Archive for August, 2016


Wood into Gold, and Other Tales of Transformation, Part 1

August 19, 2016

2016-08-16 00.08.06

I used think that aging meant liver spots, bingo, and bearing witness to the gradual deterioration otherwise known as “scrotal descent.” And I suppose that I do still console myself that I’m not super old yet. But I’ve realized that aging isn’t all bad, either. Some experiences would hardly be possible without the passage of time—second chances; fresh starts; reversals of fortune; redemption. There may even be wisdom for those who make enough mistakes to earn it. How is it possible that I haven’t already made enough mistakes? I digress.

So let me talk about what I do know. Second chances and redemption.

A special project recently came my way—the opportunity to create a pair of wedding rings. I had never made a ring before. Nor had I worked before with gold or with gemstones. The project was made even more special by the fact that an old wedding band was to be melted down to supply most of the gold.

Those things were all quite cool, but what really made the project special was that these rings were for me. Well, for us. For my wife and me. Or, more precisely, my ex-wife and me. My ex-wife-about-to-be-my-wife-once-more, and me. I know, I know, it sounds oddly recursive, or circular, like trying to explain how you married a cousin. Or like life imitating the Pina Colada Song. She likes to tell people that I am her second husband.

I had several ideas in mind when designing the rings. For hers, it had to be something she couldn’t just buy in a store. What would be the point? I also didn’t want its value to reside primarily in it being made of gold and containing a diamond that could pass for the world’s largest kidney stone. In fact I thought it would be more interesting if it didn’t have a diamond at all. I wanted its value to lie elsewhere.

What do I have against diamonds? Nothing really. I just don’t think they are the panty droppers they are made out to be. They’re just stones. Uh oh. Did I say that out loud? If you are a diamond connoisseur or sold a kidney in order to buy a larger diamond, I apologize. Believe me, I get it. Luckily my blushing bride-about-to-be-once-more felt the same as I do, or else I’m sure that one of my kidneys would have been for sale on Craigslist too.

Here’s the deal with diamonds. Even a cursory examination of contemporary wedding rings reveals that many rings are little more than scaffolding for holding diamonds. To my mind, diamonds mainly sparkle, and sparkle mainly allows for a piece of jewelry to read well from a distance. That’s well and good, but jewelry stores all have microscopes so that you can actually see the reason your diamond costs what it does. Since it takes a microscope or a loupe to do that, I can’t help but wonder if the average person could tell the difference between this or that diamond? Or for that matter, between a real diamond and a fake?

Ok. As much as I would like to keep talking about diamonds (yes, I really could), I need to reign this in. The bottom line on diamonds is this—I neither hate them nor love them. Under certain circumstances I would use one. But I think they are grossly overused, to the extent that they can easily make a piece of jewelry less interesting, not more.

While I had never made any jewelry, I suppose that I had given jewelry a bit of thought over the years. I appreciate interesting metalwork wherever I find it. Some of my favorite jewelry designs are very old. Roman, Etruscan, and Viking, for instance. I didn’t want either of our rings to be a reproduction, but I wanted for her ring, at least, to have an old feel, as if it might have been made a very long time ago. I don’t even know how many rings I studied. Here are a handful of rings that had features I liked.


roman gold ring

This ring is Roman and appears to be either unfinished or damaged, in that the button at the center is blank. I like this ring’s lines, but I think the tall button is too masculine for a woman—kind of like a man’s signet ring.

bronze viking ring

This is a bronze Viking ring, and all told, I liked its silhouette the best of the rings I’m showing you here. In some ways it is similar to the Roman ring but without the signet ring feel.

gold ring

I’m not sure what time period this ring heralds from. Not exactly. Medieval? Early modern? I like two things about it—the flower at the center, and the fact that it is made entirely of gold, with no stones. Much of the workmanship looks pretty crude, though. The band does not look very comfortable either.

roman ring2

Here is another Roman ring. A signet ring. I don’t care for how large the stone is, but I like the thick bezel surrounding it.

15thcentury italian ring

Lastly, here is a medieval ring. Again, a signet ring. I like the facets that extend around the band. I also like the arrises that separate the facets.

At about this point I realized that I had more ideas than I had rings to make, so I had better utilize my phone a friend. After all, it’s not like I was proposing on the jumbotron—complete surprise was not important. So, what did she like? She said she’d prefer either a blue or a green stone. Definitely not a red one. A diamond would be fine, but it wasn’t her first choice. She was also concerned that the ring be comfortable and that it not be too fancy, in which case she’d be nervous wearing it. The rest was up to me.

I tossed her feedback in with my ideas and daydreams, then I watered it all with a few IPAs and slept on it. I still had more ideas than rings to make. But at least now I had some solid feedback to work with.

Let’s stop there for now. Otherwise this is going to run long. Go water your brain with a few IPAs and sleep on it. In the next installment I will focus on processes and how I made the rings.