I’m looking down at a row of very small, ever-so-slightly differentiated diamonds. Each is no more than 3mm in width. They are sitting face up – obediently – in the smallest groove of a purpose-built tray. And I’m trying very hard to pick out two with an attractive, and similar, combination of colour and sparkle.
This is not my normal milieu. In my writing I’m more used to looking through cloth bunches on Savile Row, imagining how a little section of wool will look enlarged into an entire suit. That’s hard as well, but at least I’m used to it and have some rules of thumb (patterns are always more subtle at scale, but colours become stronger).
Luckily, on this diamond hunt in London’s Hatton Garden, I’m accompanied by bespoke jeweller Diana Maynard. Maynard is making me a beaten-brass cufflink – a birthday present to myself – and we are choosing brown diamonds that will sit on the end of each cuff’s hinge. As I watch, she takes a long pair of tweezers and deftly separates them, cutting down the choice to eight very deep, amber-toned stones.
Maynard has worked as a goldsmith and jeweller since the 1980s. She originally studied industrial design, and taught before deciding to concentrate on bespoke work. I’ve always liked her organic approach to design, and years ago I helped her put together a collection (£220-£457) of men’s cufflinks (such as in amber and silver, £289, first picture, and tourmalinated quartz, £357, second picture) and studs – simple and delicate, but highly functional.
Although the majority of Maynard’s work is commissioned pieces, those cufflinks have been consistently popular, as has her Infinity collection of interchangeable jewellery (complete pieces from £173). Infinity is made up of short and long links in silver, 18ct yellow and white gold, with the occasional addition of rose quartz, blue topaz or white sapphire. The genius is that they can be hooked together into any combination and length, creating thousands of permutations, that can work as a bracelet or a necklace.
“Clients can commission their own bespoke links as well, so it can become as individual as you like,” says Maynard, bent over the brown diamonds. We’ve finally narrowed it down to a single pair, which are satisfyingly similar – at least to my eye.
That organic attitude to design is the main reason I wanted to work with Maynard on my commission. It’s hard for men to wear fine jewellery, outside of a watch and wedding ring. Both are so practical and universal that another piece immediately stands out.
So our design had to be matte and subtle. It will have that beaten, irregular surface and tarnish over time. Only tiny points such as those little diamonds will make it clear that this is a piece of fine jewellery. The beauty is in the details – and after half an hour of staring at tiny shards of brown carbon, I know exactly how detailed that can be.