Purpose Built

Michael Bartlett designs a high-performance engagement ring

What makes something high-performance? Is it purely based on function? Or could aesthetics contribute to such a title? What could looks have to do with performance? When done right, it’s the nature of successful design.

I come from a background in industrial design, the classical term for what most know as product design. Industrial designers are the creative minds behind nearly everything you see around you: cars, phones, shoes, kitchenware, watches, and in this case…jewelry.

Many product designers are trained on the notion that form follows function. In other words, this entire school of thought devotes itself to the idea that the product performance precedes and even trumps the need to look attractive. Successful design, at the highest level, presents a finished piece where form and function complement one another, working together to build a perfect union — a fitting thought when designing an engagement ring. For example, look at high-performance automobiles. Designers spend endless hours of time to ensure that every crease, slope, and feature, however flashy, has a fully functional purpose.

I started working as a designer at Stuller just a year before I proposed to my wife. I truly wanted to surprise her with the proposal. I did not want her to know when or how it would happen, so I could not involve her in the design process. However, early in my design career at Stuller, we looked through Stuller’s catalogs together. Other than this initial perusal, which offered few specifics on my wife’s design preference, we never discussed what kind of engagement rings she liked. She had expressed two things to me: she wanted it to be unique, but not extreme, and she needed something functional — something she was comfortable NEVER taking off.

My wife is an elementary school teacher and uses her hands a lot throughout the day. In addition to her day-to-day activities at school, she is very active, loves the outdoors, and does not shy away from..well…anything. She needed a ring that shared her traits — strong, clever, elegant, beautiful, brave, and one of a kind.

Before putting pen to paper, I could see the design in my mind. I visualized the ring, growing from the ground up. As the base of the shank pulls up around the finger it thins and slightly creases as it climbs, creating a moderate euro-shank base, working to keep the ring upright through any and all activity. Halfway up, the shank splits and the tendrils spiral up to bypass and suspend a diamond center. Each split is adorned with channel-set genuine blue sapphires, graduating in size as they approach the center. This spiraling climb of the shank and the graduating accent stones work together to draw the eye to the focal point — a brilliant-cut diamond. The diamond appears to float just barely above the finger, tension set among the spiral. Here is where the cooperation between form and function must be perfect for my concept. The diamond appears to be tension set. In reality, a hidden gallery rail tucked neatly just below the stone’s girdle supports it — only visible with a detailed inspection of the piece.

I designed her ring around a diamond that I hand selected from Stuller’s incredible Red Box Diamond® inventory. Chuck Bowman, a senior designer at Stuller and master in the industry, aided me in choosing the sparkly rock. After I had narrowed down the selection, Chuck shared these final words, “In the end, ignore the paperwork. Don’t think about the numbers or the grading report. Choose with your eyes…choose with your gut. Which diamond speaks to you? Which one attracts you the most?” This helped immensely, and I have since passed these guiding words on to many who have found themselves on the same thrilling venture.

alexis-ring-onAfter choosing the diamond and putting my vision to paper, my excitement grew. However, it was still just a vision. I needed to transform this concept into a reality. I pushed onward to create the CAD production model, utilizing a hybrid approach that incorporated both Stuller’s proprietary parametric design software and the more traditional Matrix software. As the engagement transformed from a figment of my imagination to a fully-functioning 3D model, I was able to adjust portions of the design on the fly, finding the perfect scale and emphasis in every aspect of the piece. Finally, the design was ready to become a reality—a ring for my wife, a symbol for our future.

Stuller’s talented teams of model makers kept me in the loop throughout, allowing me to see the piece at every stage. This team treats every piece they touch as if it is their own. They are the best, and they produce the best.

In the end, everything I put into the design shines through. As for the big question? The proposal went perfectly (but THAT story is for another time). More than five years later, my wife still loves the design. It has every bit of the uniqueness and elegance she wanted. As for functionality, it never catches on clothing and never impedes her work. Adorning her hand through every adventure, from submerging through the deep reefs of the Pacific to repelling from the towering timbers in the mountain valleys of Colorado, her ring continues to stand the test of time in both form and function — a true representation of the union she and I share now and forever more.


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