Here at Alx&Co. we are fortunate to have a collection of wonderful clients who are not only supportive of our craft but who are also incredibly interesting, intelligent, and thoughtful people. How lucky are we, right? Today’s Behind the Design interview is with one of those clients: Lisa Morton, a local Alexandrian with a strong heritage and interest in traditional Hawaiian culture. I sat down with her to discuss a recent project we completed for her and to learn about the inspiration she had to create a gorgeous hula signet ring with us. Read on to learn about Lisa and her beautiful homage to a sacred Hawaiian practice.
Meaghan: You have been a client of our workshop since even before I came onto the scene. Tell us about your relationship with Alx&Co.
Lisa: I started coming to Alx&Co. when it was Rubeschʻs a few decades ago. Itʻs been so awesome to see Rubesch’s turn into Miller & Co., and now Alx&Co. The transformation into what exists now is nothing short of phenomenal. Not just the physical space, but more importantly, the unfolding display of talent from your team (Tim, Meaghan, and Ana). It’s truly amazing. I am honored to be a customer, probably because I feel as much a friend as I do a customer.
Meaghan: Ok, you have me blushing now! Tell us about this hula design. Why is this such a significant piece for you?
Lisa: I spent a lot of time in Hawai’i growing up and I still visit often – it’s home to me. The hula dancer was a pendant that I purchased from Royal Hawaiian Heritage Jewelry. RHHJ has been hand-carving jewelry for people of Hawaiʻi for centuries. It is common to gift a traditional bangle bracelet for graduation or other special occasions. The pendant is a piece from their Hula Collection. It is a carving of an old style hula dancer, which is what my hālau hula (hula school) is all about – practicing hula the way it was done hundreds of years ago to preserve and keep it alive today.
Meaghan: You spent a significant portion of your life in Hawai’i. Tell us what hula means to you and why you continue to practice it yourself.
Lisa: Hula has been and still is a medium for keeping traditional Hawaiian history, values, and language alive by telling stories. To me, hula allows me to help pass these stories on, to be a part of something bigger. I have learned so much about how to be a good human, a good steward of our land and oceans, by understanding and cultivating Hawaiian values. And while I don’t have Hawaiian blood, those values are my truth.
King David Kalākaua, who brought hula back to the public at his coronation is quoted as saying, “Hula is the language of the heart, and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.” (Way more poetic! Way more Hawaiian!)
Meaghan: I think that is such a beautiful tradition to honor. What made you decide to convert the pendant into a ring?
Lisa: A pendant faces others while a ring faces me; I wanted to look at this symbol on my finger to remind me not just to practice hula, but to live it.
Meaghan: And what inspired you to choose a signet style? I just love how well it “finishes” the pendant design.
Lisa: To me, a signet ring is an identifier, a “sign” you emulate. Historically a family crest, school emblem, or initials have been carved into the face of the ring. While those engravings are still highly relevant today, Iʻve seen the resurgence of signet styles that model symbols like the honeybee, the lion, ancient coins, astrological signs, etc. It made me think about what was uniquely important to me and with what or whom I identify. Note – just looking up the word “identify” includes “to put your finger on”.
Meaghan: Yes, I think we’re definitely living in a totemic period. I think it has something to do with an overall quest for groundedness. With how quickly things move and change now I am sensing that people are looking for a way to sort of orient themselves and their lives.
Lisa: I totally agree. However, interestingly enough, I didnʻt start with a signet style ring. I actually started with a different ring design that I loved and tried to combine it with the pendant carving. It didnʻt work. This happens to me when I try to unite two distinct and desirable but perhaps not complementary ideas into one, basically forcing a bad merger. I have found that when I step back and allow my intuition (or the universe!) to weigh in, I get a better result.
Meaghan: A great philosophy! I, too, find that when I try to achieve a certain look by melding two aspirational styles, it nearly never works well. Going with your gut is pretty much always the way to go.
Lisa: Luckily, you guys understand the creative process to the point of “whoops!” I was willing and able to pay for the change in design because the first concept was cast and produced which is costly. But because you ultimately want your customers to love their custom piece, you worked with me to start over (and hopefully recover some of your costs.) I would recommend you over and over again, if nothing else for your patience and love of making customers happy. It is the very essence of your brand.
Meaghan: How would you describe the design process to someone who hasn’t worked on a custom piece before?
Lisa: The design process, for me, is iterative. I start with an idea, but Iʻve come to trust you, Tim, and Ana to improve on the idea, and beautifully translate it into a jewelry piece that makes me happy. Plus, I love the process Tim uses to visibly show you what your piece will look like; it makes it easy for you to work with him to tweak it until you know itʻs yours.
Meaghan: You have talked about future plans combining your love of hula with other aspirations. Can you elaborate?
Lisa: [Smile] Thatʻs definitely a work in progress. But I would say that my path includes integrating belly food with soul food – bringing aloha to everyone around me. I am working on some concepts and this ring is a daily reminder to give that focus and attention versus getting sucked into Ground Hog Day.
Hula is a practice – itʻs never done. For me, itʻs the journey to be a better human. And (I know this sounds corny) to give the very best of myself to the world. This hula signet ring is a daily reminder of that promise.
Alexandria & Company is an Old Town-based workshop and design studio specializing in creating and restoring fine jewelry and silver hollowware. They are the in-the-know jewelers of Alexandria and have been serving clients out of their small workshop for decades. Tucked in their historic building on South Royal Street, the team at Alx&Co. brings a personalized, modern approach to their craft – this is not your average stodgy jeweler or antique shop. Visit them during their walk-in hours or online to view their collection of handmade fine jewelry or to drop off a repair project; or, if you’re feeling creative, make an appointment to talk about that custom design project you’ve been imagining.
121-B South Royal Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Design Studio Walk-In Hours (all jewelry services): Wednesday – Saturday 12-6pm
Silver Workshop Walk-In Hours (all silver repair and restoration services): Wednesday or Friday 12-6pm, or by appointment
Appointments encouraged for custom design.