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I’ve never really been a “cut, clarity, colour, carat” kind of girl. For me, jewellery always involved making a statement on a limited budget: perspex cherries, lightning-strike earrings, and so on. Yet, faced with turning 40, I found myself hankering after something substantial. Precious even.
However, faced with the desire for fine jewellery, I realised that, while my budget – a generous, landmark birthday gift from my husband – was by no means insignificant, it was small beer in terms of how much fine jewellery it might purchase. A less well known jewellery designer could be more cost-effective than a name brand, but that did not feel like the new me.
The best solution, I decided, was to have a bespoke piece made – in fact, in these financially trying times and as less identifiable bling is making a comeback, commissioning is a fast growing trend. But I was nervous about it: not only did I know nothing about designing jewellery, something other people spend a lifetime studying, but I also didn’t know any jewellers.
Still, the possible result seemed worth the potential problems, so I began typing random jewellery-related searches into Google and poring over the pages of glossy magazines for candidates.
I canvassed friends, friends of friends and colleagues. This went on for weeks. Finally, three independent word-of-mouth recommendations led me to jeweller Alexandra Jefford, a former fine artist with a bold, modern aesthetic, who had shown at White Cube and been commissioned by dealer Jay Jopling and artist Gary Hume. It took me nearly a year to pluck up courage to phone her.
I worried first that though the amount I intended to spend on this commission represented the single largest sum I’d spent on anything other than a car or house, it would seem to Jefford laughably small (the price of gold had rocketed). Even though I thought I knew exactly what I wanted – a sparkly yet sophisticated ring that can be worn every day – what if I was wrong? What if I went through all this and then got stuck with a horrendous bauble? Finally, I called Jefford.
She didn’t laugh me off the phone. Instead we arranged to meet. In our initial chat, we discussed budget, my personal style (an inky-black uniform) and my jewellery likes (tourmalines, white gold) and dislikes (rose gold, emeralds). We studied her existing designs. One with a pear-cut stone that sat in the crevice between my ring and third finger caught my eye and felt beautiful worn. I started to feel a little more at ease.
Over the next month we talked at least twice a week and met to look at the three prototype rings Jefford had created. Each design starts life as a doodle that gets handcrafted into a three-dimensional wax model with jewels Blu-Tacked on. One style included a pear-cut stone, a plump pearl, a substantial diamond and a 1cm-long leaf that all appeared to embrace the finger – though I couldn’t try it on, so I couldn’t gauge whether it would suit my man-size hands or make my fingers look like sausages. My anxiety levels started to rise again.
Jefford said the ring would be very flattering and asked me to trust her. For a person who doesn’t leave anything to chance (every birthday and Christmas, my husband is given a list of gift suggestions for me, complete with links and prices so there’s no room for error), this was outside my comfort zone. Still, for this collaboration to continue, I realised I had to trust Jefford. I took the leap. And I had not one sleepless night: by relinquishing control, decision-making became pleasurable instead of overwhelming. So when Jefford recommended I consider an almandine-pyrope garnet, a tangerine-coloured stone, instead of my favourite grey tourmaline as it looked better against my skin and would work well with a black wardrobe, I didn’t resist. Instead, I saw the possibility in a colour I wouldn’t have considered before.
My 41st birthday was approaching when I received a call. The ring was finished. The instant I slipped it on, it felt like a part of me: a new, grown-up, part of me. Which was, and is, a statement in itself.
Commissions start at £3,500, www.alexandrajefford.com