The Perfect Fit: Custom Engagement Rings by Leif Benner

An engagement ring is perhaps the most meaningful piece of jewellery an individual will ever receive. When the time arose for my now-husband, Adam, and I to get a little bling inspiration, I knew exactly what I wanted: an Asscher-cut diamond in a halo setting with a thin band encrusted in diamonds. Simple enough to find, right? Wrong. Adam and I visited a few (ok a ton) of stores – both in Toronto and on-line – searching for the ring. On an afternoon walk, I finally saw it, my perfect ring, in the display case of a downtown jewellery store. I could see the relief in Adam’s face that we had finally found it! As the salesman boasted about the cut, clarity, carat, and colour of the ring, he nonchalantly slipped in the price tag. Adam’s face quickly turned from relief to shock and horror.

As we left the store, I assured Adam that the ring was obviously far too expensive and we would just keep looking. A few days later, unbeknownst to me, Adam make an appointment with a Toronto goldsmith, Leif Benner, whose studio, a combined workshop and store, is located in the picturesque Distillery District. Adam took the precise design of my dream engagement ring and brought it to Leif to have custom made for a price within his budget. Leif’s keen eye for design, superb crafting skills, and thoughtful nature made the whole process of choosing and creating my ring an enjoyable and memorable experience for Adam.

It has been around three years since Leif designed my ring, and I admit I still look at it every day and smile. I had the opportunity of sitting down with Leif recently to ask him a few questions that will help a couple understand the wonderful and collaborative process of having an engagement ring custom made.

What are the benefits of choosing to have an engagement ring custom designed and created? Leif: There are a couple of benefits. First you get to have a hand in the design of the ring. If you are looking to make your ring special by adding a bit of vintage flair like an Art Deco style, or if you want a ring with a more unique shape of diamond or interesting shade of sapphire, then custom is the only way to go. Second you can be more flexible with budget. Most designs are scalable in price depending on size of gems, and often there are creative ways that you can design a ring to be visually stunning with any size gem and budget.

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If a client is unsure of what his or her partner’s ideal ring might be, what are some tips to help decide on a design without giving away the surprise? Leif: I find that most couples these days have talked about rings and plan a little. About half of couples come to see me together for ideas and that helps a lot. For the truly surprise engagements, I would say look at his or her clothing, accessories, and lifestyle for clues, and then we can sketch out some great ideas. If we get it a little wrong, I am happy to keep working on the ring after the proposal. It’s all part of the service.

Are your clients able to choose the exact stone to be used in their custom ring? Leif: Yes, I source beautiful Canadian diamonds and amazing sapphires in every colour of the rainbow. Sapphire comes in every shade and saturation from warm yellows and cognacs to vibrant pinks and purples all the way to deep greens and blues. It is my favourite gem!

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What is the first step in your designing process when a client contacts you to custom make an engagement ring for his/her partner? Leif: First thing is always a meeting in my studio, where the client can see my portfolio and look at samples of rings and gems; we can talk about designs and sketch out options. We then set a project budget and decide on a timeline.

After a design is conceptualized and stone selected, what is involved in the creation process? Leif: The process for creating a ring involves a concept sketch; we then move to a CAD rendering where we build the ring as a computer model. I can then email that to the client for approval. We move on to prototyping a wax model. After that we cast the ring in the desired metal.

How do you include your client during the process of custom making an engagement ring? Leif: I invite my clients to be a part of every step if they want to have a bit of creative control. I send images of sketches and renderings along the way and invite feedback so we can fine tune the design before completion.

How do your artistic skills and background come into play when assisting your client in the design of his or her partner’s ideal ring? Leif: I think that growing up with an artist as a father helped a lot. I have sketched from a young age so doing bench sketches for me is fun, and it gets the ideas across very quickly. The rest is learned and refined after making thousands of rings. Mostly it’s being a good listener.

How long is the process of custom making an engagement ring? Leif: It varies a bit depending on time of year, but a comfortable pace is four to eight weeks..

For the unconventional couple, what are some alternative stones to diamonds that you would recommend for an engagement ring? Leif: Sapphire is a great alternative; it has a hardness of 9 and great lustre, making it very sparkly, and comes in so many colours. Some really unique colours would be a peach or a pale pastel blue or yellow. Green or purple are also rare. Or you could go a bit vintage looking with a ruby.

For the unconventional diamond lover, what are some types of stone shapes that are unique rather than a traditional solitaire? Leif: I am always partial to radiant, emerald, and Asscher cuts. They all give a vintage flair.

This might be a tough question . . . but what is the best part about your job? Leif: The best part is definitely the people. The custom process, the back and forth of ideas with my clients, allows for a collaboration that is kind of like magic. And if that wasn’t enough, the variety is endless! We will often have sleek modern and minimalist rings being made for one client and ornate vintage inspired rings being made for another. What can I say, I am a romantic! I met my wife in high school, and we have been together twenty happy years! Getting to work with amazing clients and being part of their journey means a lot to me.

I cannot speak highly enough about Leif and his work! If you are in the market for an engagement ring or perhaps a custom piece of jewellery, pop down to visit his studio at 55 Mill Street, Studio #108 in building #74

By Certified Wedding Planner Alexandra McNamara

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