When Bob Rosenau decided to propose to his girlfriend, Julie, he knew no ordinary ring would do.

The couple had casually cruised some jewelry shops, and Bob secretly talked with Julie's friends about what ring style she might like. Eventually, concept in mind, he sat down with Carmel designer Kirkor Kocek. "I said to him, 'This is what I'm thinking,' and he made it happen. It was amazing," remembers Rosenau.

In an age when even jewelry is becoming a big-box commodity, custom-designed engagement rings and wedding bands offer a distinctive way to say, "I do."

"Millions of people have the same wedding ring," says Kocek, who started as a jewelry apprentice at age 12 and opened his Carmel business in 1973. "I help customers do something different. There is so much emotion involved, and it feels more special with a one-of-a-kind piece."

Richard Shea of Carmel Jewelry Studio agrees, adding that the sentimental value of an engagement ring is more important than the monetary worth. His own ring was once his grandmother's, melted and reshaped just for him. "I always tell customers that jewelry isn't an investment.You should buy something because you like it and because you will enjoy it," he says.

When inspired to create a custom ring, where does a lovebird begin? The first step, say local jewelers, is to set a budget. Then, find a designer whose work you admire and with whom you feel comfortable. Decide when you need the finished creation, and sit down with the jeweler at least one to two months in advance.


Whether you come with a sketch or simply have a ring in mind, the best designers will help perfect your vision. Get involved in the process, sharing not only preferred elements and carat size, but also real life details. Does your betrothed work with her hands? Consider a strong metal or a lower setting without delicate prongs. Does he typically wear a silver watch? A platinum or white gold ring might be preferable to yellow gold.

"Everyone has a special lifestyle and a special personality, and those things should become part of the design," says Janet Selzer of Mark Areias Jewelers in Carmel. The studio's four bench jewelers specialize in custom orders. As Selzer recalls, one of the most spectacular was a 15-carat fancy yellow diamond flanked by triangular-cut blue sapphires.

For Steve Saunders, a Monterey master jeweler designing locally since the early '70s, that initial client conversation figures heavily into the ultimate ring design.

"I start to get images in mind after talking with people," he says. "It is all about intuition and synergy."

Ultimately more important than the synergy between jeweler and client is the connection between the ring and the lucky lady or man who wears it.

And for many preparing to propose, planning that perfect ring alone is intimidating. While some brave grooms surprise their sweethearts with a finished product, Selzer finds it increasingly common for couples to come in together.

"A ring is so personal," she says, "and we see more people getting married later, when they have more established tastes. They both want to participate."

Cecile Smith of Kocek Jeweler adds that even solo male shoppers, like Bob Rosenau, typically do their homework.

"Men are concerned about making the right choice," explains Smith. "He wants to impress and show how much he loves her, so he puts a lot of effort into creating just the right ring."

Rosenau's efforts paid off — four years later, his wife Julie still raves about her ring. "It was a complete surprise to me," she says, "and it was perfect."


Kocek Jeweler
San Carlos between Ocean & 7th, Carmel, 831-624-8485

Mark Areias Jewelers
5th and San Carlos, Carmel, 831-624-5621

Richard Shea Carmel Jewelry Studio
Mission & 6th - May Court, Carmel, 831-624-7768

Steve Saunders Master Jeweler
50 Bonifacio Plaza, Monterey, 831-375-2799

Learn more about the Monterey Bay area at MontereyBayAdventures.com.