I’ve been asked many times if I have a favorite piece of jewelry I’ve designed, which is always a challenging question. Thankfully because I work with so many different types of people with different style preferences, I get to explore many genres of design. Each custom designed piece is special for it. My collective favorites are always the things I made for the people closest to my heart. A pair of diamond and peridot nautilus earrings for my mom who loves the sea. An Oregon sunstone necklace for my stone-loving grandmother who was so curious about it. My dear friend and cherished mutual goofball since middle school Chrysanthe’s engagement ring designed and shipped back east stealthily between her husband and I.
In my heart though, my favorite has definitely been designing the engagement ring of my best friend of 20 years, Dr. Erika Eitland. When this idea first started to become a reality, I was both excited and terrified. An engagement ring- something someone looks at for the rest of their life- for one of the people in my life I look up to and cherish the most. How do I make something to fit someone so beautiful, talented, funny, passionate and smart with an equally great loving partner to match?
Erika and I met in high school around 2004-5. As two biracial women of color in a rural and predominantly white environment, we instantly bonded and quickly found a love of each other’s company. As eldest daughters with brothers in immigrant families of color, we shared an understanding of certain challenges we face in life. Over the next 18 + years through high school, college, grad schools, professional lives, and 3,000 miles and a pandemic between us, we’ve remained each other’s biggest supporters. That unending support towards each other’s dreams led us to now be a Doctor of Public Health (I mean, sheesh! Impressive!) and a Lead Designer, and I am so thankful.
Erika’s Bengali heritage was my primary inspiration for this ring. In the eastern region of India Bengal is a historical wellspring of art and culture, famous for producing artists, philosophers and spiritual leaders. While never having traveled to Asia myself (yet!), I grew up in awe of the beautiful elements of this culture introduced to me by my friend and her family. Art, music, clothes, language, spices, food, and stories from the bustling megacity of Kolkata where the family traveled to and from fairly regularly entranced me and made me feel lucky to have a surrogate Indian family to learn from. Jewelry is a hugely important part of Indian society, along with many many parts of Asia. A ‘gold dowry’, or the jewelry brought into the marriage by the bride or given to the bride by the groom’s family, is a massive part of the culture of weddings and allowed women a small element of financial freedom to fall back on if the marriage or family hit hard times. When it comes to jewelry from this part of the world, most is made in 22k yellow gold or higher. I knew that this ring had to be at least 18k, or it wouldn’t fit the look of her other inherited jewelry.
As long as I had known her, Erika wore beautiful carved gold bangles passed down from family. As I researched, I found that the bangles exhibited hallmarks of Bengali jewelry motifs I wanted to incorporate into this ring. An emphasis on patterns often involving large round beads, specific floral and botanical motifs, and elegant movement within the design were crucial. I was given the instructions to find a pear-shaped center diamond, which made for an interesting design challenge as this did not seem to be a common cut for Indian engagement rings. When I was brainstorming ideas, the phrase that kept coming to mind when I was thinking of my dear friend was “firework bouquet”. Erika is full of life and energy with an appreciation for the beauty of the natural world like myself. When I think of her I think of her surrounded by flowers, or a smile lit up by a night sky bursting with colorful fireworks. It was from that moment where the design came to me rather quickly. Symmetrical but not perfectly- more like rotational symmetry with individual flowers cradling diamonds organically set blooming around the center diamond as if they all sprung from the earth together. A 22k yellow gold base with white gold and 14k flowers for diversity in color and set one at a time slightly overlapping the center stone, a feat not to be attempted by an inexperienced bench jeweler.
The translation from a 2D design on paper to 3D model had its challenges. Over
months of several rounds of iterations and brainstorming sessions with my talented bench jeweler collaborator, design conversations between her fiancé Adam and I from 3,000 miles away, and a fervent desire to make this the best ring it could be, it was finally done. When it came to the wedding a year later, there was much joking of how the process was delayed by mine and Adam’s attempts not to rush each other. The wedding weekend was filled with much joy and hundreds of colorful flowers. We cracked up the night of the wedding when our illegal fireworks display was crashed by the cops, who found the whole thing quite funny and congratulated the nuptials. I’ll forever keep the memory of my beautiful friend in her white dress looking up with joy at the colorful explosions in the sky. The firework bouquet.
The beautiful thing about well-made fine jewelry is that it will survive all of us when our bodies have passed. In the meanwhile, I love knowing that if I can’t always be there with the people I love, they’ll have a little piece of me with them to keep close. Designing this ring is something that I will treasure always, and I assume will be hard one to beat for my favorite for a long while. I look forward to what ways I can continue to celebrate the lives and love of my friends through my craft!