Kirstin and Francis are the type of couple we love to see walk through our doors: creative, down-to-earth, and extremely thoughtful. They lived in the D.C. area for years and now call Berkeley, California home, but I recently spoke with them on the phone about their experience designing their custom engagement ring and wedding bands with us. Read on to learn more about how this world-traveling couple created some truly personal pieces with us.
Meaghan: You guys are the type of couple that seem like you have always known each other. How did you meet?
Francis: We met in 2010 during our college study abroad program. The program was this intensive community health-focused program that allowed us to live in three different countries, each for a month, within a single semester. We went to South Africa, Vietnam, and Brazil, so you can imagine it felt pretty hectic for the semester, in a good way. While our program was in South Africa we had a one-week vacation and Kirstin and I shared an excursion together as part of a bigger group. Kirstin sat next to me on the train, we started talking and literally did not stop for the 14-hour ride. The whole experience was such a great way to get to know each other, you encounter so many crazy challenges while traveling — getting lost, sick, etc. — that you really get to know yourself and the other person so well.
Kirstin: Yes, everything that Francis said is so true. It sets the groundwork for a great partnership if you can get through it! We then returned to Providence where we were both in school and finished our time at Brown. Francis moved to D.C. right after graduating and I joined him shortly after. We then lived in D.C. for six years before I started my PhD program at Berkeley this past fall.
Meaghan: Tim and I can definitely relate on the “travel test.” I think it’s fundamental to see how your partnership works under stress, and there’s nothing like travel sickness or a missed reservation in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language to see your partner’s true colors. So, you were together for a few years in D.C., living your lives. What made you decide you wanted to get married?
Kirstin: I guess I don’t really remember a specific moment, we just always kind of knew. We started talking about our lives together more and more, how they would fit together, making decisions together. Francis was always such a good teammate and we knew we wanted to build our lives together.
Meaghan: Your rings are so personal and unique. What did you have in mind for the ring design? Did you both design it or was this primarily one person’s project?
Francis: Kirstin knew part of it but not everything. We had talked about “it” so I knew what Kirstin generally wanted, plus I (thought I) knew her taste in jewelry. As it turned out, it was very overwhelming. Before coming to you guys I probably spent more than 100 hours online looking at what felt like every ring seller on the internet. There were lots of nice jewelers in places like Brooklyn and San Francisco that I was inspired by and I sent probably a million emails back and forth with her brother and his wife, who know her taste well. I would then show some ideas to her along the way — ones that I thought she would really like — and she would turn them down! I was always surprised because I definitely thought I knew what she wanted, but I was so off. (Laughs) At that point I knew I wouldn’t be able to find a pre-made ring that was right and that we needed to design something custom together.
Kirstin: Ha, yes — it was a process! We came up with some elements that we both liked and I thought about what I wanted in terms of a stone. I knew I didn’t want a bright, shiny diamond so finding something special for the center stone was the first task.
Francis: Once we had a general idea, we visited Tim and talked through things. He was so helpful. He helped Kirstin pick out a black diamond, which she loved, and then he and I worked together on the setting.
Meaghan: I love the black diamond, it’s so subtle and elegant.
Kirstin: I wanted something that I would feel comfortable wearing every day but that would still be special. I thought black diamonds were really striking and this particular one hit that perfect balance.
Francis: Once we had the stone, Tim and I had lots of back and forth about the setting. I’m sure he was ready to kill me in the end (aside from Meaghan – this is not true!), I’m surprised he will still talk to me! It was so hard to tell what design elements would be visible at the tiny scale of a ring and Tim really helped me put my sketches and crazy ideas into practice. I had a lot of elements of inspiration that I wanted in the ring and he did a great job of guiding the mechanics, all the way through to the texture he applied at the end, and the hand-engraved compass that I wanted included to reflect our love of travel. My wedding ring has the compass as well, and we had it made in silver so it’s oxidized to look really amazing now.
Meaghan: Ha, I am really not just saying this to be nice, but I remember when you guys were working together and Tim would talk to me about it and say “Man, Francis is just a really nice guy. Lots of ideas, but a really nice guy!” He really enjoyed the process. Tell us about the engagement. How did it go down? Kirstin, were you surprised?
Kristin: I knew he had been working on the ring so I knew the engagement was coming but I didn’t know exactly when to expect it. Of course, Francis had the most thoughtful engagement planned out.
Francis: It was New Year’s Eve, 2014, about to be 2015, and I had this whole camping-travel-themed engagement planned. I picked up the ring from Tim and held on to it for like, four hours… it was so difficult to keep it a secret. Kirstin was returning from visiting her family in New York so while she was away, I set up our living room in D.C. using the camping tent we had recently used during a trip to Iceland and I put together this like… jewelry and notes “charcuterie” on a wooden cutting board that had all these meaningful elements in it. Tim and I had also created a necklace for Kirstin so that was on the cutting board, along with the engagement ring, of course. So, when she came home this was the scene she entered.
Kirstin: But that wasn’t the end of it!
Francis: Right, I had also secretly planned a celebratory trip to Eleuthera, a small island in the Bahamas, and invited Kirstin’s brother and wife to come with us because we’re all so close. I had planned for us to leave that evening, so after the proposal we were still in our apartment when Kirstin’s brother and wife knocked on our door wearing straw hats and sunglasses and carrying suitcases. She was completely surprised!
Kirstin: I was so spoiled. I have no idea how they pulled this off, to be honest. I’m so suspicious and skeptical of everything, and I was so surprised. I’m still amazed they coordinated on all this.
Meaghan: That is probably one of the most amazing engagement stories I’ve heard. What a great way to celebrate! Now, having been through the process, do you have any tips for those about to get engaged?
Francis: Find what’s important to you, and stick to it.
Kirstin: Be unapologetic about doing what’s right for you. There are so many pressures that you can allow to enter the process, whether it’s family, blogs, friends, whatever…don’t let them. I never take my ring off, I love it, and I wouldn’t ever want anything else.
Meaghan: Can you describe your design process in one word?
Francis: I’m trying to think of a better word than “fun,” which feels silly…
Kirstin: It was fun!
Francis: Endless? (Laughs) No, it was fun. Very interactive.
Kristin: It was the most creative thing I had done in a long while. It involved lots of aesthetic thinking that I don’t get to do in my daily life. I really enjoyed it.
Thank you, Kirstin and Francis!
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.