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Engagement rings needn’t break the bank, says local designer

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Make every customer special: Bermudian jewellery designer Alex Outerbridge. She uses lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds that have been responsibly sourced (Photograph supplied)

An engagement ring needn’t cost the earth, but it should be crafted well and ethically sourced.

It’s a belief that Alexandra Outerbridge applies to all her fine jewellery designs – celebrities and top fashion magazines have taken notice, she is hoping the rationale flies with buyers here.

Outerbridge Jewelry was recently described in a Vogue spotlight on jewellery designers, as being a “testament to the artistry and precision of fine craftsmanship and design”.

The brand offers designs that feature lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds that have been responsibly sourced; her selection of natural and lab-grown stones are all certified by either the Gemological Institute of America or the International Gemological Institute.

For people who want one-of-a-kind pieces she offers custom designs, but also has a selection of rings that are pre-made and ready to ship. For her, every sale is personal.

“It sounds cheesy, but every engagement ring has a unique love story and I just enjoy it. You’re part of one of the happiest moments of a person’s life,” she said.

Interested from a young age, Ms Outerbridge taught herself the basics of jewellery design.

When the time came for university, however, she decided to focus on a business degree and on graduation, was hired as an assistant to a company executive.

A changed industry: a ring by Outerbridge Jewelry. Many engagement rings are being chosen by women, due to the expense and because many men want to be sure their loved one is happy with the choice (Photograph supplied)

Disinterested, she was “terrible” at the job and soon quit.

“I always thought that that's how I would become successful – you be an assistant and then you get promoted, and then you get to do whatever job,” she said.

She tried bartending, but her thoughts kept turning to design. Then living in Los Angeles she made a trip to the jewellery district and “started knocking on doors”.

First came the corporate work with companies such as Nordstrom.

When friends and acquaintances who knew her work started asking for engagement rings, Ms Outerbridge decided to create a brand of her own.

About 90 per cent of her lab-grown stones come from India where the industry has “really taken off”.

Although she has worked with celebrities such as Gigi Hadid and Kylie Jenner, her goal is to make every customer feel special.

“I view it as a concierge jewellery experience,” she said. “I'm gonna hold your hand through the process [and help even with the] educational aspect: what does cut, colour and clarity mean?

“What does certify mean? Why should I go ethical versus natural? This is my budget. What can I realistically get for this?

“I don’t want it to be an impersonal experience where you're just hitting ‘pay now’ online. I'm going to be a part of your story.”

Instagram has changed the way people buy engagement rings, Ms Outerbridge explains. Where it was once the groom that did the selecting she deals mainly with brides.

“I think that, because this is one of the larger purchases people ever make in their life, a lot of the [grooms] are very nervous to do it without knowing that it's what someone really wants,” she said.

“I think the whole wedding industry has completely changed since Instagram. Everyone sees more products, they see more of people's experiences, they're just more savvy.”

A changed industry: rings by Outerbridge Jewelry. Many engagement rings are being chosen by women, due to the expense and because many men want to be sure their loved one is happy with the choice (Photograph supplied)

A custom-made ring typically takes between six and eight weeks with the details worked out in person or on Zoom.

“Some people just text me what they like,” she said.

She prices stones and materials and presents the customer with a 3D computer-aided design for approval.

Ms Outerbridge, who lives in Miami, Florida, and has manufacturers there and in Los Angeles, California, does not buy into the traditional notion that people should spend two to three months’ salary on an engagement ring.

“The price ranges so much. One carat to four carat, it jumps so vastly. It all depends also on the cut, the colour and the clarity. And a lot of people don't realise that until they start looking into it.

“Do you want a VS1 or SI1 or VVS diamond? Do you want colourless? Do you want flawless?” she said.

“I don't believe in breaking the bank for an engagement ring. There've been so many clients where I've had to say: ‘You don't have to spend $25,000. We can get it for you for under $10,000.’

“Lab-grown diamonds are chemically and physically exactly the same as natural diamonds.

“It’s just that one comes from the Earth’s crust and the other one’s manufactured in the lab.

“I understand it takes away a lot of the beauty of that kind of natural element, but the ethics behind what goes into getting it, extracting it from the earth, as many people I think by now know, can be not great.”

For people who insist on a natural stone Ms Outerbridge can definitely help but her push is for lab-grown diamonds “because of the ethics behind it and the sustainability behind it”.

“So many people have come to me saying: ‘She wants a natural store. It has to be natural.’ And I'm like, OK, well, we're gonna spend $40,000 versus $15,000 or $10,000 for the exact same product.

“It's marketing. It's been marketed to make people feel like something that's extracted with great difficulty from the earth has more value which therefore makes you more valuable.

“I have a diamond reader, a machine, and it can't tell the difference. I get all my rings appraised for my customers, for insurance.

“I have to go to a gemologist, a GIA-certified gemologist and it's basically double checking that the diamond description matches the paperwork that I have, etc.

“They have special machines, like really, really high-tech machines [and only] one or two can actually tell the difference and usually, they're going off the description and the paperwork reference. No one can tell exactly.”

Price points and ethics: Bermudian jewellery designer Alex Outerbridge (Photograph supplied)

As a Bermudian, it’s her hope that people here understand the difference.

“I don't know what the Bermudian market is with lab diamonds right now. I don't know that they’ve started to arrive here, but I think that it would be really nice to open Bermuda up more to the lab-grown diamond market because of the price points – especially given the current economy – and the ethics behind it.

“I just feel like there's a big opportunity for Bermudians to learn more and explore more about what lab-grown diamonds are.”

Visit Outerbridge Jewelry atwww.loveouterbridge.com/or follow outerbridgejewelry onInstagram

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Published June 13, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated June 14, 2024 at 8:23 am)

Engagement rings needn’t break the bank, says local designer

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