I have a confession: when I first received the introductory email from our client about this extra special custom design project that we recently completed, I did a little dance. It was exactly the type of project that we love working on: meaningful, creative, and challenging enough to make it interesting without resulting in hysterics. The best part? The email was from our esteemed editor, Madelyn, asking us to design an incredibly special gift for her daughters. Read on to hear about her beautiful idea, the sweet meaning behind her designs, and how we brought to life two of the most amazing diamond rings we have ever created…
Madelyn: As you all know, I am the editor of Alexandria Stylebook and so I’ve been following Alx&Co. since they became members, but I had previous experience with the business years ago when I had them reset a pair of diamond earrings that my husband gave me as a “push present” after the birth of our first daughter. This was due to a metal allergy I had developed and unfortunately, even though I reset them in platinum, I discovered that my allergy was worsening and am now unable to wear any pierced earrings at all. Those who follow Stylebook on social media know that I view this as a curse, but to be honest it’s better than your late-in-life pork allergy! I can still find amazing clip-on earrings but turkey bacon is not bacon.
Madelyn: Yes, I had these lovely and special earrings literally gathering dust and it was killing me. I’d since had another daughter, and then Alx&Co. became members of Stylebook. Seeing your amazing work, reading your posts each week, learning about the design process, which I had previously been intimidated by, well, I knew it was time to do something with them.
Madelyn: This is a story that goes deep into my family’s history. When I turned 16, my Aunt Mary Louis gave me a beautiful, sweet child’s ring that has been in my family for generations. This ring was actually made from a tie pin and the family lore is that my great-great-grandfather, a judge, received payment in diamonds and the tie pin was part of that. Actually, this sounds super shady so I am hopeful that something has been lost through the generations!
Madelyn: Yes! Anyway, it was a small tie pin, so the ring was made as a child’s ring…because what child doesn’t need a diamond ring, right? Anyway, my grandmother loved the ring so much she had an adult version made and it was always my favorite of her (many!) diamond rings because the setting, with two metals, is so unexpected.
Madelyn: Exactly. Then, when my cousin Maggie (my Aunt Mary Louis’ daughter) turned sixteen a few years later, I gave the original child’s ring to her to continue the tradition. Ever since, I have honestly always been wanting to make a ring based on this design. I thought maybe if I had the chance to be part of my engagement ring design process I’d do it then, but my husband proposed with a beautiful ring so I just figured “maybe someday.” But then, through Stylebook I saw all these amazing designs you were doing and it occurred to me that I could use the diamond studs that Dominic gave me and turn them into rings based off of these family heirlooms for my daughters.
Madelyn: The process was surreal! It’s something I’d wanted to do for so long – most of my life, really – but then trying to find the words to create a piece that exists in real life and in my mind was tricky…but in a fun, mildly nerve-racking way, like a brain teaser. I had sent Tim some iPhone pictures my aunt and cousin texted me (Mary Louis and Maggie aren’t local and have the adult and child rings). He noticed that the two rings actually had some design differences between them that I’d never picked up on, specifically where the prongs were set. I agreed with his placement recommendation, then his first pass at a design was pretty much perfect based on the images I’d supplied… BUT those images didn’t capture everything about the rings, which he couldn’t possibly have known, nor did I until I saw the first renderings.
Madelyn: Agreed! But then, sitting with Tim in his studio, trying to articulate what was just not quite right, I had a revelation. I realized what I really wanted was not an exact replica of either the adult or child’s ring – what I wanted was a modern interpretation of the design. I wanted to capture the feelings the rings always gave me. Obviously there’s the link to my grandmother, for whom I’m named (she insisted, if that gives you a peek into her personality), but I also wanted to honor my own memories of the ring and the impression it made on me when I was a child. I always found her ring memorable and remarkable because it wasn’t traditional. I find it beautiful, but I get that it’s not necessarily universally appealing. In fact, it’s a little odd. I always thought it took a very strong woman to pull it off. Big Mom was very, very strong – outspoken to the point of not being to everyone’s taste; the same could be said of me, and I’ll be thrilled if my daughters grow to be so confident in themselves and with their own voices that they can be described the same way.
At this point in the process I was a little worried that I was going to be a “that” client, but happily that wasn’t the case. Tim was super open to my practically stream-of-conscious description of what tweaks I wanted and my scribbles on a scrap of paper when the right words eluded me.
And the next design was so perfect that I cried.
Madelyn: There is! The Shoe Hive (pre-The Hive) periodically carried fine jewelry. Well, all the lines she carries are amazing, but by fine jewelry I mean the level of quality you might find at Alx&Co. When I turned 40 my husband, with much guidance, I am sure, selected a necklace that had three little spoon charms: a rose gold one with a heart of mini diamonds, a yellow gold one, and a sterling silver one.
When my kids were really small and I’d tuck them in at night, each would reach for their own spoon and ask me to tell them about it. Avery is the rose gold with the heart. As my first child, she opened my heart in ways I never expected. Nick is my brave boy, his is silver and strong, like a knight in shining armor. And Julia, well, Julia is simply my golden girl. If you knew her, this would make perfect sense.
So, Avery will get the rose gold, Julia the yellow.
Madelyn: Well, not anytime soon! In fact, I am very, very much enjoying them as right-hand rings – even stacked! We aren’t really sure yet. College graduation? Maybe when each turns 25? We’ll just have to see how life unfolds. It feels a long way off but then again my oldest is already 11 and that went by in the blink of an eye.
Madelyn: Perhaps changing my engagement ring setting to match these, but it may not work due to the size of my engagement ring diamond. It may create a ring that’s too large to be really wearable. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, I know – but I have weirdly skinny fingers!
Madelyn: Remember that it is called a design process for a reason – it is truly a process, one in which you may end up rethinking your original idea. And that’s okay!
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.