Top jeweller reveals everything you need to know about engagement rings

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and love is in the air.

If you’re planning a romantic proposal, Guy Burton, director of Hancocks London, is on hand to tell you everything you need to know before you pop the question.

This lord of the (engagement) rings, 37, is an expert in made to measure or vintage rings, so read on find out the perfect shape, the latest trends and how to avoid any marriage mishaps.

How has Covid affected your jewellery business?

During the bursts of freedom between lockdowns last year, people were flocking to get rings and get engaged, even if it meant waiting for their weddings.

This time round, there’s so much uncertainty that couples seem to want to live in the moment.

They want to crack on with their lives and if proposing means celebrating on their own in lockdown with just the two of them, they’re doing it.

This means they’re doing everything remotely and I’m making a lot of rings for people who haven’t been in to see me. But they can view different stones online and I can send them videos showing what a ring looks like worn on a hand. I use WhatsApp, especially with US clients.

Just before the pandemic, I upgraded our website and customers made the switch fast too. People have got used to Zoom so they’re far more comfortable making big decisions like choosing engagement rings remotely. And I can advise on what type of ring suits what shape of finger best.

Wait, what? It’s not one shape fits all?

No. As a general rule, if someone has long, thin fingers, that suits an oval or marquee-shaped stone very well, while someone with perhaps shorter, stubbier fingers might want a strong east-to-west stone that goes across the finger, not down it.

What do grooms get nervous of?

The majority of guys will save for their big holiday and slot the proposal in there. In fact, I was worried that this would stop proposals during lockdown but, in fact, people aren’t going on holiday so they’re spending their money on engagement rings instead.

But the number one worry for most grooms is ‘What happens if I have an engagement ring in my hand luggage and customs want to search it right in front of my girlfriend so my big surprise is wrecked before we’ve even left the airport?’

I say, ‘Hopefully you’ve got a very good customs officer and he’ll see what’s there, with a few winks and nods, and won’t give the game away.’ It is true because I’ve never heard of disaster striking at the airport!

Other changes during Covid?

We’ve had a few cases of grandparents who need us to rush rings through as gifts, often because they have Covid and want to hand over a gift before it’s too late.

Signet rings with inscriptions inside are particularly popular right now. Our quickest one was designed and made in ten days for a grandparent who was
sick. Covid has also changed the style of rings – gipsy rings are popular.

They’re rings that are set inside the band so it’s easier to wash your hands and wear gloves while wearing them.

Also, it’s a bigger look jewellery, which is the current trend, while the value of yellow gold has really shot up. Interestingly, after a crisis people turn away from a gemmy look – platinum dripping with diamonds.

They want to stick to a bolder statement with solid gold that doesn’t need to be adorned.

Are retro engagement rings huge?

Vintage engagement rings are massive. Fifteen years ago, nobody would touch jewellery from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s but now they’re our biggest sellers.

It’s the ultimate eco-friendly jewellery because it’s 100 per cent recycled. People are also really interested in the history of the pieces they’re looking at.

There’s also a surge in brides seeking inspiration from icons like Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly.

They’re not interested in what Instagram influencers are wearing, they want rings inspired by Audrey’s simple white gold and pink gold double wedding or Grace Kelly’s emerald-cut diamond.

Did your interest in jewellery start as a child?

My dad Stephen owned this business and my earliest memory was cleaning the glass cabinets aged four as my parents prepared for trade shows around the world.

I got to know a lot of people in the trade – antique jewellery in particular is a small world – and everyone’s very friendly. I did a GMA course when I was 26 but what prepared me most for the job was learning through buying and selling.

Mistakes – you’ve made a few?

Yes, particularly in the early days. It takes a lot of years to be able to grade
a stone or vintage and antique diamonds, particularly if they’re set in earrings and rings. I’ve brought a lot of pieces back from abroad only to find I’ve paid 100% too much for the piece.

Are you ever asked to make unusual engagement rings?

The most unusual was for a friend of mine who is very quirky and wanted something really different.

I made her a very broad, flat gipsy-style ring with emerald and ruby either side. It definitely conformed to no tradition at all and she wears it every day.

What’s been your favourite proposal?

One of my favourites is a man from America who contacted me. His girlfriend had sent him a screenshot of her perfect ring, which she’d seen on my Instagram.

He had pretended not to take much notice but bought the ring over the phone and asked me to keep it safe.

Eight months later, he brought his girlfriend to London on holiday and as they passed Hancocks he suggested they have a quick look inside. I had the ring boxed and ready. He proposed there and then in the shop.

Hancocks London, 52-53 Burlington Arcade. Burton is available for virtual appointments at

The Facts: Jeweller

Salary: Young recruits can find junior jobs at firms from £19,000  a year

Regular hours?  Yes, regular daytime hours unless you are  at a jewellery show or picking up long-distance calls from customers abroad

Short and sweet advice: Specialise because it’s hard to sell anything that doesn’t interest you very much

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