The thought of crafting your fiancé’s wedding ring, though romantic, may raise a few questions: “Am I capable of doing this? How will it look; I want our rings to be perfect?” I can assure you I felt the same trepidation heading into the Larsen Jewellery studio in Sydney’s grand Strand Arcade (for Melbourne residents there is a Larsen workshop in the CBD’s GPO Building and Brisbane location is in the works).
I am happy to report at the close of a very enjoyable and industrious afternoon I walked away from the workshop with a perfect ring, which I am not only incredibly proud of crafting, but adore wearing. In fact, friends and family are in disbelief that I made it myself. Luckily I have the pictures to prove it! The first step in the process involves choosing the shape, the metal and the detailing for your wedding band. Lars Larsen, owner and operator of Larsen Jewellery, has noticed an increase in requests for engraving, diamonds, mixed metals and finishes in both men’s and women’s wedding bands. Though you will get your hands dirty, the Larsen Master Jewellers complete these additional details.
My Larsen experience was carefully guided by Head Jeweller Gillian Kilgour, who took me through the steps from selecting the style and make of my ring to producing the final product. Having to forge a ring was not what I had expected; I imagined liquid metals and casts. The reality was a process of stretching, annealing (where metal is heated and slowly cooled), bending, soldering and polishing – lots of polishing.
To begin with, the metal is stretched in a hand-operated machine called a rolling mill, gradually reshaping and moulding the 18ct gold I had chosen into the required length and width. Every so often the metal must be annealed with a blow torch until it’s cherry red in colour and cooled, otherwise it can snap and you’ll have to start again (annealing strengthens the metal and reduces brittleness). Once the proportions are correct, the gold is bent into the desired ring shape using a ring bender until the ends of the band are touching. The ends must then be filed so that they sit together perfectly. At this stage, soldering is used to seal the fine gap between the two ends. Shavings of gold are then melted into place with a blowtorch over the join.
The finishing process is all about polishing the metal to a blinding shine. During production the metal appears discoloured and blackened, which might cause concern, but fear not, the ‘Wow’ factor is yet to come. After sanding the ring with different grades of sand paper, then a small electric dentist-style polishing tool and finally the heavy-duty polisher, the smiles, a sense of pride and satisfaction all hit at once. And rightly so – purely by hand, raw materials have been transformed into fine jewellery. A bottle of champagne is of course on hand for a celebration.
Lars and Susie Larsen started their business in 2007, they’d heard about a similar jewellery service in London where members of the public could craft their own rings in an operating workshop. Having just married the year before, they thought the idea sounded very interesting for engaged couples and set the wheels in motion. Head Jeweller Gillian Kilgour has been with Larsen Jewellery since the beginning and today they employ eight full-time jewellers between Sydney & Melbourne.
Larsen Jewellery is the only supplier of this unique service in Australasia, and has many local and overseas clients. While the Wedding Ring Experience is an important part of the business, Lars and Susie recognised that with their talented team of jewellers on hand, the natural progression was to branch out into custom-made pieces. The fact that education has been a key element of the Wedding Ring Experience; it has naturally become a part of their bespoke services as well. Larsen jewellers take their time with clients, making sure they know their options and understand what they are purchasing. There’s a transparency to Larsen’s services in terms of material and labour costs, and the workshop is open to clients.
The final bonus is that without retail overheads Larsen Jewellery is able to offer competitive workshop prices, which is especially relevant on gems – the most expensive part of any engagement ring.