Lewis Malka Interview: Advice from Engagement Ring Specialist

Have you ever wondered how jeweller Lewis Malka established his niche in designing and manufacturing timeless engagement rings? Read on to find out in his own words

Tell us about your career and how you have reached where you are today.

I started my career as a 16-year-old apprentice. I worked at the bench pretty much my whole career.

I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do when I left school. I was very creative in the sense of art woodwork, and jewellery was not on my radar in secondary school. The closest you get is in the chemistry lab blowing things up! We’ve had some experiences with that in the workshop too, I can tell you! But, as a 15-year-old, my parents had some friends who were manufacturing jewellers and invited me to do 2 weeks in the summer to see how I liked it.

On my first day, the mounter called me aside to sit down and then on his workbench he placed his big chunky silver ring. He took his blowtorch, and then he melted it down into the crucible, poured it out into the skillet, rolled out the metal, bent it round, cut the ends, soldered it together and put it back on his finger. It was a lot lighter, but he was proving a point that within an hour and a half, he disassembled, and remade his silver band that he was wearing, and that was it. I was hooked from there, so we looked into doing an apprenticeship, which I did at college. I was on a three-year apprenticeship, I stayed with the guy for a further six years and then branched out on my own in 2000. It’s been a great journey. I think the benefit that I had is the company that I did the apprenticeship for was a very small company and they specialised in engagement rings, which is how I developed my niche.

Since your apprenticeship, have you always had an interest in manufacturing jewellery?

There was a break during my career when I left the jewellers I studied my apprenticeship with, as I felt I had reached my ceiling, and I was asking myself what do I do now?

I moved around between a few different things, I was repping on the road. Manufacturing in the Far East was becoming more popular and a lot of jewellery was being imported. I worked for a company as an independent contractor, travelling around the southeast and London trying to sell ready-to-wear made-up jewellery.

I happened to go into a body piercing studio that was pretty much on my doorstep because he had some small diamond body jewellery for the eyebrow, nose, and belly button. We got talking and I ended up with a 50% stake in his business. I had a piercing studio for close to three years, and I’ve made jewellery for almost every part of the body! We had a sign across the door that said, “If you can pinch it, we can pierce it”. It was a great eye-opener!

Sadly, my business partner passed away in 2003, and that prompted me to go back to the mainstream. It was sort of my gap year, if you like, being in that world, I went back to mainstream high-end diamond jewellery and haven’t looked back. I started my business, which has been tumultuous, to say the least.

I spent about five or six years servicing the trade, as well as trying to build up a private clientele. I decided to remove myself from working with the trade and focus my efforts on private clients. I wanted to offer a service and meet people, which is what I’ve done.

What is your advice for a jewellery student looking to excel?

Find a part of the industry that you’ve got a passion for, if you enjoy doing CAD, you’re going to have a miserable time sitting in a workshop or you’re not going to enjoy being front of house in a retail shop. You’ve got to enjoy what you do because, in all areas, there’s going to be feast or famine. So, you want to make sure that when you’ve got the times when it’s a famine, you’re not miserable and down because you’re in a part of the industry that you’re not enjoying. After all, everything goes in cycles and what goes up must come down and what’s down will go up again. So, you must find the part of the industry that you’re going to enjoy. Otherwise, you’re just going to be miserable. Working 09:00 to 17:00, paycheck to paycheck.

What would you describe your signature style as?

I like to keep a piece of jewellery, an engagement ring, with a little bit of meat on the bone, so you might find traditional shanks might be 1.3mm, and I’d like to make sure they’re at least 1.6mm/1.7mm.

When clients ask, “Can you make the width as narrow as possible 1.1/1.3mm?”. The width needs to be at least 1.5mm, but typically my designs would be about 1.8mm to 2mm.

For an engagement ring, I prefer having that little bit extra on the bone and a little bit more refinement on the edges and the corners. So, a little bit more rounded off, but not too intrusive claws over the diamonds. You’ve always got to make the claws in ratio to the size of the diamond because, for example, you don’t want a 1.5mm claw on a 0.5-carat diamond. That would be more appropriate for an 8-carat diamond! You’ve got to have all the elements in ratio and balanced properly. When considering this you also don’t want it to be too thin. 

A lot of Jewellers and their customers neglect the shoulders of the ring; you see styles where it’s almost like a wedding band with a collet plonked on top with one point of solder and they look fantastic, however, this doesn’t offer a great deal of security.  When you have a pilot hole and a sprue that runs in and then you solder that, there is still a weak point. It’s important to have shoulders incorporated into the design. The shoulders can be nicely rounded off, come into a nice taper, not too sharp, but just a nice taper and have a little bit of meat there and that doesn’t detract from the main setting. I think the construction of the shoulders to the head is very important.

How did you develop this as your style?

If I’m being honest,  it was drummed into me as an apprentice. When you’re manufacturing, the most important thing is keeping the weight on the ring because the manufacturer is selling the piece by the gram. So, at £10 per gram, for every 0.1, you will be a pound down and that’s going to hit their bottom line and you’re going to get a telling-off! 

So, keeping the shape that’s been developed and that the customer requires is so important, really all you’re doing is just tickling and refining the edges because you don’t want to change the shape of them. And that’s what’s stuck with me. Just making sure that we keep it to the original brief, and we don’t overdo it because if you’ve got nice swan neck shoulders and you take a little bit too much out of there, suddenly it looks like a sickly swan, and you don’t want that! The important thing to remember, whether it’s from a casting or a completely handmade piece, is that you should maintain what the customer or the client has agreed on. You can always take some off afterwards, but to put it back on, you need to remake it, and nobody wants to go through that expense. 

How do you translate that idea in a client’s head into an actual wearable piece? Do you have a process you go through every time?

First of all, about 90% of my clients who come for engagement rings are men on their own. Often their partner doesn’t have a clue until they’ve been proposed to. That’s not to say it’s too late at that stage, we can always redesign the ring.

I’ll sit down and I will ask the questions before I open my sample box and I’ll say, “what have you got in mind? Have you got any images?” And then just listen, ask questions, and listen.

From the feedback I get after they’ve seen one or two other jewellers, is that the Jeweller just didn’t listen to them. The client is talking to them; however, they’re showing them what they want to design.

I have 60 to 70 sample pieces of different styles with empty centre stone settings and we experiment together by trying different stone shapes, but I want to hear first what they’re after, and what their expectations are for the design before I open the box and suddenly the client is dazzled by everything that’s in there and they forget what it is that they want.

So they will tell me what they’ve envisioned and then if I need to open the box, I will. If I don’t, then I won’t because I’ll just pull out one or two that I know are suitable. Otherwise, it can get very overwhelming and confusing.

Is there anything that has surprised you about running a jewellery business?

I think what surprises me is the amount of conflicting information that’s out there for people. It’s amazing how we trust people whom we’ve never met before to give us advice and honesty with making a large purchase.

As an example, before Christmas, I had a guy who was asking me about an engagement ring and he said to me, “so how much would this be?” I said, “well, you told me what your budget was, and that’s what I’ve prepared for you. So, for the sake of this example let’s say we’re looking at £9,000”.

He asked, “if I was to come back to you in six months or to go down to another jeweller, how much do you think I’d get back for it?”.

“Well first of all you’ve got your VAT, so that’s 20%. You’re not going to get back. So that takes us down to approximately £7,000.” I said “you’ve got the mount, which we allow maybe £1,000 for a handmade bespoke platinum mount with small diamonds on the band, and then you’ve got the stone, so you might get back maybe £5,500 to £6,000”. He goes “okay”, and he says “so you’re charging me £9,000”, he says “I’ll pay you £6,500 for the ring as that’s what you told me it will be worth in six months”.

I said “I’m not allowed to make a living. I can’t make a profit. I can’t pay VAT. What am I supposed to do?”

It’s sometimes surprising the knowledge that people will look into this, they’ll spend a week, some will spend a day, and some will spend a month doing some research. But when they come to you and make out that they’re the qualified voice when I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, that I should listen to what they’ve said, that surprises me quite a bit.

That leads us to your book “The Engagement Ring”. Was this a motivation to publish your book?

I was writing blogs all the time in 2014, 2015, 2016. The book was published in 2016 as it got to a point where I had a nice back catalogue of blogs and I wanted to put it into a book. After doing research for my blogs, I noticed that lots of websites and companies had conflicting information on engagement rings.

I also found that, interestingly, people who came to me for engagement rings were already engaged, but the girl didn’t like their engagement ring.

I worked out having done some more research, and it turned out that one in five wives-to-be does not like their engagement ring, and the reason why they dislike their engagement ring is that the guys, (like I mentioned about 90% of my clients are male) before they’ve proposed, will pick a ring based on what they like instead of considering what she likes, what colour jewellery she wears, what her lifestyle choices are, her vocation. 

For example, somebody who works as a clinician in a hospital or a dentist and is wearing gloves every day isn’t going to want a big cluster on her finger. Another example is someone who’s very active and is very outdoorsy with rock climbing, gym, etc., won’t want a ring that’s got diamonds going all the way around the back of the shank because it’s going to get whacked and knocked a lot of the time. So, you’ve got to consider all aspects of their lifestyle, and they won’t want something, big or ostentatious if they’re very small and like very fine chains and very dainty rings. So, it’s all very much guys with the bravado saying “Yes, I’m going to get the biggest ring I can afford. It’s going to be a 5-carat diamond”. It’s not what she’s going to be comfortable wearing. Some people would come to me because they bought an engagement ring, whether it was online or in a different country while they were on holiday, it was a spontaneous purchase and they wanted it redesigned because it wasn’t a style that she liked.

I think writing the book just gave people a lot of confidence in me. Anyone can write a blog, but he’s taken the time to write a book, to have it published. It’s available on Amazon and wherever else, so he must have some knowledge and authority. So let me have a look at that and see what he has to say. And I wanted to do that. I wanted to give people information if they come to me, great. If they don’t, that’s fine as well. I’m all about sharing and giving and I think that was something that I learned early on in my apprenticeship. During that time we took on maybe three or four different apprentices and I was asked to be the one to train them and I’m all about giving out knowledge and if you get something back, great. But don’t do it with expectations because that’s the biggest path or quickest path to disappointment.

You’re very active on your social media. Do you have any tips for aspiring jewellers on building their brand on social?

There are two ways that I’ve seen that it can be done, that’s my way and there’s a different way! As a one-man business, I’m the face of the business. If they don’t like me, they’re not going to come to me, regardless of what jewellery I’ve got, you could easily take one of my images and go to a different jeweller asking to copy it.

The jewellers that just post rings, if that’s what their niche is or just post a particular type of jewellery, and then keep going, keep going, keep going; they’re quite vanilla. They don’t have, well, I consider the personality. They might look beautiful, they might be incredible, the prices might be fantastic and some people like that – I don’t.

I wanted to insert my personality every now and again. There’ll be a photo from a family event or an achievement. Something that’s happened because I talk about myself, I talk about my wife, whether it’s the kids, whatever it is, I started with two separate accounts, a personal one and a business one. What’s the point? I mean the business is me. So, I think if you’re going to go with a particular angle, make it consistent. I think aesthetically they have some sort of layout whether it’s every 3rd picture, every fifth picture is a particular video or a tutorial or a particular style of ring or something like that. That’s what we like to see. We don’t like to see mundane repetition.

We want to see authentic personality, we want to see interaction, so any comments, any DMs, make sure you reply to them as quickly as you can. 

From the flip side of social media from an Instagram perspective, I think by having that interaction with your clients and, you know, I don’t have many new ones every single week, but asking them afterwards to leave you a nice review on Google. I think that will help you financially because you don’t have to pay exorbitant prices for SEO or PPC. After all, nobody knows exactly what the achievements of those are, no matter what they come to you and I’m sure they know their stuff. But when they say well, you’re not going to see any results for the first six months. But please fill in this direct debit mandate. I’m a little bit sceptical about that. And with the PPC in our industry where you’ve got shops in Bond Street.

I’m talking about how fine jewellery houses can pay £50, £60, £70 per click. It’s just out of our league. Hatton Garden is just as competitive, but on a slightly different level. So, I think by having as much done organically as you can, so having the reviews, and I think yesterday I picked up my 775th five-star review on Google. It will fill the client’s credibility. They’ll look at your research, they’ll look at your website, they’ll look at the blogs and they’ll see what you’ve been doing. So yeah, that’s my advice.

We regularly see your feed pictures of your clients posing with their new ring or their Lewis Malka “I said yes” mug. Tell us more about this.

The mugs were just a little something to give the client that she would also be able to take a picture with. Most of the time the couples managed to take it with them to their proposal destination and take a photo. Some of those mugs have been literally around the world. I think that goes back to what you were saying about my marketing strategy on social media by interacting with my clients and involving them as well. I think in their head because I’ve heard before, you know when I get an enquiry through the website, it’s always me because it is a one-man business that phones them up to find out specifically, what they’re after for the appointment, and occasionally I’ll get people reply:

“Oh my gosh is that Lewis, I’m talking to?”


“Well, I thought it would be maybe your secretary.”

No, don’t worry. We know we’re all in this together. There are no other people behind the scenes. I feel it is very important to involve them in this process and ensure they feel part of it.

The concept of timeless elegance is very evident in many of your designs. How do you balance being true to traditional craftsmanship while incorporating modern elements into your work?

I think the only analogy that I can think of quickly is that the spine of a successful football team has to stay the same. You’re going to have your keeper, your central defender, your midfielder, your striker. Whether you play with inverted wingbacks, whether you play 4 4 2 or 3 5 1, whichever it is, the foundation, the spine, stays the same.  

This is the same for engagement rings, we know they should have shoulders, we know how the claws should be finished, and we know that it needs to have, maybe 4 or 6 claws depending on the size of the diamond and the shape of the diamond. If you keep the fundamentals correct and you design around that, I think you’ll always come back to having something that’s got a little bit of timelessness and elegance to it and keeping that pivotal and central to your design, I think that’s key!

Can you tell us about one of your favourite bespoke designs you’ve produced?

I mean I probably would be in trouble if I didn’t say my wife’s! The Mandy Ring which is on my website and is very popular. It’s an oval diamond with micro-set shoulders.

Another one that springs to mind was done a couple of years ago. It was a nice story because the couple had asked me to source a diamond and the diamond had to be over six carats, between 6 and 7 carat cushion shape. And I found a stone and he asked me to send him the certificate so they could approve it. And he said to me, “Oh, I’ve just been offered the same stone. Apparently, it’s in Hong Kong”, I said, “No, it’s definitely not in Hong Kong”. It was literally at the Bourse in London. I took a photo of the stone on top of the day’s newspaper, today’s date showing him the stone. And he’s like, “Oh, they told me” I said “No, no”. And I said, “you know, they might have thought he had it, but he doesn’t. It’s definitely my stone”, so then we agreed on everything.

To sit alongside we’ve got a 1.5-carat Half Moon shape on either side, and it sits in a nice wire frame setting which they didn’t think you could have made in a way for the wedding band to sit flush alongside it, but I did. I made it in a way like that.

They got engaged, and she’s delighted. She sent me a little video of the ring like that. And she goes, “Oh my gosh, as it catches the sunlight, it’s like I’ve got a laser show on my finger”,  I mean, it was incredible. The colours of the spectrum, the rainbow, just dancing off the diamond. It’s just perfect, you know, I think that’s one of my favourites and the lovely couple who’ve become friends as well. It’s such a personal thing that I do with people and often we end up being friends as well in a lot of cases.

Take a look at this ring here.

Do you exclusively make jewellery with diamonds, or do you use coloured stones as well?

I think 95% of it is diamonds.

I’ve got fantastic suppliers where I’ve got some beautiful unheated sapphires, rubies as well as emeralds. Sapphires and rubies are more popular than emeralds for some reason.

I’ve got someone asking me right now. He wants a really dirty emerald. He said, “I want it to be, you know, relatively transparent, but I want to see all the inclusions. I want all the marks in the stone”, and I said, “okay, great. Let’s make something like that”. It’s going to be a signet ring for him.

Do you have a top tip for BAJ students?

Follow your passion and that’s my tip, I think, and I’ve touched on it earlier, you have to have that passion for what area of the industry you’re working in, whether it’s diamonds, colour stones, whether it’s CAD, sitting at the workbench or whether you want to work in retail. You’ve got to have a passion for it so that you can crack on because like I said, if you enjoy working – it won’t feel like work, will it?

BAJ’s HNC Art & Design 3D Design (Jewellery Design and Manufacturing) students are currently working on a collaborative project with Lewis Malka. 

Our project with Lewis is one of the numerous live projects we run annually for our Jewellery students to give them valuable industry experience in a creative, engaging way. Other jewellery businesses we have collaborated with include iconic jeweller Theo Fennell, fine jewellery house Graff and peridot mining specialist Fuli Gemstones. Find out more about our jewellery course here.

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