Each time I look at my left hand and catch a glimpse of my engagement ring, I think of something different.
Sometimes I think of the night I got engaged.
Sometimes I think of wearing my wedding dress and exchanging vows.
Sometimes I just get lost in the sparkle and stare for a few seconds too long.
And then there are times I think of my grandmother, Betty. Or my other grandmother, Reda.
The story of my engagement ring begins years and years ago. It was the early 1950s, and my maternal grandfather, Sonny, was ready to propose to my grandmother, Betty. He went to an estate sale and found a beautiful vintage platinum wedding set: an engagement ring with a marquise-cut center diamond and two baguettes on the side, and a wedding ring with a fishtail design of platinum and small round diamonds. The exact age of the set isn’t known, but it’s been estimated that the rings are now about 100 years old. A timeless set that had no doubt been beloved by the first owner (or owners), and was beloved and worn by my grandmother for many years.
In early 2010, my grandmother decided that she didn’t need to keep her original bridal set anymore. After nearly 60 years of marriage, she had other rings that she wore more frequently than the delicate antique set given to her decades before. At the time, both my mom and I were in serious relationships that were on the brink of an engagement. My grandmother offered her wedding band to my mother, and her engagement ring to me.
I told Alex that my grandmother was offering her engagement ring to me. Although I wanted him to have something to do with the selection of the ring, I asked that he hold onto it and use it somehow in the ring he would propose to me with (whenever that may be – no pressure!). As a sentimental person, I asked that he keep the integrity of the ring intact – the last thing I wanted was a jeweler melting it down and starting from scratch.
Around the same time, my paternal grandmother, Reda, had mentioned to me that she had several diamonds that she would like to pass down to her five granddaughters, should they want to use them in their engagement rings. These family stones came from different pieces of heirloom jewelry: the rings of her late sisters, or fancy cocktail rings and solitaire earrings given to her throughout her 60+ year marriage to my grandfather, Red. I put a bug in Alex’s ear that he could ask my grandmother for a diamond if he wanted to. I made it clear that it was up to him if he accepted a family stone, as I didn’t want to step on his toes if he wanted to purchase a diamond himself!
Fast-forward a few months to September 2010. Alex and I drove down from South Carolina to Gainesville to attend the Florida football season opener. As is tradition in my father’s family, the whole family met up prior to the game for a tailgate party: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – the whole bunch. I was enjoying the time with my family in the early September heat and getting excited for the kickoff of football season. I was completely oblivious to the fact that my grandmother slipped a small box in Alex’s pocket that contained a ring that housed what would be the central diamond in my engagement ring. (Coincidentally, Alex asked my father’s permission for my hand in marriage that same day, at the game during halftime: I guess football can really bond men!).
|my grandmothers and I and our rings on my wedding day|
Jump to October 15, 2010. I knew an engagement was coming and coming soon. We’d had all the typical conversations a couple has before the guy pops the question, and with all the family jewelry that had been offered to us lately, I figured Alex would be proposing soon. It was a cool Friday night in Greenville, South Carolina, and Alex got down on one knee by the river and asked me to be his wife.
After I said “Yes!” with a lot of enthusiasm and a few happy tears in my eyes, I just stared at the ring on my finger for a moment, overcome with shock and amazement. I hadn’t been shy about telling Alex about the style of ring I liked, but I wasn’t sure if he would or could achieve that using my grandmother’s engagement ring, which was the most important thing to me. And little did I know that he had gotten a diamond from my other grandmother. Alex began explaining its pieces that made the ring a true one-of-a-kind. It was stunning: the platinum setting and band with two side baguettes, exactly as when it was purchased at that estate sale so many years before. In place of the original marquise sat a round diamond from Reda, different from modern diamonds because it had been cut in the 1970s, giving it a unique sparkle. And around the center diamond was a halo of 16 round diamonds purchased by Alex to complete the style of ring that I loved so much. Perfect didn’t even begin to describe it.
After the proposal, surrounded by my family and friends, it was in the restaurant light that I really got my first good look at the ring that housed as much family history and love as I imagine any piece of jewelry ever could.
|my grandmothers Betty and Reda|
My mom was remarried on May 28, 2011, and exchanged vows using her mother’s original fishtail-design wedding ring that my grandmother had given to her. Alex and I were married 6 weeks later on July 9, 2011, and I exchanged vows using a ring Alex had custom made to reflect the history of my engagement ring: a pattern of baguettes for Betty and round diamonds for Reda.
My bridal set is a literal combination of the three most important things to me:
my mother’s family,
my father’s family,
and my husband.
My engagement ring is itself like a family: individual parts from different beginnings, all beautiful on their own, but even more beautiful together.
No part is more important than another.
It is an heirloom made of heirlooms; it is two families’ histories paired with the new beginnings and promise that a wedding brings.
Yep, I'd say Alex did pretty good.