Diamond ring maker Stephen Barnard to-die for clients' list includes members of the royal family and Hollywood creme de la creme. Princess Diana wore a couple of the necklaces he fashioned, which makes him very proud. He also worked on the iconic Taylor-Burton diamond before it was sold by the actress. The pear-shaped gem was valued at $18.9m (£14.4m) had 69 carats and weighed about 13.6g.
Barnard knew very early on he had a knack for exquisite jewellery. In his workshop for online diamond retailer 77 Diamonds, located in London's West End, he and his team of ring makers create about 400 engagement rings and other types of jewellery every month.
Barnard started his apprenticeship in Covent Garden when he was just 15, straight out of school, and has been working as a jeweller ever since. Now 65, the self-deprecating craftsman who describes himself as an "old timer" has learnt to appreciate the ups and downs of the trade.
Only a few people remain in the business at his age. Many have to retire due to health issues such as problems with their eyesight or arthrosis, but Barnard tells IBTimesUK he feels "lucky" to still be practising.
After years of honing his craft and a degree in gemmology - "to make sure I was knowledgeable enough", he explains - Barnard set up shop in the West End, where the "quality of the jewels is far superior" than in other parts of the city.
He and co-founder of 77 Diamonds, Tobias Kormind, created their workshop 10 years ago, and founded their own apprenticeship scheme, as only a few young people are interested in mastering the craft of jewellery making.
Barnard is proud to produce jewellery matching the standards of famous brands, at a more affordable price. But what really makes him happy about his work is the feeling of making engagement rings. "It's lovely to make something I know people are going to wear for all their lives. It's not a job where you get to give such a personal thing to someone." He adds: "Hopefully, they'll have their engagement rings for life."
It takes a meticulous man to produce the perfect ring, and Barnard is such a man. The whole process of creating a diamond ring, from rough to finish, takes about three-and-a-half hours. The workshop tries to deliver on its orders as promptly as possible. "Deadlines push us to the limit sometimes," he explains. Customers too, have high expectations, and sometimes come with their own magnifying glass to make sure the rings are devoid of scratches and other defects.
The job is a combination of handcrafted and machine work, in addition to mastering the intricate details. To become accomplished, ring makers sometimes have to sit at their desks for 10 hours a day, working the metal of the jewels and the diamonds. Barnard describes it as a "problem-solving job", as there is always something that is "not quite right".