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The Rings

Ah, me cool-headed folk, just sit right down and you'll hear a tale worth the telling, whilst impatient busy persons go a-spoiling the story and skip directly to the photos of the rings themselves.

And now, Sean tells the story...

I can't tell you how many jewelry stores we visited over the three years we were engaged. We searched every counter and every kiosk at our five local malls. We looked at stores on the east coast. We searched Hawaii. Nothing in the racks was doing it for us. Ring after ring, we began to narrow down our criteria: no rocks; no yellow gold. woven At least, not solid yellow -- it might work if woven with white and rose, or other colors.

... and then ...

We discovered anodized titanium. anodized Lots of fun colors, shiny metal, supremely durable -- a hit! And yet still none of the off-the-rack designs really fit perfectly. Most were a simple line etching of uniform width, not interesting enough. But there was one (pictured at left) that opened our eyes to the possibility of broad areas, richly colored. And such a lush purple! rounded And another ring (pictured at right) showed us what could be done with shape. It had nicely rounded ridges, quite high compared to most titanium rings we'd seen, in a spiral pattern.

a concept!

sketch 1 While pondering these, and contemplating natural forms that appealed most to me, I struck upon the notion of a wave pattern. As a musician, attuned to the sound of things, I felt it resonate and knew I'd hit a winner at last. Something I could smile at, every day.

For the context of marriage, duality seemed appropriate, so I sketched out a concept in which two waves crossed each other. I liked this better than a braid or an over-under helix, because it incorporated both elements we liked from other rings: the rounded, raised shape, and the broad, recessed, colored areas.

but who could forge it?

We found a handful of internet sites that offered custom titanium designs, but most were unwilling to tackle my design. They explained that titanium must typically be machined, whereas my design would be more suitable for casting. Only one seemed willing to work with our design; my contact there promised to get back to me after the actual ring designer had had a chance to review my sketch.
The ring maker had a few questions for me ... which got lost in the mail. So after two weeks had passed I contacted them, straightened it out, sketch 2 and provided a new sketch. The first one had proved insufficient to convey the concept completely, so I taxed my artistic skills and came up what I hoped was a reasonable approximation of a cross-section. I'm fairly pleased with the results, actually.

signs of trouble

No sooner had I sent the new sketch, when their ring maker was called away on family business. They expected him to return in early April.

At this point I figured it might be wise to start working on a Plan B. I visited a local ring maker, who came highly recommended by Curtis. They had magnificently implemented a design Curtis created for his own wedding, but I knew they mainly worked with gold. Doesn't hurt to ask, right? Turns out they only work in gold, but they'd be happy to help me if I changed my mind about the metal. Oh, well.

At this point, people who are good at planning feel compelled to taunt me. "You only gave yourself three months to get a ring made, are you nuts?" "Haven't you learned how to plan ahead yet?" "Why are you being so picky at this stage of the game, just buy a freaking ring, any ring!"

In my defense, it must be noted that I've gotten much better at scheduling and budgeting in general than I ever was. Which isn't to say I'm actually consistent about it yet, but I'm making progress. Besides, we had a bulletproof Plan Z in place for when the first 25 plans all fell through: exchange our engagement rings for the ceremony. Nobody can see them from where they're sitting, anyway.


Again, I had to prod the ring maker. To my surprise, I was told that he'd already begun work on a prototype. This was great news!

... until yet another week passed, and after prodding once again, was told that they had some equipment failure. But wait, it gets better! It just happened to fail while they were working on my prototype, destroying it. So they had to start over.

I think it was at this point that I resigned myself to the notion of having real wedding rings maybe in time for our first anniversary.

fate likes to tease

At long last, the email we'd been hoping for finally arrived: "photos of the ring prototype [are attached] to this e-mail". Have you ever sent an email like that, and forgotten to actually attach the photos? And then realized what you did, and sent a followup email with the actual attachments, and an apology? Well, even the apology didn't have them attached, either. Naturally, I received these late on Friday, and had to agonize until Monday to finally see the prototype.

Now I suppose they pulled off a pretty fancy feat, for machining titanium. And I'm the first to admit I was aiming pretty high, but nonetheless, I was disappointed. Braided it may be, but it quite simply lacks most of the important features I'd been trying to convey. Still, these folks were my best prospect, and they had gotten closer to my ideal than any other ring I'd yet seen. I decided to try one more time.

Nothing conveys complete physical form like a sculpture, so I broke out some handy modeling clay. And to match the refinement of design came an improvement in delivery. Why settle for photographs when a short motion video was possible? Well, ok, the video reveals the bright coloring of the clay-dough, whose well-known brand name you can probably guess. My photo editing software is more sophisticated than my video software, so the touched-up photographs illustrate the intended coloration. (And please do forgive the graininess of the video from my 2-megapixel camera).

view 1 view 2 view 3
[fly-by, flat] - 2.3 MB
[fly-by, curled] - 1.2 MB
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plan c

After all that, the final result was that they couldn't make what we wanted. They were willing to compromise somewhat, as were we, but eventually they confessed that what they make must be saleable to their general market. They are not in the business of making single-sale or even limited-sale designs. If only that had been plainer at the outset!

Dignity trampled, I crawled back to Curtis' ringmaker to see what could be done in gold. To my great surprise, they were willing to give it a try, despite the very late date. (For those of you thinking to follow in my footsteps and use them as your last-ditch savior also, be warned that they've already sworn to deny that any of this ever happened. As far as you know, they only work with 6-week lead times, no matter how much comission you offer.)

They've accepted the job! With only eight days until wedding, my nerves would scare a rattlesnake. I came into the shop, sketch in hand. Clay model in hand, too. My confidence soared when they glanced at the model and said, "oh yeah, that's exactly what I had in mind after visiting your web site. We'll have a wax model made to scale by Wednesday, ok?"

What convinced me to forsake titanium? Not the urban legend that titanium can't be cut, even in the case of emergency, because it can. Easily. What sold me was that the two features I thought unique to titanium -- hardness and coloration -- are also properties of super-hard white gold with enameling. Being super-hard comes from the 18K alloy, which is durable enough that they don't see the need to plate it with Rhodium, which is common practice for 14K alloys. And enamel is basically glass, which of course can be nearly any color we want.

It's only Tuesday, a day early! They called me into the shop to see the wax model, which was perfect in every way. I immediately authorized the casting of two rings.

the real thing

With only two days to go, the rings were completed. Being in the throes of final wedding panic, we sent family members to fetch them the next day. Captured for all posterity is the moment we received the final ring box:

Smiling at box

Well? Look inside the box!

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