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How to Design Your Own Jewellery

Knowing what makes good design will help you create your own ring and/or make you appreciate the skill of the designer.   First, some theory of design, followed by how to use these design principles.


Elements of design can either be conceptual, such as a notion, an idea, an impression or a symbolic meaning, which is not the actual element itself, but like the glue, invisible, that holds a structure together. When they become obvious and able to be seen they are no longer ‘conceptional’, but become visual elements. When they are integrated, they become relational elements – which is the backbone of good design.

         1.1   Conceptual Elements

  • Point, Line, Plane and Volume

All these elements flow from a point. Moving a point forms a line, extending a line creates a surface, different or curved surfaces form a volume.

Even a single point on paper entices the brain to find a relationship, or some order, or the meaning thereof. With two points the eye will make a connection, “draw” a line between them. This process of connecting points or parts is known as grouping or ‘gestalt’ and you must be aware thereof.

A line can have a psychological impact according to its direction and weight, and its variation in weight and direction (curving, angular, etc). It can communicate emotion and will give a ‘feeling’ to the item. Horizontal lines suggest a sense of rest, calmness as often displayed in paintings, while vertical lines communicate a sense of spirituality as seen in the great cathedrals. Diagonal lines suggest movement or direction. In two dimensional work, they are used to suggest depth or illusion. Curved lines could have different meanings. Soft wide curves suggest comfort, safety, relaxation and familiarity as they recall the curves of the human body and impart a sensual or pleasing feel to the design.

1.2. Visual Elements

The visual elements in your design, i.e., Shape – Dimension – Colour – Texture  are what you actually see. Use these elements to show the “message” of your jewellery.

  • Shape

The mind may see a form, a figure or something in the shape of the item. Shape can span from a figurative to a completely abstract representation.

  • Dimension

The dimension or size of elements are useful to describe importance or to suggest distance. It also becomes important with the wear ability of the item.

  • Colour
  • Colour is important as it can be used to express mood and emotion. A certain colour will also compliment a specific hair colour, skin tone and will bring sparkle to the eyes.   The colour wheel is a useful tool to find colours that harmonize and complement each other. It consists of the basic colours (hues): red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet and the intermediate colours between each basic colour.

Colours also have symbolism and meanings that go beyond just the hue and tone you see. Colour theory is concerned with the ‘feeling’ a specific hue evokes in the human mind. Here is a quick guide for the everyday meaning of colours

  • Red: Passion, Love, Anger
  • Orange: Energy, Happiness, Vitality
  • Yellow: Happiness, Hope, Deceit
  • Green: New Beginnings, Abundance, Nature
  • Blue: Calm, Responsible, Sadness
  • Purple: Creativity, Royalty, Wealth
  • Black: Mystery, Elegance, Evil
  • Gray: Moody, Conservative, Formality
  • White: Purity, Cleanliness, Virtue
  • Brown: Nature, Wholesomeness, Dependability
  • Tan or Beige: Conservative, Piety, Dull
  • Cream or Ivory: Calm, Elegant, Purity

Some designers use the concept of “warm” and “cool” colours to produce mood and emotion.

Warm Colours  

Red, orange and yellow and their variations are warm colours, associated with fire and sunsets and are considered to be passionate and positive.

RED (primary colour)   Red is associated with fire, violence, and warfare and also with love and passion. In China, for instance, red is the color of prosperity and happiness and can also be used to attract good luck. In other eastern cultures, red is worn by brides on their wedding day.

ORANGE ( secondary colour) Orange is a vibrant and energetic colour and in its toned down form is often associated with earth and falling leaves.

YELLOW (primary colour) Yellow is associated with happiness and sunshine but can also mean deceit and cowardness. In some countries it is associated with hope (tie a yellow ribbon for the ones at war). In Egypt yellow is for mourning, in Japan for courage.

Cool Colours

Cool colors include green, blue, and purple. They are the colors of night, of water, of nature, and are usually calming, relaxing, and somewhat reserved.

GREEN (secondary colour) Green can represent new beginnings, renewal, abundance and growth..

BLUE (primary colour)   Blue is often associated with sadness but can also be used to represent calmness and responsibility. Lighter shades are refreshing and friendly while dark blues imply strength and reliability.

PURPLE (secondary colour) Dark purples are traditionally associated with wealth and royalty, while lighter purples (like lavender) are considered more romantic.

Neutral Colours

BLACK   Black is commonly associated with power, elegance, and formality, but can also imply evil, death, and mystery.

BROWN   Brown is a warm and natural colour and associated with the earth, wood, and stone. It is often considered dull but a few gems such as citrine can have a vibrant brown that combines well with yellow gold.

PLEASE NOTE: Using colours will help you to make the item exiting, less boring, or mask unwanted detail or a too busy design.WHITE     Traditionally the colour of purity, cleanliness and virtue. “white gold” or platinum are not white per se, but reflects a faint steely-grey colour.

Two colours will harmonize when they are near each other on the colour wheel. Harmony is also produced when different tones and intensities of the same hue are combined, for instance; light yellow and dark yellowish grey. Colours will also enhance each other when those that appear directly opposite each other on the colour wheel are combined. For example; green with red.

The same colour gem can also look striking in combination with different clothing pallets, for instance: a set of purple amethyst jewellery harmonizes well with a purple or violet frock. The same piece will also provide a striking contrast with light green clothing, or even with white or beige. If well advised, a single set of jewellery, selected in relation to the personality, hair and eye colour of the wearer, will become a necessity and of great value and use. Different Gemstone types will compliment different colours of hair, eyes and skin complexions.                                                      

BRUNETTES    Pearls and diamonds

Dark complexion-    Turquoise, ruby, coral and topaz

Light complexion/Blue eyes –     Aquamarine, lighter hues of sapphire

Avoid : Dark sapphires, amethyst and garnets


REDHEADS      Emerald, green jade, tsavorite

Blue sapphire and various hues of amethysts

Pearls, only if they have a pinkish lustre

Pink gold jewellery very good

Avoid : Brown and yellow hues of topaz, citrine, heliodor.


GREY HEADS   Diamonds

Light complexion   -Add some colour with Amethyst, turquise, emerald and ruby

Blue eyes   -Blue sapphire, aquamarine and tanzanite


BLONDES   Fair skinned –  Rubies, amethysts and aquamarines

Pearls, cream coloured worn alone or with diamonds

All shades –   Blue sapphire, topaz, aquamarine, ruby

Blue grey, hazel eyes – Dark blue sapphire and tanzanite

Dark eyes go well with rubies and sapphires set in yellow gold jewellery.


Many exiting surface textures can be applied to precious metals. Textures are often associated with a physical feel. i.e. smooth or rough, and will impart a notion of precision, or handmade.

Think about the various visual elements that you can play around with. Individual elements that you can mix and match, duplicate, reverse, turn around, change their size, colour and texture in order to create a composition. You can add or stack them together, put one inside the other, cut a piece off, connect two different elements with a third. The choices are legion.

However, the combination of visual elements that you use in creating a design, also called the composition of the design, should reflect the conceptional elements you have decided on. If not, the “message” of your jewellery will be lost. In order to create an aesthetic design all of the design elements must therefore be fused into a harmonious whole.


The principals (rules or recipes) of design are used to organize individual elements into a practical and aesthetically pleasing design.

These principles include:

1)Proportion, when the proportion of a design is good, it results in:

2) Balance which can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical, and

3) Harmony, which is obtained when pieces or design elements are juxtaposed to suggest Rhythm, Scale, Variety and Repetition, or to put Emphasis on a specific element. When done effectively, it will add harmony to your design.

A design has good proportion when two or more of its elements, with respect to size, colour, quantity and texture, form a harmonious relationship with each other. In other words, when the combination of these elements adds harmony and symmetry or balance to the item. Proportion is normally not noticed until something is out of proportion. When the relative size of two elements juxtaposed seems wrong, or out of balance, it is said to be out of proportion.


Certain ratios (proportion) are more pleasing to the human eye than others.   A certain ratio, known as the Golden Ratio is based on the Fibonacci Series of numbers (0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8. 13, 21, 34, 55, 89…….) and has been used for centuries to create a design that is beautiful to the human eye. The ratio is equal to phi, which can be expressed numerically as: 1.618. This means that if design elements such as the length or width of juxtaposed lines, the length to width ratio of surfaces (rectangles, ovals, triangles, etc) conform to a ratio of 1:1.618, then the eye will find it pleasing.

The Fibonacci Ratio also defines the shape of a beautiful spiral, known as The Golden Spiral, that develops from the stacking of squares whose dimensions grow according to the Fibonacci sequence, i.e., starting with two small squares with a dimension of 1, then a square with a dimension of 2, followed by squares whose dimensions increase to 8, then 13, 21, 34, etc.

The Golden Spiral dominates nature. It can be seen in flower patterns, (daisies have 34, 55 or 89 petals) the leaves of an artichoke, the stubs of a palm tree and the seeds of the sunflower are arranged in left or right winding golden spirals. It can be found in sea shells, the ram’s horn and in the curve of a breaking wave. The spiral of the nautilus shell is a well-known example.          

Circles, whose diameters increase with the ratio 1: 1.618, have been used to create the well-known apple logo, shown herewith.

PLEASE NOTE: Not all principals of design are required in every composition. It is how you combine them that will determine the quality of your design and whether it conveys the desired message, provoke an emotional response or plainly how attractive it is.

        2.2.    Balance

Balance can be termed symmetrical or asymmetrical, evenly balanced or unevenly balanced. Elements such as objects, shapes and sizes, colours, textures, values can be integrated into a jewellery piece to create a balance in composition. For instance: when objects are of equal weight, size or shape they are in balance. Having several small items on one side can be balanced by one larger object on the other side, i.e. in asymmetrical balance.


  • Harmony (also called Unity)Others can improve their design skills by analysing why a design is pleasing, by following design principles, accepting critique and advice, and by practice, practice and more practice.
  • Herewith samples of harmonious designs using rhythm, repetition, emphasis and variety. Fig. 9.
  • Arranging elements and spaces so that it pleases the eye, is a skill the true artists finds easy.

      III.             OTHER INFLUENCES

3.1.   Integrated Designs

Often goldsmiths make an item that looks as if components were merely soldered on top of each other. Such as sticking a bail on top of a pendant, a flat plate on a domed ring, non-tapered tube settings for rings, large heavy claws for small diamonds – items with little finesse and no sense of aesthetics and form.

Why not rather incorporated the bail into the design of the pendant. ? In order to do so you must have the type and size of the chain to be used before designing the pendant. In most cases pendants need to have a broad base and a low centre of gravity.  The sides of a pendant need much less tapering than the crown of a ring. In pendants try to keep the design as low as possible – to prevent it from rolling or turning while the client is wearing it.

Pendants are also worn below the normal line of sight. The sparkle of the stones are thus not directly into the eye of the observer. If the stones are set at a slight, barely noticeable angle upwards, more sparkle will be seen.

     3.2. Illusions

As a goldsmith you should know that illusion plays a major role in design and that the “total picture”, i.e. hand and ring, neck and chain, must be pleasing. Also, that there exist a few basic face, hand and neck types, and that the oval face type is the most pleasing to the eye.   Accessories on the face should thus render the illusion of an oval form, whereas jewellery on the hand and neck should make fat fingers and short necks appear longer. 

Illusionary tricks:

* A thick bezel setting makes a diamond look bigger, while a linear motif on an item makes it look thinner.

* A combination of textures can underplay certain parts of an item.

* A yellow gold item looks heavier than a similar one made from white gold or platinum.

* A pendant looks more balanced to the eye if its heavier or widest part is at the bottom.

* Fingers or wrist that are either too short or long will look more “normal” if the correct jewellery is chosen, i.e., a ring that will make a “fat” hand look longer. 


 3.3.      Design specific  

Rings with by-pass or cross-over shanks are either right hand or left hand specific and are not interchangeable. When designing such a ring the side of the ring closest to the hand should come from the side of the little finger. The ring will then sit straight on the finger because the skin between the little and ring finger is lower than the skin between the ring finger and the middle finger. If the ring is designed with the shank going the other way, the shank will contact the skin between the ring and middle finger first and the ring will be pushed at an angle when worn.

3.4.      Wearability and Durability

For obvious reasons, these two aspects are of prime importance in designing jewellery. Your design may be beautiful and aesthetically pleasing but if it is too heavy, too long, making it too expensive and a strain to wear, or; if it is too light and fragile or not long enough, or have parts that catch on everything, sharp edges, difficult to get on or off or fall easily from an ear or arm, then it is not wearable and probably not durable – thus a poor, impractical design.

A well-designed piece should drape nicely, fit perfectly and feel good to wear. There should be no undue stress on components which may result in breakage or loss of the item. Metal should be thick and hardened enough to prevent bending or denting.

Whether the item will be worn daily or occasionally, during physical activity or inactivity of the wearer, will also influence the design.

PLEASE NOTE: With the above in mind, of the most important decisions a designer has to make are the choice of gemstones and the durability of the metal. Experts at Prins & Prins can help you with this.

3.5.     Personal Appeal

The immediate worldwide exposure of fashion trends, a globalized gemstone trade, high metal prices and the development of CAD/CAM mass production processes, have made price one of the most determining factors in jewellery design. Unfortunately.   However, before you enquire about price, the design will have to catch your attention. If the design does not do this, it is immaterial whether the item has a value of $100 or $10000.

NOTE: Price always follows the need or desire of the product.

The successful jewellery design is one that fits into the current fashion trends, yet distinctive enough to grab your attention. Uniqueness, design, wearability and quality are the cornerstones that will make your jewellery stand out.

Fortunately, design is subject to taste and cultural demands and no one formula will guarantee a great look and a good feel to everyone. If it were not so, all jewellery would look the same and design would not have been an essential part of making jewellery.

Now, go ahead – design your own beautiful jewellery.



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