Over the last few years, there has been a rapid rise in statement colourful rings using a specific technique known as inlay. It seems that everywhere you look, brands are releasing pieces featuring new and inventive ways of using this technique to create jaw-dropping pieces. However, the pieces appearing on the market today do not feature that classic look we are used to seeing. The ‘new inlay’ technique achieves a bold aesthetic by using a central stone as its focal point and then creating a wide rim around its border by using another gem or material as the frame. Let’s take a closer look at how these pieces are made and the talented designers behind them.
The inlay technique is the process by which custom-cut stones are set with a special glue into a piece of jewellery – no prongs needed! When done properly, the final result is flawless with a seamless appearance. This is perhaps one of the most difficult effects to achieve in fine jewellery and requires the work of master craftsmen. Jewellery designer Jamie Books, founder of Mason and Books Jewellery, sees the inlay process akin to a scientific experiment when choosing what stones to use in her fine jewellery pieces: "To start, I select the rough for each piece. Gemstones naturally have colour variations, so choosing the right one is important. It's the perfect blend between art and science because you never fully know what a piece will look like until it's in the final polish step. To the untrained eye, one can think it is enamel we use, although I do love enamel, and we may use it in future collections, it's important to me that people know ours is not that. If for no other reason, due to the effort and care put into each ground inlay".
Enamel is one of the main materials used to frame central stones. The process begins with a powder or a paste applied over a piece of metal jewellery and then heated to a temperature exceeding 1,500 degrees. The enamel then fuses to the metal, creating a colourful coating. Designers such as Robinson Pelham, NeverNot and Jenna Blake set gemstones in enamel frames of contrasting colours to highlight the natural colour of a gemstone or add a modern feel to a design. This look can also be achieved through rhodium-plated metals.
Jewellery designer Emily P. Wheeler is a veteran when it comes to setting a centre stone within another precious gem. She often uses gems with a contrasting colour or finishing to the centre stone in the surrounding frame, creating a perfect platform for its colour to stand out and shine: "I use the inlay technique in a lot of my work. This setting method can be quite challenging as it demands a lot of care and precision to ensure that the stones sit properly within the piece and stay secure. It can take multiple attempts to get the stones carved just right for a piece to work. In the end, a well-done inlay looks almost like magic is holding the piece together." Another brand that has mastered this technique is Boghossian, whose invention of the ‘Kissing’ technique allowed gems to sit atop each other as if they were held together by nothing but a kiss.
As you can see, whether it’s monochromatic or complementary colours, gemstone frames or gold finishings, this updated method of the inlay technique has taken the jewellery world by storm. Here are some more enchanting colourways and finishings for you to peruse.