Newlyweds show pride in Sheffield with Steel City rings

David Raynes working on a ring
David Raynes working on a ring

"It's a double whammy," says jeweller David Raynes, explaining why couples whose partnerships were forged in Sheffield are lining up to buy his finely-crafted wedding rings made from genuine city steel.

"There's the pride element, and the steel is a lifetime purchase - it will look just as good as platinum when it's polished."

David Raynes working on a ring

David Raynes working on a ring

Some are claiming to offer products with the same prestige - "They use a clever form of words that it's 'Sheffield's famous steel'," grumbles David - but these are the genuine article.

The stainless steel is melted down and supplied in bar form from Outokumpu in Tinsley, and each ring is stamped with the all-important Made In Sheffield trademark.

David's talents extend beyond wedding bands. Sheffield steel cufflinks, some inlaid with Stanage gritstone and Blue John mined at Castleton, are among his specialties.

His business, called Tiago - Portuguese for James, David's middle name - is based on Abbeydale Road, and is something of a one-stop shop, housing a shiny showroom lined with display cabinets and a busy workshop with virtually all of the equipment needed to create a shaped, buffed and polished piece from start to finish.

David Raynes working on a ring

David Raynes working on a ring

Computer-aided design is an important part of the process, offering a realistic mock-up image of a ring before the metal has even been cut.

"If we were to make a bespoke ring there could easily be 50 stages from beginning to end," he says.

"Two-colour ones, for example, might have 100 stages, each one as important as the next."

David, 48, has always lived in Sheffield. He was born in Arbourthorne, grew up in Woodthorpe and went to Brook School, leaving at 16 to join the Youth Training Scheme at Forgemasters.

It was the mid-1980s, and the steel industry was very much in decline, but David still saw the business 'at the tail end of when it was a vast organisation'.

"I saw some very interesting things. I saw a prop shaft for a ship being lathed on a machine - the prop shaft was about 40 or 50 feet long in solid steel. Not everybody gets to see heavy industry in that sense. I saw what Sheffield was about and what it was doing."

Some of the impressions were grim, however. "I saw places that were abandoned and it was literally like walking through the set of The Full Monty."

Nobody was taken on at Forgemasters when the scheme finished, and instead David entered the jewellery trade. He spent six years working at McAvoy and Beardsmore in Nether Green, where he learned how to carry out repairs, soldering, metal polishing and refinishing.

Next he moved to Orlap in Tideswell, crafting prototypes for high-end cufflinks, rings, earrings and other items inlaid with Peak District stone. In his time there he helped to make bespoke items for boxer Lennox Lewis and TV newsreaders. In the early 1990s the firm made Margaret Thatcher's pearl anniversary gift, a pair of mabé earrings.

"If it was anybody else I'd have felt a lot more pride," quips David.

A later spell in the model-making team of a big wholesalers in Leeds taught him 'the business side of things'. He had already started making pieces at home for family, friends and the odd customer.

"I was doing jobs in my bedroom and I'd made more money than the £100 million company had. I wanted to do it for myself. The skilled worker tends to be used and abused along the way and other people are making money out of it. I do animal sculpting, carving; I've made Formula One racing cars, models of Marilyn Monroe - you name it, I've done it."

Tiago began properly in 2007, after he was made redundant. His first premises were at Neepsend in an old cutlery works, before the Abbeydale Road shop became available.

"I've commuted to work since I was 22, and I live half a mile away from these premises," says David, of Norton Lees. "It was my dream to get somewhere close to home."

He started making the steel rings in 2013, having 'recognised there was no-one doing it'. Each piece comes with a certificate guaranteeing its authenticity.

Tiago items are stocked at places around the city, including the Famous Sheffield Shop on Ecclesall Road. In return David sells other Sheffield firms' pieces at Abbeydale Road, including bracelets by Bailey of Sheffield.

Most of the steel bands are bought by men reluctant to pay for a costly item made of gold, silver or platinum, he says.

"Men as a rule aren't interested in jewellery - when you've got a guy who doesn't want to spend £1,400 on a wedding ring he doesn't really want to wear anyway, and then you say he can have the same design in Sheffield steel for £200, then their eyes light up.

"I'm saving them £1,200. And the lady can then have the diamond ring she's set her heart on.

"A lot of couples tend to leave the rings until last and compromise on them, because they're seen as expensive. I find it really frustrating, because ultimately the ring is the only thing that's on you for the rest of your life."

Customers are mostly from Sheffield. In many cases their fathers or grandfathers used to work in the steel industry.

"We have had a few ladies ask for rings as well. It's not always practical to mix metals, but we have made platinum rings with steel inlaid, because it was so important to them."

David has made rings for Italian, Portuguese and Spanish students who want a souvenir of Sheffield, or have met their partner here, as well as ex-pats in America. His wares are on display in the Town Hall, he made rings for the first same-sex couple to marry in Sheffield and he presented the Master Cutler with a set of cufflinks in 2014.

"As a Sheffielder there was no way I was walking into the Cutlers' Hall waving some cufflinks around made of Chinese or Italian steel."