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Millennial engagement ring buyers are looking for something a little different

Anna Sheffield creates jewelry “for people who didn’t want the standard issue white diamond, gold ring.”
Anna Sheffield creates jewelry “for people who didn’t want the standard issue white diamond, gold ring.”handout

Anna Sheffield had already earned fashion world fame with Bing Bang, her decade-old collection of sculptural, minimalist, cool-girl baubles, and gems. So for her bridal and commitment line, which she established under her own name in 2011, she stayed true to her fan favorites.

“I wanted to set gemstones upside down, and to use champagne instead of white diamonds,” Sheffield says. “I made gems out of metal and then hid diamonds on the side of pieces. I think I made pieces for people who didn’t want the standard issue white diamond, gold ring.”

Sheffield’s engagement collections — which range from $725 for a rose gold “gemstone” solitaire to the 5.55 carat black diamond “Bea Three Stone” for $18,000 — were risk takers before the heyday of hand selfies and Insta-famous indie ring designers.

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Now, she brings her work to M. Flynn, at 40 Waltham St. in the South End, where her engagement collections will be available for perusal and purchase this spring. To celebrate, the store will hold a meet-and-greet with the designer on May 5 from 5 to 8 p.m.

Jewelry designer Anna Sheffield says using recycled gold versus gold that is mined is of upmost importance to her.
Jewelry designer Anna Sheffield says using recycled gold versus gold that is mined is of upmost importance to her.handout

We caught up with Sheffield to ask her about the rise of non-traditional engagement rings and the mindset of her socially conscious customers.

Q. Should we still consider the non-traditional engagement ring to be a risky move? Or have we moved past the point of surprise engagements and should assume that if a quirky ring is to be bought, both parties are involved?

A. With social media and the kind of communication we have ... even if she hasn’t blatantly hinted “@mysweetheart, that black diamond ring on the right” with a hand emoji, she’s probably at least told her friends. There are so many ways of getting the hint out there. It doesn’t have to be a directed action, but it can be an informed one.

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I think it’s cool though. A lot of couples make this decision together. They’re about to enter a life of union, so why would you make a big purchase decision like this without the other person being 100 percent certain? It’s an amazing new way to go about it. It signals a real change in our culture.

Q. Do you think today’s consumer is also more socially conscientious? Does that factor in on it being a joint decision as well?

A. I think across the board, absolutely. People want to be educated and understand information and misinformation. Some of it’s aesthetic, but they also want to know what’s available to them. Is it an antique diamond? A GIA-certified diamond? Or they can be anti-diamond, and I can do a moonstone or a Montana sapphire. I think this purchase has become more value-driven; it’s such an important purchase in a couples’ lives and they want their values reflected in it.

Q. What matters to you as a designer?

A. I think it’s important to know that the gold is recycled; that it comes from gold reclamation versus mining. There’s plenty of gold that’s already in circulation and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s really important that companies use that lot of gold in modern practices instead of mining the earth; it’s not a sustainable option. We use recycled gold and reclaimed diamonds [in our work]. I’ve been trying to push that agenda. I think it’s important.

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Q. What’s the process of trying to source those materials?

A. I’m very specific about who I work with, but I go to the source as much as possible. If you get it from someone who got it from someone who got it from someone who got it from someone who mined it from the earth, who got it cut from someone else, you’re losing a lot of transparency. You need to find the route of a source.

Q. Do you ever hear of people ending up with engagement ring remorse?

A. Yeah, definitely, and more often than not, that happens when it was picked out without an earlier discussion or was an heirloom that was given as is.

Q. What can you do to salvage the ring in that situation?

A. It’s very much piece-dependent. The stones might be too small to harvest — the shape of the stones dictate what’s possible. The best thing to do is to bring it to a store or a jeweler and talk about it. We can also do a lot of that via e-mail. In this age, with digital photos, anything is possible.

Q. If someone is designing a custom ring from scratch, and they want something unique, where do you recommend they start if they feel intimidated?

A. I’m personally always mixing it up. I like tone on tone — like a champagne diamond on colored gold, or gray diamonds on white gold or platinum — those are my personal aesthetics. I err on the side of things that are subtle, but I also think “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I design things for other people that I would never wear, but I try to make them as on-brand and accessible as possible. I think that’s important for a designer; if everything was my personal taste, as in I’d wear it every day, I’d have a very small collection.

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Interview was edited and condensed. Rachel Raczka can be reached at rachel.raczka@gmail.com.