London-based jeweller Simon Wright uses a mixture of cutting-edge 3D printing technology and traditional artisanal know-how to craft beautiful bespoke jewellery. We paid a visit to his workshop in Clerkenwell to talk about his creative process and the importance of the perfect proposal
Simon Wright has been working in the jewellery industry for more than two decades. Originally from Australia, he trained in Melbourne before moving to London, where he now runs his eponymous jewellery atelier in the stylish Clerkenwell neighbourhood.
What sets Simon Wright Jewellery aside from other brands in the field is the design process. Wright was quick to see the potential of 3D printing and design, and he combines this technology with an in-depth knowledge of traditional goldsmithing to create his beautiful bespoke jewellery. Not only does this make his process smoother and more efficient, it also allows his clients better insight into the design process: designs are built digitally and can be tweaked to your exact specifications.
Though Wright’s artisanal know-how means he is an expert in all manner of jewellery, it is engagement rings that form the core of his business. He has built a strong reputation in London as a go-to designer of bespoke engagement rings, not only due to his expertise and creative eye, but also for his no-nonsense approach. You can be sure of an honest and informative consultation with Wright, and he knows just how to guide you to the perfect ring.
We sat down with the designer to find out more about his unique design process and the secrets of ensuring a perfect proposal.
How did you get into jewellery making?
I wanted to study fine art and, while originally I was looking to focus on sculpture, I saw that the university offered a course that focused on jewellery and I thought I could make a living doing that. I still get to make things, work with tools and design beautiful pieces, and the opportunity to make a career seemed greater.
How would you describe your signature aesthetic?
I've never really thought about that. I don’t set out to define myself, really, with any design flourishes in my work. I just want to concentrate on making well-made jewellery that will last for hundreds of years in a physical as well as a design sense. A lot of what marks good design is getting proportions right. If the proportions are aesthetically pleasing, then you are well on your way to a good design.
When did you first incorporate 3D printing into your process?
It was around 2008 that I decided I needed to learn how to use CadCam (computer-aided design and manufacturing) technology. Before that I could always do a better job by handmaking my jewellery, but around then it got good enough for me to take it on board.
Can you talk us through the process that goes into making a bespoke piece of jewellery?
A lot of people think that being a jewellery designer and maker is all champagne and feathers, but it’s not. I’ve had customers who are shocked that I hit their engagement ring with a hammer, that I set it on fire and that I get dirty.
I start with the design work on some Cad software, and print out some mock-ups in plastic to make sure it is right and get customer approval.
After the design is signed off I then print off my manufacturing models and send it to be cast in precious metal. I’ve got three 3D printers in the workshop for various applications (also for when one breaks down – they can be temperamental).
The cast pieces come back to me and then it’s my job to sit at my bench and refine the parts. I make sure they fit together properly and that there are no defects. The pieces are then soldered together using both a laser welder (great bit of kit) and traditional precious metal solder using a blowtorch.
After that it’s polished and then the stones are set. I give it a final polish and you have a ring!
What is the Perfect Proposal™ service?
Perfect Proposal™ is a way of proposing that I have trademark on and it’s just a cool way to propose without the stress of having a ring made and thinking that you’re getting it wrong.
You purchase a gemstone and the Perfect Proposal™ kit and then, once you are engaged, make an appointment to both come in and design a ring together.
Initially I released it years ago just before Christmas. You would be surprised how many people come to me the week before Christmas wanting me to make a ring for them. I just can’t do it that quickly at that time. So this way they get to propose with something that shows they have thought about it, got something that’s cool, and then both people can come and design their engagement ring together in the new year.
The appeal then extended to people who were worried about getting it wrong, or thought their partner would be excited to have a hand in designing their own engagement ring.
You’ve been working in jewellery for over two decades. How has the field changed during that time?
CadCam has changed the manufacturing of jewellery immensely. It has opened up a whole range of design possibilities, as well as making manufacturing efficient for smaller operators.
Another thing is that the price of platinum against gold means that platinum is more popular now. It used to be that a ring in platinum could be twice the price of an 18-carat white gold ring. Now, you might be looking at a difference of £300.
Online retailers have had a big effect on the industry too, selling stones from a global database where sometimes they have no contact with the stone between it leaving the supplier and reaching their customer.
Some people are happy to buy a diamond from the internet and, if they don’t like it, to return it for a refund. I’m not comfortable with that as a way to do business, as you are putting the responsibility for the quality of the stone on the consumer and saying, ‘if you don’t like it I’ll give you your money back’.
This is quite a bit different to me viewing stones offered to me by my suppliers, accepting some to show my clients and rejecting others. I stand by the quality of my goods and I don’t ask my clients to decide on the quality.
Is there one piece you’ve worked on that’s been particularly memorable or representative of you as a maker?
There is one ring I made that I’m particularly proud of, which is a platinum diamond ring with elements of rose gold. The client was proposing and wanted something that was unique, but he didn’t want to go over the top with embellishment. The rose gold tendrils underneath the platinum shoulders give a feeling of movement without going over the top and confusing the piece.
What’s the best part of your job?
It’s satisfying being able to see a project from the initial design brief right through making the piece to finally handing it over to the customer.
What should a client have in mind when they arrive for a consultation?
Budget is really important. That helps me with the parameters within which I can work. A rough idea of shape and colour is good too.
Knowing what a client does not like is also very helpful, which people might not realise. Saying you don’t like something really is very helpful, so don’t be shy!
Do you have any advice for someone looking to find the perfect engagement ring
Yes! Don’t be concerned about what anyone else might think – it’s your engagement ring. The same goes with how much to spend: whatever you are comfortable with is the right budget.