O for Or

– which is “gold” in French. Swiss gold has a reputation, of course, and with that in mind, you can buy chocolate that is packaged to look like gold bars 🙂 And of course it is used in the world-famous watch industry, too. gold

But my post today is a different take, and is a family story.

Up until 1996, young people in Switzerland did not achieve their majority until the age of 20 (it was 21 in England until 1970, but memories are apparently short and few remember those days unless they were affected!) so while I considered myself of age from 18, my husband-to-be did not achieve that status until a little later. To mark the occasion, my husband received a special present from his parents: a gold chain with a pendant that had a history. It had been his great-grandmother’s wedding ring and when melted down, it morphed into a pleasingly-shaped nugget that was fitted with a small ring in order to hang it from the chain – very original and personal, as the great-grandmother in question had lived with the family for a number of years after an eventful life and he had known her well!

Recently, a great many years on, my husband’s mother felt that she would like her sons to have something special to remember her by and suggested that each has a piece of jewellery custom made. Coincidentally, they both chose to have a ring – neither wears jewellery as such and a ring to wear for “occasions” seemed to be a good solution and one they remembered their grandfather having done until he died, too.

We went along to our local jeweller and goldsmith* to see what they had. Hm. For men it seemed to be almost exclusively signet rings, and this was something that didn’t really appeal to my husband, even in a more modern style. He asked the goldsmith’s wife (who is a gem specialist in her own right) what else there might be? With a smile, she produced a ring quite different from the others – a matte, brushed gold ring whose ends did not quite meet, one side a little larger than the other, in all a very organic shape and quite a change from the norm… On the larger side was a big sparkly diamond – that certainly did not appeal, after all my husband is not the type to go for “bling”!! Not for himself, anyway 🙂 But the stone set flush into the surface of the gold was attractive.

Discussions went on for quite some time. The goldsmith himself joined us and offered some suggestions, too, and eventually, it was decided that yes, this was the ring that my husband would like. However, my husband (who is a large man) would need the whole ring sized up to suit his larger hands, so the first step was to measure the finger the ring would be worn on. He was still unsure about what kind of stone to have fitted – or if he wanted a stone at all, since the asymmetrical shape of the ring would already reflect his feeling of being a little crooked of feature and humour!! The gemologist produced a trayful of stones… tiger-eyes, jade, diamonds of every imaginable colour… A black, carbonised diamond appealed to my husband, but the goldsmith suggested it might just look like a black mark and not be shown off to special effect, so we discarded that idea. I suggested a semi-precious stone in a cabochon cut (rounded) as I remember my father-in-law having worn an agate in that cut as a pendant, a special gift from his wife, but the gemologist had only a limited selection in the shop and we would have had to go away and research ideas first and then have several ordered to look at and we were going with the flow and a little impatient, so moved away from that idea. cognac 29.06The very lifelike computer-generated design of the ring

At this point, the goldsmith asked us to come in to have a look at his designs. He had used a CAD program on the computer to show the ring in the scale my husband required and showing different coloured stones. By this time, it was becoming clear that the stone would be somewhere between yellow and brown, but that that would depend a little on what was available at the time. Meanwhile, my husband was able to choose what the ring would actually look like – did he want it a little more angular, more rounded or would he prefer to have parts of it shinier or not, sticking with the original brushed matte effect? How big should the distance be between the two asymmetrical “ends” of the ring, allowing for the size of my husband’s hands? Should the stone be set centrally on the bigger side or would he prefer that to be a little skewed, too?! IMG_3752Choosing a stone

The process had already taken several months, given that we could only visit the goldsmith when my husband wasn’t working and the goldsmith also has other customers! I was amazed that it was such a long and meticulous road to a piece of jewellery – 6 months, in the end. At every stage, we were able to take photographs and document the designing to show my mother-in-law, who approved of the story we were thereby creating.

Finally, the goldsmith got in touch again and said the wax model was ready – he had originally intended to use a plain blank and to file and shape the standard ring into the desired design, but on reflection, he decided it would be easier and more economical to make a wax model and to cast the ring from that… IMG_3749 - Arbeitskopie 2The original ring for sale and the wax model of my husband’s ringIMG_3775The completed ring with the stone stuck on with putty – looking for the right spot!

By this time, the coloured diamonds had arrived from the dealer for us to choose from. With my husband having a fine collection of single-malt whiskies, it did not surprise me that the final choice (despite being called “cognac” (brandy)) is actually basically whisky-coloured lol! It harmonises beautifully with the matte effect of the gold and the whole finished object does not scream “look at me”, which is exactly what my husband wanted (or didn’t want!) – an elegant, unusual and certainly very asymmetrical ring that is sized to suit his hand and feel completely comfortable for him to wear. Not only satisfied customers but also a very pleased mother-in-law! The skills of two remarkable people, a couple who work incredibly well together, and the manner in which they communicated with us has  produced a piece of very special jewellery… IMG_3785 - Arbeitskopie 2My husband and my brother-in-law’s rings reflecting two very different personalities!

There’s a little p.s. to this story: one day a few years ago, after swimming in a mountain lake, my husband realised that his fine gold chain had come open and the precious wedding ring nugget had  slipped off and sunk, though the chain was still hanging over one shoulder. Despite getting a friend with a metal detector and diving gear to help him look for it, sadly it had gone. But recently, my mother-in-law produced a tiny vial of old gold bits – and my husband took it off to the goldsmith to be melted down… he was allowed to watch the craftsman work and to have a say in the final shape, so he now has a different gold nugget to wear and remember his family by! 🙂 IMG_3866 IMG_3871

 

* Becoming a goldsmith in Switzerland is, like most other professions, something you train for by doing an apprenticeship – in this case 4 years (most are 3 but some which require particular expertise take 4, electrician being another example). This time is spent working in a jeweller-goldsmith’s workshop and attending a day-release course at a vocational college throughout that time, which covers both particular knowledge (chemistry would be important in this profession, for instance) and general knowledge (because you leave school at 15 and could do with knowing a bit more about the world!). Day-to-day skills and special projects contribute to the training programme –  particular design and creativity aspects are passed on from the master goldsmith and although there are standard jewellery shops in Switzerland with mass-produced standard ranges, there are also many who produce individual designs according to customer requirements or a collection of their own – unique jewellery is one of the things the Swiss are prepared to spend money on!! 

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6 thoughts on “O for Or

    • I liked how we got to join in the whole process and follow it along – even though I have no idea where the gold or stone were mined (difficult), it still feels like a “local” product. Lovely couple who have the shop, too – he made himself an amazing ring out of a rusty iron ring that he found while diving, so that has a special story, too, even though it’s not even a precious metal…!

  1. I loved the story of the ring and yes, the two rings show how different each man is. What impresses me is the apprenticeships. Apprenticeships have gone out of favor here. My oldest son wanted to work as an automotive mechanic but there are no schools or apprenticeships around. I even went so far as to ask my mechanic, who I’ve known for almost 30 years, and even he refused saying he just didn’t have the time. My son ended up going to school to become an electrician. His schooling is 16 months and after that he can find employment. Yes, he can work to join the union but it’s a paid program. I wish we still had apprenticeships here it’s a great way to learn a trade.

    • The mentality here is such that going on to grammar school and university entrance is frowned upon by many and those kids are considered “not able to work properly”, academia is not so valued in an agricultural economy! An employer would far rather you have a good, solid apprenticeship under your belt and we have almost no casual labour: if you buy shoes, you will be served by someone who has done an apprenticeship as a shoe-seller, cash desks are operated by people who are qualified sales personnel, waitresses are trained, for building work you train specifically in the same way etc. Our young people regularly win world championships in labour and craft professions (World Skills Championships).
      I couldn’t believe it when an employee in a big English clothes store said she wasn’t allowed to use the till (cash register)… 😮 The disadvantage is that there are hardly any Saturday jobs for young people, though nothing stops kids being creative to earn some pocket money, it’s just more difficult!

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