Saturday, March 28, 2009

Custom ring design

I haven't done much wedding-related stuff since we got back from England, which is why I haven't been posting.  We're going to two locations this weekend, so by the end of that I should have enough information to start wrapping my head around the budget stuff, so I'm sure I'll have something to say about that eventually.  Anyway, when I proposed this joint blogging idea, this is a post that Ellie specifically requested, so I give you - the ring.

As such a modern couple, we had already discussed marriage, knew it was where we were headed, even knew a vague timeline, but because I cling to tradition perhaps a little more than Ellie would like, getting a ring and proposing was something I wanted to hold onto.  In October, we asked her cousin to ask her mother (E's aunt) for the diamond she'd promised Ellie, and it was handed over to me in a somewhat subtle fashion at the family Christmas party.  So, from that point the pressure was on - I had to find a suitable way to attach the stone to her finger.  I had said previously that I wanted to get something custom, since I wasn't going to be spending money on a center stone, and as an engineer I really wanted to have a lot of control over it.  

Ellie had been "helpfully" sending me links to rings she liked so I had some ideas about the style I was going for - light and open - but sturdy enough to handle daily abuse.  I wanted to create something that highlighted both Ellie and our relationship.  Part of Ellie's family is Irish, and the Celtic symbols are something she's always been a little into, so I liked the idea of making something Celtic-inspired without being too boring and standard.  I flipped through a few different sites and came across the triple spiral, which represents various aspects of womanhood; that seemed appropriate, and the spirals had interesting possibilities, so I started sketching: (sorry, I took photos of my sketches because the computer with the scanner is temporarily out of commission...)

Some basic shapes, before I really had any kind of concept in mind.

The triple spiral, simply embedded in an open band on either side of a stone.

Ellie came home around this point, so I put the sketching on hold there.  When I picked it back up a day or two later, I thought to gain a little more distance from the original symbol by splitting the arms and repositioning them in a line.  I liked this idea because I could make the center pair of spirals interwoven a little - how very symbolic!

The triple spiral, with the arms broken away from their shared center.

I looked back at some of the existing ring designs and realized that one style I really liked was the kind where instead of a continuous band with a stone set in or on top, the band is open and supports the stone from either side...

Initial concepts for an open band

More detailed...note that the arms are the "wrong" way.  Spirals are confusing.

It usually takes me a few tries when I sketch something to get the proportions to where I'm satisfied.  Also in this case I was playing with the spirals; I found it much more pleasing to my eye to have the center spiral at the "bottom" of the fern-like structure than at the top.  This was the last of three more tries not shown.

At this point I had a concept I was really pleased with, so I went to build a model of it; I use this modeling software, Solidworks, on a daily basis at work.  This was way more complex than anything I do at work, so it was a fun challenge to figure out how to model it.  I stayed up several hours after Ellie on at least two occasions because I was enjoying myself too much to quit.

One half of the flat spiral pattern, ready to be wrapped around a band.

Views of the completed model; it's hard to tell, but on the advice of a co-conspirator, the interior surface of the band is actually elliptical to allow for an optimal "comfort fit".  Since I hadn't even spoken with a jeweler at this point, I hadn't had a chance to become familiar with such terms.

Now, as much as Ellie trusts me, she wasn't willing to let me go ahead and spend a lot of money to get a ring that she might or might not like.  We couldn't go to a jeweler to pick out a design, plus I wanted to actually propose for real.  What to do?  Fortunately, the aforementioned co-conspirator had recently acquired a 3d printer at work, and the small volume of material required for something like this meant that the expense involved in creating a prototype were almost negligible.  Less fortunately, the delicate features of the ring were below the resolution of the printer, and the first article fell apart upon removal from the tray.  The only option was clearly to scale up the ring, and find a larger woman to propose to.  

Ellie with a 2x sized prototype; it's not clear whether she's happy at being proposed to or amused by the enormous ring...

In the end, it turned out that Ellie's lack of confidence in me was unneccessary.  She loved the design, and was eager to get it made without changing a thing.  After a little searching (to be detailed in a later post), we chose a jeweler around the corner in Federal Hill, Morstein's, to make the ring, and six weeks after I proposed we picked up the final product that Ellie has already shown.  

Getting a custom ring definitely wasn't a simple process; it took longer than I anticipated, but then, I don't think I went about it in the most direct way.  Building a computer model of it was a lot of fun and a great challenge of my modeling skills, and it did work out well with the way I ended up proposing, but it really wasn't worth the effort otherwise.  The jeweler's source for the casting work wasn't even able to read the 3D file, and wound up making the model based on my three-view image above.  I would have saved at least a week of sending various file formats back and forth and additional time in various other related pursuits if I'd just taken my sketches in and let them fill in the details.  But then we wouldn't have this giant plastic ring and a drawn-out proposal story which I think is unique to us.

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