They're "not youngsters." Yet Anna and Richard Clough "met the modern way," though an online dating site.

They're "not youngsters." Yet Anna and Richard Clough "met the modern way," though an online dating site.

Marrying two years later, the Sams Valley couple was on the cusp of the latest trend in bridal jewelry: using a gem other than a diamond as their engagement ring's primary stone.

"At our age, we could have anything we wanted," says Anna Clough, 65. "When it was time for a ring, we wanted something special."

Clough says she admired sapphires since Princess Diana received an 18-carat one for her 1981 betrothal to Prince Charles. That same ring made headlines late last year when Prince William gave it to longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton and subsequently created a spike in sapphire's popularity for engagement rings.

But Clough cited sapphire's significance as far back as the Crusades when knights bestowed the dark-blue gems on ladies who agreed to wait for them. Clough's ring, however, would express more than newfound love and devotion. She wanted to honor her late husband, David Poole, by incorporating diamonds from a ring he wore into the sapphire's setting. "Generous and kind," Richard Clough, 66, agreed.

"It couldn't be balanced; it had to be unique — something different than I'd seen," says Anna Clough, explaining the task of asymmetrically designing around the three 1/2-carat diamonds.

Reusing stones from jewelry with sentimental value is a common theme for custom pieces, says Steve Johnson, master jeweler at Goldsmiths Diamonds & Design in Medford. The shop previously had created jewelry for Clough, so she brought her diamonds and ideas to Johnson, who sketched the ring's swirling shape around the four large stones with a channel of smaller sapphires to one side.

Carved in wax and then cast in both yellow and white gold, the ring was ready within a couple months for the Cloughs' July 2010 wedding. It appraised for about $7,000, says Anna Clough.

Often more expensive than mass-produced jewelry, custom pieces typically represent a better value for the price, says Johnson. Rings built at Goldsmiths contain more precious metal compared with similar-sized rings at "big-box" stores, he says. The mark-up isn't as high as chain jewelers', and customers frequently defray some cost by reusing stones and even trading old gold for credit on a new piece, adds Johnson.

"Recycling gold is very popular right now," says Ron Hansen, who co-owns Gold & Gems in Ashland with his father, Richard Hansen.

Interest in custom jewelry has held steady over Gold & Gems' 30-year history, says Ron Hansen. The store always is working on custom pieces, most completed within two weeks, he says. But the crew of five jewelers has been known to fabricate a ring in just over a day, he says.

"I've created miracles."

However, he and Johnson both recommend starting the design process in January for a June wedding. If the man first purchases the diamond, Goldsmiths will set it as a solitaire on a simple band, so he can pop the question. When he and his fiancee return to design her dream ring around the stone, the shop credits the price of the prefabricated band toward that piece, says Johnson.

The average cost is about $2,000 to $3,000 for custom, diamond engagement rings at either store. In the rarer circumstance, a customer set his budget for an anniversary gift at $1,000 for every year of his 25-year marriage, says Johnson.

One way of doubling any ring's cost is to choose platinum over gold, says Hansen. Palladium — another naturally silver-toned metal that's less dense than platinum — has become a popular alternative and costs about one-third as much, he says.

Price isn't the only reason to steer customers away from platinum, says Johnson. The metal starts to show wear very quickly and needs more care than gold to maintain its polish, he says.

While diamonds are unparalleled among gems for withstanding wear and tear, sapphires and rubies — both containing the mineral corundum but colored by different trace elements — are hard and highly durable. A high-quality example of either stone could be worth more than a diamond. A rich-red ruby, however, is rarer than the ideal-hued sapphire.

Rarer still are emeralds, which — if large — are more costly than diamonds. The distinctive green stones are hard but brittle and prone to chipping, so therefore not the best choice for engagement rings.

Customers concerned about gems' provenance and the ethics of mining them should ask questions, says Johnson. Goldsmiths obtains most of its diamonds from Canada, which is producing some of the world's best, as well as Israel. But the shop's information is based on trust in its brokers, he says. Although crystal structures viewed through electron microscopes can be matched to the world's mineral deposits, no one can surmise a gem's specific source by looking at it, says Johnson.

Other custom jewelry designers locally are Facets Jewelry Studio, Father & Son Jewelers, Pacific Diamond Jewelers, Rogue Valley Coin & Jewelry Exchange and Silver Lining Jewelers.