With This Ring: Three wedding bands with a story to tell, not just about the happy couple, but about the artists who made them.
Every couple will likely remember their engagement story throughout the length of their marriage. A quick glance at their wedding bands is sure to conjure feelings of joy and new beginnings. But, the couple’s jeweler will also likely remember that story. The jeweler acts as a witness to this love and endeavors to create symbolic representations to display it. These three regional artists share and celebrate the stories behind some memorable wedding designs.
The Bread Wrapper Ring: Shavarsh K. Jewelry Design Shop
The story goes that after spearing flounder from a boat in a Lake Charles marina, Kevin Swire got down on one wobbly knee and asked for Brook Hanemann’s hand in marriage. Only, rather than a sparkly diamond, Swire slid a handmade ring on Brook’s finger: two bread wrapper twist-ties, one orange and one blue, intertwined together to make a custom-fit engagement ring.
The two had a running joke that when they did finally decide to marry, they’d throw an outlandish theme-wedding chock full of trailer park kitsch: moon pies and overalls and bubble gum machine rings. Swire knew he could do one better than a ring from a machine, however, and declared that Brook’s ring would someday be made of bread ties. And the husband-to-be made good on his promise, presenting it to Brook on the water where the couple has spent many moments together sailing and fishing under the South Louisiana sun.
“I wore it proudly for a while and would flash it as if it were worth a million dollars,” Brook says.
Soon after, the couple brought the wrapper ring to jeweler Shavarsh Kaltakdjian and asked it he could incorporate it into a wedding ring.
So he stripped the paper away, exposing just the metal. Then carefully wrapped the delicate wires around each other and placed them in the center of a gold band. The twisted rope feature became thematic in the ring—looping around the borders and swirling through the metal wire. Kaltakdjian and the couple are aware that the steel twist-ties will eventually oxidize and change color, but he is quick to point out that the oxidization will only act as a layer of protection for the metal. The steel will wear more visibly atop the gold, but perhaps the combination of these two metals and interspersed small diamonds is the stuff a lasting marriage is made of: a solid and brilliant foundation, while at once real and worn and durable.
Kaltakdjian’s shop is located between Brew Ha-Ha coffee shop and Corks & Canvas in Baton Rouge’s Mid-City. Though he’s been making custom designed jewelry pieces for thirty-five years, he opened his shop just three years ago when his son declared, “Dad, I want to be a jeweler,” after learning that the restaurant business was not as glamorous as he’d anticipated.
Kaltakdjian says that ninety percent of what he does is bridal jewelry. All pieces are completely authentic, designed by him with the client’s vision and input along the way. “If they can think it, I can make it,” is Kaltakdjian’s motto. He juggles anywhere from a dozen to two dozen projects at a time and isn’t willing to sacrifice quality for a quick turn around. Sometimes, he admits, he will spend all night at the shop to finish a piece, stopping only in short intervals for cat naps and coffee breaks.
Kaltakdjian’s recent project inventory is quite eclectic. He opens a string of files on Rhino, a 3D program he uses in the designing phase and pulls up what some would consider more traditional pieces featuring tanzanite, rubies, pearls, and diamonds. Then, there is a replica of Kim Kardashian’s earrings—diamonds that spell “KW,” initials of her newest flame, Kanye West. Or, the championship ring that is hefty enough to stand up to any NFL player’s band, declaring “Registered Nurse.” And, though the movie contract says otherwise, he insists that it is his design that Bella wears in the ever-romantic Twilight saga, at least “the ring has my signature inside the band,” he says.
Before the twist-tie ring, a customer brought in his grandfather’s wedding band and asked that Kaltakdjian melt the gold and incorporate it into his ring. He advised against melting it, and instead suggested that the grandfather’s band be incorporated intact into the new ring. He left a thin channel in the center of the new band and placed the grandfather’s ring in the opening. “That way, he’ll always see his grandfather’s ring,” Kaltakdjian says. The client had tears in his eyes when he saw the finished product, and it is these moments that bring Kaltakdjian the most satisfaction. “It becomes personal to them,” he says. “The symbol of their love is in their ring. It’s almost spiritual.”
But, nothing quite left an impression on him like the twist-tie ring. Shortly after Kevin presented the final product to Brook, she came back to the shop with flowers that Kaltakdjian still has dried and sitting on a case.
A Ring that Takes Flight: Cher Fox
“A lot of my work is based on love—or lack of it,” artist Cher Fox says. A heron standing alone in the rain. A starving cow. Many of Fox’s pieces of sculpture have the kind of depth that invoke emotions of her own personal loss. But, when a Baton Rouge couple commissioned their wedding jewelry, Fox channeled love and rebirth.
Typically busy in the wetlands and working with his hands, the husband-to-be brought Fox his grandfather’s ring that he had no plans to actually wear. Instead, he envisioned a bird’s head with claws that would display the ring—a fitting request since he also has a passion for birds. Fox sculpted a silver bird head with garnet eyes, and for the wife-to-be, created stackable sterling silver bands, each one textured and layered uniquely. The couple provided the stone that wasn’t quite oval or circle, but perhaps egg-like to create compatibility with its bird sculpture counterpart.
“I’m more of a sculptor,” Fox says. “I make objects.” Even so, she’s done other wedding sets, though the bird motif, over a decade old, is her favorite. Fox now resides and works in Mississippi after losing everything, including her shop, after Hurricane Katrina. Many of her pieces reflect loss stemming from Katrina. Pieces of broken pottery, shards of glass, even human hair, make up some of these works that tell the story of being suddenly homeless. Now, Fox’s welding shop and home reside on a few acres and far away from water. “I needed solid ground,” she says not surprisingly.
As a teenager, Fox says she had a “pioneer attitude.” She grew up on a farm in Ocean Springs with a do-it-yourself approach. Experiences with power tools paired with an interest in jewelry and clothes led to many handmade creations. Sculpture was always at the core, though. Even if welding and working on cars was out of necessity, it always pointed her back to art. “I was always kind of a loner,” she says. “I find inspiration from everything in life.”
Fox admits that her style is not mainstream. Her audience expects pieces that are organic and textured. Pieces that proudly expose the hammer marks that give a nod to the artist’s hand. Raw and perhaps a bit “baroque.”
In addition to her work in Natchez galleries, Fox has sculptures of birds, vultures, and a heron in a permanent collection in Maryland. “For some reason, what I put out there or what people come to me for is birds,” Fox says. Perhaps, winged and feathered creations are appropriate for a artist such as Fox. Taking flight out of a Katrina-ravaged home, Fox began anew. A phoenix rising not from ashes, but from steel that melds and molds to create something original.
The Puzzle Ring: Deborah Bellingham
To Deborah Bellingham, jewelry is simply miniature, wearable sculpture. Her Lagrimas ring won three awards before it was ever sold. It is an interlocking piece with four pearls that Bellingham created first while in art school. “It surprised me,” Bellingham said of the design. Each pearl perches on triangular form and each one is twisted so that they can either fit together or be worn separately. It is a puzzle of sorts. A rich tapestry, she says, that mixes emotions, as any marriage does.
“Lagrimas,” after all, is the Spanish word for tears—a physical consequence of joy, frustration, anger, and sadness, according to Bellingham. Though the Lagrimas ring has been purchased for other occasions, it is a natural as a bridal set. Bellingham notes that many younger women are seeking stones other than diamonds for their bridal jewelry, and the pearls caught the eye of one particular bride-to-be already.
Sculpting is Deborah Bellingham’s second career, though she says she has always been an artist. After raising four children and putting them through school, she decided it was her turn to pursue her passion. With experience doing clay sculpture, Bellingham was ready to make the move to metal.
After art school in Houston, Bellingham moved to Baton Rouge with her husband and currently takes classes at LSU while creating and selling her jewelry and sculpture. To Bellingham, the difference between the two art forms is purely size. She is currently working on what she calls a “ten-foot monster”—a massive sculpture that is an homage to classic cars. The piece was born from an assignment that asked students to create something from found objects. It will soon be displayed in LSU’s sculpture garden.
Bellingham is dreaming about the day when she will turn the Lagrimas wedding ring into a full-scale installation piece. She sees it in a garden somewhere, perhaps 15-20 feet tall. Each curvature of metal acting as a portal to another area of the garden. Seeing her work produced in wildly different sizes is incredibly exciting for Bellingham. “In my mind it’s all the same.”
Details. Details. Details.
Shavarsh K. “The Jewelery Design Shop”
711 Jefferson Highway
Baton Rouge, LA
Find Cher Fox’s work at
415 Main Street
(228) 424-7274 or (601) 304-9684
Deborah Bellingham’s work is sold at the Gilded Lily and Shavarsh K. Jewelry Designs in Baton Rouge and David Pierson Jewelry in Covington. Her website is www.magiastra.com.