14 Aug My Mother’s Rings – Two Stories
An edited version of this appeared in the NZ Woman’s Weekly, cover date 14.8.23. This is the full story… Also, click on the link here for videos and photos of the remodelling process with the amazing craftspeople at The Village Goldsmith.
My mother was the kind of woman who wore her rings every day. Sure, she’d take off the diamond engagement ring when she made scones and pop it in the dish on the windowsill kept there for this purpose, but once those scones were in the oven she’d slip the diamond back on.
So these two rings – the platinum wedding band and matching solitaire – are not only in every family photo when we’re dressed up for best, but in all the moments of our lives. On her hand for every meal, every bedtime story, every hug. And if you’re the kind of person who believes the things we love and carry with us absorb something of our spirit (I am that kind of person) then there is a lifetime of memories embedded in the these rings.
When I was little I might be allowed – with clean and careful hands – to play with the white box the rings had originally come in (it looked to me like a wedding cake and made a very satisfying sound when it snapped shut) and to try on the diamond ring which, my mother said, would one day belong to me.
She talked about that more in her last days, and the practicalities. She knew the engagement ring needed work because after being on her hand for 65 years – not counting the times she made scones – the band had worn thin. She thought perhaps I could use the platinum from the wedding band to strengthen it, let one of them bolster the other.
Donna died in June 2019 and I put the rings away together in their wedding-cake box. I couldn’t wear them as they were – my mother had slender fingers, I have my father’s hands – and I wasn’t ready yet to make them “different”.
This is the thing with estate jewellery – you want to honour the original piece while also making something you want to wear, that feels like you. I had watched my mother have one of her own mother’s rings remade, and saw how it mattered that the person it had belonged to might approve.
There was no rush. I felt I would find a design I liked at some point, that I’d know it when I saw it. And I wanted the whole process to feel good because my mother’s rings were important to her, and therefore to me.
My mother’s story about these two rings begins in 1954. She was almost 20 and my father, John, had just turned 25 when they got engaged. Dad was working at the Sander Tie Company in Wellington and one of the women there had a friend who was a manufacturing jeweller in Courtenay Place. Mona sent my parents to see him.
In an upstairs workshop, the jeweller brought out velvet cushions, placing loose diamonds on them with tweezers so my mother could choose one. For the setting, she chose platinum – a break with conventional gold.
Which was all very sophisticated for a 19 year old girl and her young man who both came from modest backgrounds and were doing all this – buying rings, planning a wedding, even buying a house – with nothing to come-and-go-on but their own wages. It says a lot about my mother – an eye for beauty and her own ideas about how to do things – and about both of them and their determination to get those things done.
My story about these two rings also begins in Wellington, but 69 years later. This January I was visiting the Capital to do some shows and walked by the Village Goldsmith where the Floeting rings in the window caught my eye. I loved them – simple, elegant, all about the sparkle of the diamond. I took a photo, sent an email via the website, explained I had my mother’s diamond ring, and could it be remodelled to look like that?
What followed was a lovely email thread. The answer was “no” but also “yes” – the Floeting diamonds are a particular thing of their own, but maybe we could make a ring that looked a lot like it with my mother’s diamond.
I met with Ian Douglas when he was visiting his Auckland studio. Ian was much less into the “let’s melt it all down” and much more into, “Let’s preserve this beautiful craftsmanship while also making something new.”
And there was a hairs-on-the-back-of-my-neck moment when Ian looked at the wedding band and recognised it. This ring had been crafted at Clements and Holmes, the Wellington jewellery studio where he’d done his apprenticeship. His idea to return the band to its original 1955 state felt like exactly the right the thing to do.
Sending the rings off to Wellington with Ian felt a bit like sending children off to stay with someone – safe hands, but also weird to no longer have them where you can see them. Except that I did get to see them – Ian sent photos and videos of the process. I couldn’t help thinking when I saw the diamond lifted from its setting that I was seeing it the way my mother first saw it, as a loose stone, all about the sparkle.
I hadn’t at all appreciated how much work would be involved in the wedding band – not only restoring the frangipani and diamond shapes around it, but also doing that incredibly tricky thing of inserting a piece and matching it so it would fit my finger. There is a moment in the video where Dan is working on the wedding band and he says, “Perfect”, and I grin and also there is something in my eye.
I also hadn’t appreciated the beauty of this ring before – overshadowed by the diamond, I guess. I wear it next to my own wedding ring now, with the diamond floating on my right hand. They still get to hang out together, but they get their own space.
We have kept the engagement ring mounting – it lives in the wedding-cake box – and I’ll put a stone in it later when I know who it should belong to next. The other two rings I wear every day. Though I keep a small dish on my kitchen windowsill to pop the diamond ring into whenever I’m doing something messy. My mother would love all of this.