Custom-designed rings can make any occasion a special one

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, April 11, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

When Maureen Mann looks at her ring finger, she smiles.

And, not only because the bauble on it sparkles. Her engagement ring was created by her fiance, Eric Snavely.

“I was so surprised when he proposed that at first I didn't get a good look at the ring right away, but once I got my bearings, I fell in love with the ring,” says Mann, an Upper St. Clair native who lives in Baltimore. “It is perfect.”

Snavely — with help from his sister, Laura, and Debbie Nucci, who works at Henne Jewelers in Shadyside — created a diamond ring with tsavorites.

Snavely, who will marry Mann in September, isn't alone in wanting to have something custom made for someone he loves. Jewelers say customers love to commemorate a special occasion — and have a say in the design process.

There are levels of custom design — from just tweaking an item, or combining elements, to a fully handmade piece, says Reza Liaghat, owner of Casa D'Oro Jewelers in Cranberry.

A basic ring can be made for $500, but custom-made pieces can cost $10,000 to $50,000 and up, Liaghat says.

“Jewelry is very emotional,” Liaghat says. “It is sentimental, so we take the time to ask the customer a lot of questions to find out what he or she really wants. ... We want them to be happy and to wear it.”

Master platinumsmith and diamond-setter Christopher Litwin, who worked for the prestigious Harry Winston, does the custom work at Casa D'Oro.

He begins with a flat sheet of metal and hand-fabricates each piece, from the shank to the underplate to the prongs. Stones fit perfectly.

“There is a lot of math and engineering involved,” Litwin says. “You can tell a ring that's custom-designed. And, often, these rings become family heirlooms.”

Caesar Azzam, owner of Caesar's Designs in Shadyside, says he enjoys designing from scratch.

“I love to create,” Azzam says. “There is a sentimental relationship with a piece of jewelry. The most important part of the process is talking to the customer and listening.”

These rings represent emotion, says John Henne, president of Henne Jewelers.

“Every time that person looks at the ring, he or she remembers a time or a person in their life,” he says. “That is special.”

Henne goldsmith Jon Anderson sketches designs by hand. From placing children's birthstones in a mother's ring to creating X's and O's for kisses and hugs for a husband and wife marking an anniversary, he says it's all about capturing a moment in time.

“I really love to see the customer's face when they look at the final piece,” Anderson says. “That says more than any words can ever express. We are taking something tangible like metal and gemstones and creating a symbol that they will always remember what that ring represents.”

Hannelore Van Roo-Steranko of Ben Avon won't forget her 50th birthday. She and husband Michael Steranko designed a ring to commemorate the big day happening later this year. They chose Robert Hallett of Robert Hallett Goldsmith in Oakmont.

“I was thrilled the minute I saw the ring,” she says. Van Roo-Steranko got ideas from looking in magazines and on Hallett's website. “(Hallett) created a very simple but very elegant ring for me, which I have gotten so many compliments on. I will treasure it always.”

A custom ring doesn't have to always follow what is on trend, says Amanda Gizzi, spokeswoman for Jewelers of America, a nonprofit trade association based in New York City. It is all about sentimental value, she says.

“You don't have to wait for a special occasion, because when you buy it, it becomes a special occasion,” Hallett says.

He helped Todd Edmunds from Sewickley design a ring for his wife Heather for a Christmas present. He incorporated a Madeira citrine stone — for her November birthday — set in platinum with diamonds.

“Rob created exactly what I was thinking,” Edmunds says. “It is one-of-a-kind — just like my wife.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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