Romancing the Stone – How to design your custom ring

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For the Calgary Herald:1-Traditional hand tools meet the latest technology in Paul Kangas' workshop Photo courtesy Paul Kangas

When Jim Ball decided to surprise his wife Marilyn with a custom ring for their tenth anniversary, he took his design to his favorite jeweler 10 months ahead of time.  He wasn’t worried about how long it would take; he was looking forward to the experience.  Jim and Marilyn had designed her wedding bands, based on her vision of a piece of lace set with a yellow diamond, as well as other pieces over the years. According to Peter Kangas, of Kangas Diamonds and Custom Jewellery, most people who are looking for custom rings are not young newlyweds.  Generally speaking, they are couples like Jim and Marilyn, who have been together for more than a few years.  They usually have a design in mind and are looking for something distinctive and unique from jeweller like Peter who can, as Jim says, “draw out of you what you would like to see”.

Peter Kangas is a designer and goldsmith, who comes from a line of five generations of watchmakers, dating back to 1895. Trained to create custom jewellery by hand in the “lost wax” method of model making, his passion is focused on his tiny sculptures. Although he still likes to take things old school, wielding his precision jeweller’s tools, lately he has been working with computer-aided design (CAD), his state of the art 3D printer and a casting chamber that can reach over 2000 degrees Celsius. But every design still begins with a drawing.

The process starts with a private interview at the Kangas studio and then the fun begins.  With almost unlimited choices and a vast catalogue of his past work to draw from, clients can start to bring on the bling.  Picking a precious metal for the setting is one of the first steps, from yellow, white or rose gold, or platinum. Then the gems are chosen, from repurposed family heirlooms to sparkling new Canadian diamonds fresh out of the tundra.

Once an idea takes shape, Kangas crafts the piece offsite at his workshop using the drawing as a guide.  Depending on the complexity of the design, a ring can take from a few weeks to several months to create, with plenty of opportunity to make changes and play with the ring’s colour, style and the size of the stones.  Sometimes he’ll build a prototype out of polymer resin or sterling silver to help the client visualize the finished product.  After approval, the actual ring is created complete with genuine gemstones.  A few weeks later comes the moment of truth, the fitting.

Sometimes rings are a complete surprise.  From an underwater scuba proposal at an exotic destination to a flight over a field in Saskatchewan with “Will You Marry Me” cut into a cornfield; from the Golden Gate Bridge to a geocache, proposals are often as unique as the rings themselves. For Casey Petras, the perfect setting was the graveside of her beloved grandfather. After her husband Matthew popped the question, she knelt down to whisper, “Grandpa, you’re the first to know”.  Her grandfather, Alvin Bietz, had had all his wife’s jewellery made by Peter Kangas’ father.

The Four C’s

The famous 4 C’s of diamond grading were created by the Gemological Institute of America in the 1970’s as a scientific way to organize what had been a mysterious art to most people. Suddenly, the public had a way to comparison shop and diamonds became a more of a commodity as well as a symbol of luxury.

The four C’s are Clarity – a description of the purity of the crystal including any imperfections the “birthmarks” of a natural material; Colour – ranging from colorless “D” grade, through yellow to brown “Z” grade. (Coloured diamonds in pink, yellow and blue have their own rating scale); Cut – whatever the shape, round, princess or pear, the geometric proportions must be maintained to send the maximum amount of light shooting out the top of the stone; and Carat – the weight. The original unit of measure for diamond traders was a carob seed.  Today, a carat is equal to 0.2 grams, about the weight of a paper clip.

What makes diamonds so desirable?  The reasons are complex and contradictory.  They’re the hardest substance in existence, although they can be shattered; they can store wealth, although the most perfect diamonds are locked away and never worn; they denote luxury, but their price is defined by imperfections; they are mysterious, coveted and sometimes cursed.  Peter Kangas likes to say that he works at the best business in the world “People come to me when they are happy and I want to make these objects as beautiful as I can to symbolize their emotions.  When eyes sparkle and tears of joy flow, the size of the stone really doesn’t matter.”


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Travel writer and luxury hotel reviewer

An experienced and trustworthy travel writer, Debra writes about luxury hotels and resorts, soft adventure, fine dining and cultural experiences in Europe and North America. Posting to Instagram since 2013 as @Where.To.Lady. Curious, attentive to detail and fun company, Debra is based in Calgary, Alberta. Member of SATW, IFWTWA, TravMedia USA, BA English, Art History U of C, former Chair TMAC AB/NWT.