The Strand Ring...mysteries resolved

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This ring was based on a meditation-fueled experience from 15 years ago, where I found myself soaring above a sea strand. On my left was a beach expanding to one horizon, and on my left the ocean expanded to the other. I was about four feet above the ground and soaring fast enough to blur the water and sand beneath me. This experience went on for what felt like hours—not dream hours—real ones. When it was over, I felt twice my size.

At this stage in my career I try to keep my designs personal, and a couple of years back I started playing with the idea of capturing the strand experience in a ring design. I wanted to express where dualities met and became one. Where physical met spiritual. Where life met death. Where masculine met feminine. Where individuality met everything else. When designing, I love to play with interesting materials. I decided a perfect way to express water would be to center the piece around an opal—fossilized water so to speak—and to float the opal in a softly sculpted pool of black jade. I loved the juxtaposition, how the form and polish of the jade felt liquid, yet the material itself was literally stone. I framed this central motif with richly toned 18k yellow gold. I wanted the shank and shoulders to express a white sand beach, so I chose boldly brushed platinum-sterling silver; platinum-sterling is light weight, has a beautiful white color, and resists tarnish—an important consideration with a textured finish. I wanted this texture to give a muted sabe’ effect with the brushed strokes following the circumference of the ring bore to mimic sand blurring under speed. Along the way, I decided the ring was personal enough to make my own and developed the piece as an important men’s ring. The form was bold but fluid. I split the shank passing under the finger to further express duality as well as for comfort. I signed the piece beneath the jade using mirrored initials, reflections. I liked the design very much and couldn’t wait to see it realized.

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Following my typical product development process, I CAD modeled the ring. I prefer not to use plating, so I was facing a complex assembly…essentially sandwiching the gold center between the silver shoulders. To further complicate the piece, I didn’t want to waste gold under the jade where it would be invisible as well as formidably heavy and expensive. Lastly, the fit between the jade and its bed needed to be absolutely precise, as would the fit between the top of the jade and opal’s bezel—all of which would be assembled with cold connections.


I found an outstanding Ethiopian opal with mysterious gray body-color and smoldering patch-fire in greens, blues, and reds. I placed my 3D-printed parts, the opal, and a block of fine black jade in the hands of one of my favorite New York master-craftsmen, Mark Willardson. His skilled hands brought my virtual piece to life. The finished ring was, in my opinion, stunning. It was completed just in time to be entered in the annual faculty exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology where on its first day in the show, between 8:30 and 11:00 in the morning, it was stolen from its display case.


I was devastated. This was the first time I’d had one of my pieces stolen, and I hadn’t even had the chance to even wear it. The only photo I had (the one in the flyer) was taken in my office on the way to the exhibition space. The ring was never recovered (though if any of you out there come across it, the investigation remains open and the above information is live). Fortunately, the show was insured, and after a number of months, I was reimbursed the cost to remake the ring.

For the second go-round, Mr. Willardson was not available, but it just so happened that I had been working with Carvin French—the firm where I was fortunate enough to spend six of my formative professional years—on an important emerald gentlemen’s ring for a client of mine. They agreed to keep working with me on the Strand Ring’s reincarnation.

Given the opportunity, I refined the form of the ring for a more natural transition into the shoulder from the jade surround. The original, straighter interpretation had been pursued to ensure an overall masculine effect. But having held the ring in my hands, I believed a more organic flow was required. Besides, the sheer mass of the ring imbued it with a masculine feel.

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A singular challenge was finding a second opal as outstanding as the first. After a rigorous search and reviewing dozens of candidates, I found another brilliant specimen. Unfortunately, it was much larger than its predecessor so further design adjustments and re-cutting were necessary. Re-cutting an opal is not a scientific endeavor; you won’t know what you have until you’re finished. The stone came out even more beautiful than I had hoped. This stone wasn’t brooding and mysterious like first opal, but it was still breathtaking. As Carvin French’s Sylvain Chervin put it, it was a merry stone. It would give the ring a brighter, lighter feel, and I was thrilled to see the project move forward.


A new opal meant adjustments all around, and Carvin French had their own ideas and experience to add to the process. Steadily, the Strand Ring came together for a second time. The most intricate and labor-intensive aspect was carving and fitting the jade.


Bringing the elements together was delicate work. One of the challenges of designing a sophisticated piece of jewelry, is that everyone involved is facing something new. Pushing towards an abstract ideal is always being tempered by the real fear of pushing too far and destroying hours of valuable labor.


It was fantastic to finally hold the Strand Ring again! The new ring is even more effective than the original!


All that’s left is to have the piece professionally photographed (and potentially entered in a design competition). Check back here or on my Instagram #kimbricated for further updates.

A season of Scott Kay

The Spring of 2014 was a big one for me. After working sporadically for over a decade as a part-time adjunct professor, I had recently accepted an offer to become full-time faculty at F.I.T. I’d had my own design business for fifteen years, and spending my days in offices and hallways was a very different head-space. By April, I was half way through my second semester and just keeping my chin above water. Freelance work continued to eat my evenings and weekends, and I was hard at work in my studio when a call came in. The voice on the other end was brusque, jovial, and confident—and laden with hard New York consonants. He must’ve dropped his name in the first few minutes, but I was more interested in what he wanted me to do. He was a jeweler, and he wanted me to advise him on incorporating CAD technology with some of his product. He didn’t seem thrilled with the idea, but like many in the trade, he didn’t believe he could afford to avoid digital technology much longer. he’d heard I was the guy to talk to, and this was familiar enough ground for me; I’d played digital consultant to a number of manufacturers over the years. This guy loved to talk, and I was enjoying listening—he had interesting questions and didn’t hesitate to chime in with ideas of his own. But I was leery of staying on the phone (consulting is worthy of an invoice), so I agreed to drive from Long Island to his factory in New Jersey to meet him. The distance would normally have cooled my enthusiasm, but then I caught his name: Scott Kay. I’d been chatting it up with one of the most influential jewelry designers of the past thirty years!

Scott was a busy man when I arrived. He had me wait in a conference room where the walls were lined with glass cases featuring mostly bridal product. When Scott finally came in, I was struck by his height and energy—here was a force to be reckoned with! He spoke quickly while his expressive hands tried to keep up. He escorted me into his office, and he was fielded phone calls while I studied in the jewelry on his wrist and hands, as well as the impressive star of David pendant he around his neck. Between calls, we tried to talk about computers, but he was too interested in leather. He’d been studying braiding and weaving leather…not as an intellectual idea, but as a personal craft. He had books and magazines featuring saddlery and leather-craft strewn about, and when realized he was still too busy to speak, he sent me back into the conference room with a stack of them to study while I waited.

When he returned, Scott was more official, and we talked technology for nearly an hour. Decades before, Scott had apprenticed under Henry Dunay and had tremendous respect and affection for hand craftsmanship. He interest in digital technology was limited to projects where the advantages of the medium were indisputable. He gave me a tour of his facility and we discussed a couple of his upcoming series and how computer modeling might prove useful. We did have a slight disagreement. Scott insisted there were projects that were simply unsuitable for a computer. Anything sculptural for example, would be out of the question. But while I agreed there were a number of applications where digital technology was not the ideal approach—and that digital model-making wasn’t necessarily faster or cheaper than traditional methods, I argued that anything that could be executed by hand (excepting ultra-sensitive surface treatments such as super-fine engraving or granulation) could also be realized using a computer.

Scott sent me with a project to start with before passing me off on an assistant for a tour of his gallery space next door. The gallery space was impressive if eerie (it was a large space and there were only two of us there). The work was much different than the bridal product and more commercial mens’ silver pieces in the factory showroom. Here were fascinating tableaux that showcased inspirational items and collectibles alongside very personal jewelry pieces. It was a powerful and intimate experience.

I met with Scott a number of times through late summer of 2014, and while the contact was not extensive, it made a deep impression on me. I had spent twenty years designing jewelry professionally before meeting Scott, and I had come to admire my work for the same reason my clients did: I designed pretty pieces that sold well. I was an aesthetics machine. I understood that fine line between something most everyone would like and something that was interesting but not too interesting. I was confident and comfortable with this approach.

This was not Scott’s approach. What I saw from that first deep conversation about knotting leather, was that Scott was passionate about absolutely everything he did. Every Scott Kay piece came into being for a reason that was personal and relevant to Scott. And he could explain those attachments for any piece you asked him about…at length. Spirituality was a huge interest for Scott that summer. He was working on a line of religious product for Christian children, and he was passionate about every expression, detail, and finish. The amount of honest affection and meaning that imposing Jewish gentleman poured into whimsical silver pendants and charms changed how I viewed my profession. There is a higher standard than pretty that sells. Scott was also very proud of a silver pitbull ring he wore. He saw himself in the portrait it presented, and loved explaining the fine finishing work the piece demanded. (If you’ve never seen one of Scott’s animal rings in person, please try to do so; the images online cannot do justice to the craftsmanship.)

Scott’s first impact on my personal work was the incorporation of soft-surface CAD modeling. I wanted to prove to him that I could achieve a fully sculptural effect on the computer, and decided to model one of his children’s pieces featuring a young monkey. I tried my best to model the piece with hard-surface modeling, and while I believed I had fairly mastered Rhino, I met a wall that was forcing me to compromise. I knew Scott would not accept compromise.

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So I began experimenting with various soft-surface sculpting packages and by summer’s end I was achieving credible results.

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I’d told Scott I wanted to try and sculpt the figure, but he wasn’t expecting it when I cast the model in silver and presented it to him as a gift. I couldn’t say that it swayed his opinion on hand sculpted vs digitally sculpted models, but it confirmed mine: I was now fully confident that I could digitally model any design I could conceive. Id achieved complete creative control and freedom.

Another artifact from that summer of discovery, was my Hanuman ring. My meditation practice goes back more than thirty years, and I have always been intrigued by the idea of the “monkey mind” —that mischievous and persistent habit of my mind insisting that it’s me. In yogic lore, this monkey is often depicted as playful, almost cute, and there are similar representations of the Hindu god Hanuman. But my mind isn’t cute. My mind knows it’s me. It is King. It is in control. It is intimidating and harsh…and yet beautiful at the same time. I decided to combine these feelings into a personal talisman to remind me of this mind-centered facet of myself.


While the inspiration and aesthetic are unique and personal to me, the desire to express unique and personal ideas through jewelry is distinctly Scott Kay. It was his gift to me that summer.

As the summer drew to a close, Scott voiced an interest in having me join his team. I was tempted, but I had just gotten used to my new academic life at F.I.T. and was already obligated for at least the coming school year. We left the topic open. He’d become more intrigued by the potential of CAD, we’d been working together successfully for months, and there was no reason to expect that would end. Predictably, my teaching responsibilities quickly escalated, and my work with Scott tapered off. On Thursday, December 4, 2014, I heard that Scott had died of a heart attack. I was devastated. It’s hard to believe that someone I spent so little time working with could leave such a mark on me professionally and artistically, but I guess that’s Scott. His influence was permanent; one of those things I can’t unsee now that I’ve seen it. Every thing I design now has to have personal meaning, or it’s very difficult for me to maintain interest. I haven’t given up on pretty jewelry that sells. That’s important too and essential for success. But jewelry with heart is worth so much more.