The Ring

When they wake up
they will find
all their personal belongings
have intertwined
-- Paul Simon, Rene and Georgia Magritte, with their dog after the war.

I was listening to Negotiations and Love Songs, a great compilation of Paul Simon's recent work, and the above quote kinda hit home. Rachel Grilley and I had been dating for about 8 or 9 years and our lives had indeed intertwined.

Now, I am hardly conventional enough to be overly interested in the judeo-christian tradition of societal sanctioning called marriage. The thought of asking the government (let alone some religious group) for its approval of a relationship seems ludicrous. (And don't even bother with the concept of commitment, when divorce is as common as ants.)

Furthermore, the whole idea of "taking a wife" and the traditional female subserviance so strongly integrated in the institution of marriage is abhorrent. Even the symbol of marriage -- the wedding ring -- is reminiscent of the domination inherent in traditional marriages. It is a miniature handcuff, encircling and entrapping the victim's finger.

The Goldsmith in Palo Alto on Emerson street
The Goldsmith in Palo Alto
Still, I knew that Rachel wanted to get married. A weakness, perhaps, stemming from a basic insecurity, but that is what she wanted. She didn't want a wedding, and refused to change her name, but she did want that piece of paper.

Paul Simon gave me the inspiration to be able to accomodate Rachel's desires without contradicting my own beliefs too much. Rather than a ring as a symbol of ownership, I envisioned a symbol of a partnership, representing, as a work of art, the intertwining of two lives.

Armed with this concept, I met with Tom Wilson of The Goldsmith in Palo Alto. I explained my idea to him, showed him the crude drawings I had made, and left the matter in his hands. Based on the recommendation I had been given, and on our discussion, I felt I could trust him to bring forth what I had envisioned in gold and diamond.

Two colored threads twist about each other, and around two crudely drawn gemstones.
The concept on paper
The idea was of two intertwined threads of gold, representing our lives, our families, our personal belongings. Cradled in the twists would be three stones, a round center diamond and two accent stones (also round.) I was originally thinking of light blue gemstones as the accents, but Tom convinced me to use three diamonds for a simpler look. He was right, of course; it looks much better with just the diamonds. Colored stones would have distracted the viewer from the concept represented by the gold pattern.

The twisting threads come up from the sides and wrap around each other, with the diamonds cradled in between. This gives the appearance that if Rachel turns her hand over, the gems will fall out, having nothing to hold them in place. Of course, the diamonds are held solidily in place with hidden mountings designed into the ring itself. Traditional gem mountings would have looked out of place with the rest of the design, and again, would detract from the message the ring was to convey.

A serpent wraps around a simple ceramic pot, grasping its own tail in its mouth.
Ouroboros, ca. 1985
Upon closer inspection, the ring appears to be made from a single strand of gold which wraps around itself. In this, it makes reference to the ancient sign of the Ourobouros, a snake eating its own tail. This symbol represented eternity, the idea that the past and the future are one and the same.

I first encountered the Ourobouros in one of Robert Heinlein's short stories, and have since used the symbol, or variations of it, in a couple of works of art, including the pottery bowl pictured here. In this case, the Ourobouros represents that the partnership is an unending one. (Or, perhaps, that it will seem like an eternity... 8^)

Tom and Vicki Wilson of The Goldsmith at the store.
The Artist and his wife
My first meeting with Tom was a little frightening -- not because of anything he did or said, but because of the amount of money involved and the enormity of what the ring represented. I had never spent that much money on anything other than computer equipment and Land Rovers. Furthermore, the purpose of the ring was not one to be considered lightly.

Still, Tom made it as pleasant as possible, asking intelligent questions about the design and my ideas. He was, in fact, the first and only person I told about my plans -- the second person was Rachel. He made some suggestions, did some drawings, and showed me some other pieces of jewelry for comparison. (Note: if you like jewelry, Tom is a fantastic designer and does amazing work.)

He looked through his book of standard designs to see if there was one close enough to what I wanted to save me the cost of having it custom designed. In the end, however, I decided to have him create a unique piece.

We discussed costs, looked at diamonds of various sizes and prices, and settled on a timetable that would allow me to present it to Rachel on Christmas. I selected a .24 carat round brilliant cut center diamond and two matched nine-tenths carat round full cut diamonds for the side stones (for a total of x carets). I also, based on Tom's recommendation, went for 18K gold, rather than the more common 14K.

A detail of the side of the ring, showing how the end of each strand tapers and lays across the other strand, which continues around to form the base of the ring.
The tapered end
After about a week, I braved the Silicon Valley traffic to look at the wax model he had made. To make a ring, he first shapes it in wax. Later he will make a mold of the wax model and use the mold to cast the final gold piece. He uses various types of wax, each of a different color. One comes in bars or blocks, and is carved into, while another comes in sticks, and is used to add wax to a design.

I was impressed at how well he had translated my idea into a three-dimensional work of art. He dropped the diamonds into place to give me an idea of how it would look. I suggested one minor alteration -- making the tapered ends a little more pronounced -- and left him to convert it to gold.

Although Tom had the ring ready by Monday the 21st, I was unable to get back to Palo Alto until Christmas Eve, and even then, not until fairly late in the afternoon (for Christmas Eve) due to my work schedule. Eventually, however, Rachel and I headed south. When we got to Palo Alto, I dropped Rachel off at the Stanford Mall and made my way to The Goldsmith.

The finished product, a true work of art, if I do say so myself, and a fine representation of our relationship.
The Ring
There Tom showed me a work of art. The ring looked really good, with the diamonds appearing to simply rest within the curves of the gold. I offered my thanks, and headed back to pick up Rachel. I met her at the mall, (after hiding the package in the trunk,) and we took off for home.

Perhaps took off is too strong a term; we got in line to go home. Still, we made it eventually. I snuck my package into the house and wrapped it carefully. I slipped it into a gift bag and hid it in my bedroom.

Rachel poses with the ring on the appropriate finger
Rachel and the Ring
After all the hullabaloo of christmas had died down and we were getting ready to pass out, I yanked it out and handed it to her, saying there was one present I had forgotten to give her.

When she got it open, she was, to put it mildly, a bit flabbergasted. In truth, she didn't really know quite what to make of it. I told her to make of it what she wanted, but that wasn't good enough for her; she wanted to hear the words. So I said the words and she said yes, and all was well with the world.