The making of a masterpiece: Alice Herald’s 13-carat Dahlia ring

From inspiration and initial sketches to 3D modelling and custom gem cutting, Wānaka-based jewellery designer Alice Herald describes how a hero piece is made

Inspired by nature and informed by a CV whose highlights include studying sculpture in Mexico, obtaining a BA Hons from Central St Martins in London, working alongside goldsmiths to the Royal Family before moving to New Zealand and establishing her own jewellery studio in Wānaka, Alice Herald’s work is singular in its contribution to Aotearoa’s couture jewellery offering.

An homage to the Dahlia flower, renowned for its vibrance and volume, Alice Herald’s latest collection is built around its breathtaking namesake ring. In this behind-the-scenes exclusive, the designer breaks down the process of pulling together all 13 carats of the Dahlia Ring – the epitome of wearable art.

Inspiration strikes

Inspiration always comes first.  For me, I am inspired by nature, its colours and architecture.  Flowers and our emotional connection to them in particular are a large part of my inspiration. I have a small collection of ‘Bouquet Pinkies’ that I have now designed and crafted for many clients, all inspired by the flowers they had in their wedding bouquet, and some just a flower with a special significance for them.  I was given a dahlia flower by a friend and was captivated by its immense presence and burst of colour, and knew I just had to create a collection inspired by this magnificent flower.

Designing Dahlia

Design is of course paramount to any piece of luxury jewellery, and personally I love a good pinky ring. This is because a pinky has open real estate out and around to the side of the finger that lends itself to the asymmetrical tilt of the central gem surrounded by a bold form or pattern mimicking the flower shape, texture or colour. So this collection started with Dahlia the flower as the ring – resulting in the ‘Dahlia Ring’ with a 5.87-carat rhodolite garnet at its centre. The other pieces that make up the collection, the earrings, bangles and bracelets just followed suit.

Texture and flow

I wanted to capture the vibrant textural pompom of the Dahlia so scale and texture were key. I love the off-set central gem and knew this would tilt off nicely to the side. The tilt allows for a peep of the golden texture bud that holds the gem above the pear sapphires. Flow is key in any piece of sculpture – and jewellery is just that, but in miniature form. Originally I had round sapphires in the petals around the pompom but it was too much metal so I lightened the piece by layering pear sapphires of different tones – not easy to source but completely worth it.

Taking shape

Once I’m happy with the design and have captured the feeling we then move into 3D. This is when we combine all the stone shapes and sizes into the design and, together with the technical tolerances, bring the piece to three-dimensional life. This takes hours and hours to get right. Quite like bespoke jewels, these important collection pieces are unique so require their own amount of testing and many prototypes. We print several variations in resin and examine these for not only flow but technical requirements and ease also. Over 40 hours of 3D work, 4 prototypes, and infinite days of my time, together with the crafting team, are spent to make this piece perfect.

Gem selection

Alongside the 3D work I’m gem sourcing. I’m quite particular with this part of the process, and colour for the central gem was key here. I couldn’t find the perfect combination of size and colour so, together with my amazing trusted supplier, we custom cut an oval rhodolite garnet chosen for its depth in purple-red tones and brilliance. We have an array of pinks, peach sapphires and white diamonds to create the layers of petals distinctive in any dahlia flower.

Work of art

Finally, we get to make the masterpiece. Together with my crafting team we discuss assembling and finishing the jewel. I was adamant I wanted the setting base to be visible on the inside so the wearer alone would know this is a complete bud and the inner sleeve is as beautiful as the outside, even though technically this was hard to achieve. If I do my job right in the design process then I make it much more streamlined with less technical obstacles for my crafting team. This is the difference between a sculptural piece of art and a basic jewel just crafted to carry a gem. Every feature has meaning and a reason for being there and it sings from every angle.