A Learning Experience

There is nothing I like more than going somewhere and finding something totally unexpected or learning something new.  In college, I went to Ireland for a week with some friends; not only did I find out Guinness was considered ‘old man’s beer’ by 20-somethings, I also got some sage advice about reasons NOT to kiss the Blarney stone. (I won’t go into details, as this is a family-friendly blog, but let’s just say some locals get a kick out of visiting the stone after a visit to the pub.)

About a week ago, I enjoyed a fascinating lesson in diamonds, right in my own backyard.  On a whim, I decided to take an antique wedding ring setting that had belonged to my great-grandmother to AVA Goldworks in downtown Hannibal.  I’ve always liked the setting; it’s intricately cut in early 20th century style, with a rectangular top that holds two diamonds.

The stones had been cut out years ago to make cufflinks, so the two diamonds were always absent.  Years ago, I had taken the setting to a ‘big box’ store, but they told me that the setting was too old and fragile to do anything with; they couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t melt the entire setting if they put stones in.  Needless to say, the ring went home with me.

Back to present day.  I took the setting into AVA Goldworks.  Being in tourism, I knew the owners of AVA, Randy and Debbie Hurt, and their daughter Brandy.  Randy is one of only three certified Master Benchcraft jewelers in the state of Missouri, and Brandy is also a jewelry designer and maker.  I have been in their shop many times, drooling over their one-of-a-kind creations.  They have won numerous national awards for their design and craftsmanship, so I knew if anyone could do anything with my antique, meltable setting, it would be them.

I was hoping I could perhaps put some white topaz stones in the ring to fill in where the diamonds had been.  Randy took a look at my ring and said it needed to be repaired; the shank (the ‘ring’ part that goes around you finger) was cracked, and the face of the ring that held the stones had been cut when the stones had been taken out, as well as having general wear from years of use.

We talked for a good 30 minutes about the different options for the ring, during which I learned about differences between semi-precious stone shapes and diamond shapes, and interestingly, the difference between ‘antique’ diamonds and modern diamonds.

During our discussion, he went into the back (his workshop) and brought out three sparkly stones, antique diamonds, which he said he hardly ever had in the shop.  Being curious, I asked, “Aren’t all diamonds ‘antique’?”  He chuckled and went on to explain, complete with drawing pictures and bringing out reference books, the difference in diamonds cut in the early 1900s and diamonds cut today.  (I’d explain, but it’s way more interesting to hear it from Randy.  You need to stop in and ask.)

His explanation ended by him saying that many antique diamonds are re-cut to modern standards to increase their brilliance in bright light, but the antique cut actually shows more fire in low-light setting, which would have been convenient in the late 1800s and early 1900s when gas lights and candlelight were the norm.

Well, as a history major in college, I was of course smitten with the idea of putting antique diamonds in my antique ring setting.  And guess what?  My darling husband decided that with our upcoming anniversary and the arrival of baby No. 2 (Two children? Two diamonds? Coincidence? I think not!) that putting the antique diamonds back in my antique setting would be a perfect gift.

Randy not only repaired the shank and resized the ring for my teeny finger, he also rebuilt the face of the ring, as the antique diamonds he had were a different size than the diamonds that were in the ring originally.  He created a new faceplate for the diamonds – by hand – and put the whole thing back together, hand-beading and all.  The final product?  All I can say is my great-grandmother would be breathless!!

Next time you’re in Hannibal, I HIGHLY suggest you go talk to Randy and Brandy.  Even if you’re not currently in the market for jewelry, it’s always fascinating to learn something new from an expert willing to share his time and knowledge.  (Being surrounded by gorgeous sparkly things doesn’t hurt either!)  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed, and like me, you may come away with new knowledge AND a new family heirloom.

Written by Megan Rapp, assistant director of the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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