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Which comes first – the gemstones or the design?

There is something very special about designing a piece of jewellery from scratch, both for the designer and the client. A designer may simply have a wonderful design in mind that they wish to bring to life, without a specific client or a buyer lined up for it, while a client may be looking to mark a special occasion with a birthday gemstone or anniversary gemstone  set in a bespoke piece of jewellery.

When it comes to designing a piece of jewellery there are many choices and decisions to be made, among them the colour of the metal, the setting, finishes and textures, patterns and motifs. But probably the most significant choice is that concerning the gemstones that will feature in the design.


The biggest challenge faced by gemstone suppliers is being asked for a specific gemstone of a precise size, shape and colour to fit a design that has already been drawn up and that the client has already fallen in love with. This is the bespoke jewellery version of putting the cart before the horse. It is always much easier to find and fall in love with a particular gemstone and then create a design around it, rather than the other way around.

With 50-plus years of experience in the gemstone industry  to become an expert gemstone supplier to jewellery designers, jewellery retailers and private individuals, we have extensive knowledge of the gemstone colours, shapes and sizes that are available on the market that others simply don’t. This is why our hearts sink whenever we get a call from a jeweller or designer asking for a very specific type of gemstone or unusual stone.

When a very specific request comes in for a gemstone, stipulating a certain size, shape or other characteristic, we will know almost instantly that this is not likely to be one that we, or any other gemstone supplier, will be able to fulfil.

With most gemstone jewellery, the gemstones are the centrepiece of the overall design. Therefore it is always good to start a design by basing it on a gemstone that you and your client have already picked out. Designing around a chosen stone also means your client avoids the inevitable disappointment of having fallen in love with a design that then cannot be fulfilled because the specific gemstone cannot be found. Arguably it also makes the process of designing the piece of jewellery much easier.

Another challenge that gemstone suppliers now face, at a time when so much information is available via the Internet, is misinformation that creates false expectations of what can be achieved.

We have received many requests for no-heat sapphires in huge sizes or even in very small sizes. Most often, when asked why they are requesting no-heat stones, the response is usually that they have read somewhere that a no-heat sapphire is the best you can get. No-heats are more expensive than their heated counterparts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they look better. Heat treatment is a very standard practise in the gemstone industry. It speeds up the process that would have occurred if the stone had been left in the ground for another million years. In fact, heat treatment achieves a better colour in both saturation and evenness. Of course, you can get almost perfect no-heat gemstones; you just have to be prepared to wait a very long time.

The Internet is also awash with imagery, providing an almost inexhaustible supply of inspiration for designing a bespoke piece of gemstone jewellery. While it is a superb resource for that purpose, there is the inherent danger of creating false expectations of what can be achieved - while one ring may feature a fancy shaped stone, it doesn’t mean another could be designed to match it. When it comes to gemstones, one-offs are the rule rather than the exception and it is never safe to assume that a design is repeatable. Of course, stones can be recut to fit a specification but nine times out of ten this would mean additional expense on top of the purchase price of a stone, and could compromise what the stone will be worth in the end. Plus there is risk of the stone’s colour changing from the cutting process.

CAD Design

We know that customers will continue to surprise jewellery designers with far-out requests and outlandish design ideas. We work closely with jewellery designers to fulfil those requests as closely as possible. But before you promise anything to your client, call us first and we’ll do our best to either meet their requirements or provide advice and guidance as to whether the gemstone in question is something that can easily be found in the UK or if extra effort will be required.

One way to be certain of having the right gemstone for a bespoke jewellery design is to take advantage of our On Appro service, which allows account holding clients to request gemstones for viewing at their premises. This approval service gives you and your customer the chance to see the stones in person, discuss which would be most suitable for their design, and for them to make their final selection.

Gemstone specialists GF Williams supplies a huge range of high quality coloured gemstones and is an expert and experienced gemstone supplier to designers, manufacturers, collectors and private clients.

Find out more about how GF Williams can fulfil your gemstone requirements by browsing our online gemstone catalogue or contacting our friendly team of gemstone experts on +44 (0) 207 405 5477 or email office@gfwilliams.co.uk.