- Marie Doyon displays her custom engagement ring by Hudson Valley Goldsmith.
Hudson Valley jewelry designers custom-made a ring equal parts blue and bequeathed for Chronogram staffer Marie Doyon.
It was a Sunday afternoon in early June; a lazy sort of rain was pattering on the metal roof, consistent but without conviction. We were on the landing of our stairs, struggling to hang an impossibly large mirror that we had just scored at a Memorial Day yard sale. At an impasse in our endeavor, Arthur turned to me and said, "I have to go get some tools I left in the car," and darted away, leaving me mid-stair and mid-breath. I had an inkling of what was to come and felt a tingling in my chest, a premonition I have since chalked up to primordial female intuition.
What felt like years later, Arthur returned seemingly empty-handed, mumbling something about being unable to find the right tools. I was leaning against the wall beneath the crooked mirror, trying to exude an aura of infinite calm and composure, while my insides tumbled like a troupe of Olympic gymnasts.
He started up the stairs toward me and, stopping one step before the landing, took a wobbly knee and pulled out a small black box.
"Will you marry me?"
And the rain pitter-pattered above and time assented to stop its frenzied forward march, holding us suspended for one endless moment—before gushing forward like a dam breaking. Then suddenly it was laughter and tears, and I was pulling him up and saying "Yes, of course."
In all his nervousness he had never opened the box, so at this point he did, and there it was—big and bold and blue, not at all what I had expected, and more beautiful than I could ever have hoped. A ring for a queen—hefty yet delicate, classic yet original, and absolutely over the top. Sliding it on my finger I said sheepishly, "I don't know if I can pull this off," to which Arthur replied, "Sure you can. You'll get used to it."
"There was always a possibility in my mind that the ring would be an heirloom from my family's past. I liked that idea—it didn't seem overly consumerist and still felt connected and appropriate," Arthur tells me recently. "But ultimately that comes down to the rings available in the family, and whether or not you like them."
Arthur's late grandfather, David Gillett, was a renowned entomologist who travelled all over the world for the World Health Organization throughout his life, studying insect-borne diseases and speaking at conferences. "My father loved exotic things," says Richard, Arthur's dad. "When he traveled, he liked to buy stones from whatever country he was in, have them set, then give them as gifts to my mother."
In 1968, Richard's father was sent to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for a project. It was there that he purchased the blue spinel that he later set in a custom-designed, platinum ring for his wife, Irena. "The ring was this fantastical thing—it looked like a mosquito," says Sanchi, Arthur's mother. "David and Irena used to go to all kinds of fancy events because of David's work. At that time they had something called dinner rings—these huge rings that you would wear for the meal then take off. This was a dinner ring."
Decades of fancy dinners and special occasions later, Irena passed the ring on to Sanchi. "When Arthur was in his early 20s, I told him that if he ever wanted the ring, it would be his to have," she says.
A Hybrid Heirloom
Finally the day came when he asked to see it. "I was really disappointed," Arthur recalls. "I loved the stone, but not the setting." He spent several days contemplating what to do, before deciding to go to Hudson Valley Goldsmith in New Paltz.
After looking around at the available options, he struck up a conversation with the owner and head goldsmith, David Walton. "I was really nervous and uncomfortable about price, having never bought anything that expensive except a car," Arthur says. "I floated the idea of pulling a stone from another ring, and David said to me, 'For us to have this discussion, you should bring whatever you have in and we can talk about it. Don't worry about price; I'll take care of you. Let's just see the options.'"
"I liked the idea of bringing the stones to him and designing a ring from scratch—it seemed like a no-brainer," Arthur says, "I didn't believe that someone else's ready-made look would be viable or appropriate for something so personal," Arthur says, adding with a laugh, "Granted, my exposure to ready-made rings was cheesy Zales commercials."
A few days later, Arthur brought the ring in and Walton popped the stone out immediately. "For me, that triggered a sense of the ease and malleability of the process," Arthur says. "It wasn't this weird, intangible thing that didn't make any sense. It was a physical object that, though on a different scale and format, was related to the sculpture and building work I had done."
- The original platinum ring setting, designed by Arthur’s grandfather, after the center stone was removed.
- Marie’s engagement ring was designed using the spinel from the Gillett family ring and ethically sourced diamonds, set in rose gold.
A sneaky survey of my Pinterest boards had given Arthur some good intel on my taste—an obsession with rose gold, a preference for solitaire settings over three-stone rings. "There is something classic and refined about the way you dress—even your bold touches don't reject or upend that," Arthur tells me, demonstrating surprising insight into my sense of style. "With the design of the ring I asked myself, 'How do I make this a statement piece, because that is the point, but make it refined so it can play a part in the overall look.'"
That said, having never designed jewelry, Arthur was a bit out of his depth. "I wasn't comfortable with my own jewelry design inclinations. I hadn't really even developed a taste for jewelry at that point."
So Walton began educating Arthur. He showed him different gems, demonstrating the effect of cleaning a stone, explaining what creates value in a diamond or a ruby. "It was the first time in my life that I enjoyed cut stones," Arthur says. "I finally understood the material aspirations of ancient kings, the magpie desire for something shiny. All my thinking before that was 'De Beers is a monopoly, blood diamonds, slave labor, etc.' But I was finally able to see them as this beautiful and rare and special thing that occurs naturally and can catch light and reflect it."
Walton introduced him to settings, pointing out the different effect they have and how they can be used to show off the best parts of a stone. "As I learned component parts and names and how they joined together, it became easier to envision and interact with. Then I was actually able engage usefully and trust that I could communicate what was in my head," Arthur says. "That was kind of the coolest part—David knew enough to guide me through what I wanted without stepping in and making it his design."
Triumph through Collaboration
The principle tension in the design process was to create something that was graceful yet strong. Arthur wanted a sleek profile, with only four prongs, but when David heard that on a given day I might be found gardening, wielding a chainsaw, or chopping wood, he insisted on six.
"We'd get to a place where I would worry about it being too heavy or too chunky, and he would offer the range of solutions he knew, and I would pick the one that appealed to me," Arthur says. "We had that back and forth about everything—the basket, the side diamonds, the height. It was really nice, very collaborative. And if he felt very strongly about something, he would push back."
With the design phase completed, the ring went into production. Several months later, an associate at Hudson Valley Goldsmith called Arthur and said, "Hi Mr. Gillett. I just wanted you to know your ring is done. I'm actually staring at it now and it is beautiful.'"
"I was terrified you wouldn't like it," Arthur says. "But I hated the idea of doing something prosaic or practical, like the process of you picking out the ring that I then used to propose to you at some unknown date in future. It just felt wrong and wussy and devoid of romance. Taking the risk was infinitely more attractive to me."
I have to agree.
- Dear Alex & Jane
- Arthur Gillett and Marie Doyon.
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