I wish I was making this up to just make this article sound more “wedding-y”, but I’m not.  Kyle is just REALLY into weddings.  So, after a brief awkward silence, I said “yes”.

All joking aside, Kyle came to the right engineer.  With 5 years of experience as a product development engineer for a large jewelry manufacturer I’ve picked up a thing or two about the jewelry development process and sound jewelry design.  So I’d like to share a quick run through of the process we followed to develop this engagement ring, from the initial consultation and designing in Solidworks to delivery of the finished ring; plus a few insights and pointers based on what we learned along the way.

Inspiration

It all starts with inspiration and a list of a few simple care-abouts from the initial consultation:

  • The couple wanted the ring’s style to lean towards vintage, with several different clustered stones around a center diamond, but being careful not to get too gaudy.  That’s not Susan’s style.
  • A 1 carat diamond was chosen as the perfect size.
  • Colored accent stones were a must and Susan chose to go with her parent’s birthstones, but the desired shape of the accent stones was still up in the air.   
  • The couple chose to go with 14k white gold from the get go.

Design

At this point Susan had shared all her care-abouts so she stepped away, wanting to be surprised by the final product.  I’d like to say that didn’t leave Kyle and me on edge, but with several hours of labor and a few thousand dollars on the line it’s understandable that we’d want to get this right on the first shot.  Luckily, the beauty of the design process using Solidworks is it’s quick and easy for me to help my clients visualize the product in different configurations before choosing a final design.  So over the next few weeks we churned through several gemstone counts, shapes and color configurations. 

Finally, a heavenly light shone down on the perfect design for Susan.  It was as if Cupid himself was whispering to Kyle through my computer screen, “That’s the one”.     

Sourcing the Bling

Sourcing colored gemstones is pretty straightforward given the abundance of online resources these days, especially if you go with standard cuts.  But, if you need a recommendation, I source the bulk of my colored gemstones through www.africagems.com.  They have a ton of options to choose from, many of which you can get in matching pairs, and the quality of every stone I’ve received from them has been great.  However, sourcing loose diamonds larger than 0.5 carat can be a little tricky.  There are some good online sources such as www.brilliance.com but if you do decide to make a large diamond a part of your engagement ring I’d recommend popping into several local jewelry shops in your area to see what they have on hand.  It doesn’t hurt to get your hands on the stone before purchasing to make sure you like its cut and clarity, given the heft of the purchase.  Luckily, I know a guy who found us a well-priced 1 carat diamond with good clarity.

Getting Physical

This is the moment I, as an engineer, yearn for – seeing that digital creation transition into a tangible object still makes me giddy after years of experience.  But before letting my inner child take hold and jumping straight into having the shank built I gave myself a stern talking to in my best dad voice, I put my big boy pants on, and I patiently waited on the stones to arrive.  I’ve seen too many designers skip this step.  Take care to measure the actual stones that will be used and tweak the CAD to fit.  This step was complete in a matter of minutes given the ability to make quick changes through Solidwork's history tree. 

With the design meeting all form, fit, and function requirements I partnered with a local jeweler with wax milling and casting capabilities to build the ring for us.  We provided the gemstones and CAD model and the jeweler would provide the metal, polish the casting, and set the stones.  Keep in mind, before sending a CAD file to a jeweler for milling and casting make sure to get a recommended scale percentage.  The casting process involves pouring molten metal into a plaster mold.  As the metal part cools it shrinks slightly from the original design, usually around 1%.  So scale your CAD model up accordingly.

The Moment of Truth

Two weeks later the ring was ready and the jeweler did a fantastic job.  I did my part, the jeweler did his part, and my client was happy…until he was on edge again.  Remember when I said it’s understandable to be a bit edgy about the engagement ring build process?  Well, that’s nothing compared to the feeling of carrying around an engagement ring prior to popping the question.  In fact, I’m writing this portion of the article in a coffee shop shaking nervously just recounting my experience with this feeling 8 years ago.  I asked Kyle what the feeling was like for him: “I felt like I had the world in my pocket.  I actually had to revise my plans and just ask her the same evening I picked up the ring because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold on to a secret like that."  Of course, Susan said yes, and those nervous feelings were washed away in an instant.

I felt like I had the world in my pocket. I actually had to revise my plans and just ask her the same evening I picked up the ring because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold on to a secret like that.

Photos taken by Pressman Studio Photography, Austin, TX - pressmanstudio.com

Conclusion, Insights, and Pointers

So what else can I share with the readers that I’ve learned from this process over the years?  First of all, that whole shtick about light shining down from the heavens on the perfect design has a little bit of truth to it.  You’ll know it when you see the ring that’s just right for the one you love.  But if you don’t really love your bride-to-be then head to Costco to buy her ring. (Just a little friendly jab towards Costco.  And no offense to those readers who purchase jewelry through them. They actually sell pretty high quality diamonds at great prices. I love Costco.  I mean, where else am I going to get my 10,000 count boxes of dryer sheets?)   

Secondly, you’ll notice I refer to myself as an engineer rather than a designer, a term more synonymous with artistic ability.  But engineers, as well as accountants and customer service reps for that matter, are rarely thought of as artistic.

Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator. What makes someone an artist? I don’t think it has anything to do with a paintbrush...there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.
— Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Don’t sell yourself short with the thinking that you are not artistic.  If you let your creativity, passion, and personality shine through in your work and if you focus on how your work makes your customers feel, you’ll create art. 

Lastly, it turns out engineers are capable of spreading love too.  Even an engineer with a sometimes dry and odd sense of humor.  Perhaps I’ve met my new calling as an engineer version of Cupid, with a jetpack instead of wings, cargo shorts over my adult diaper, Solidworks in place of my bow and arrow, but with the same boyish good looks.