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Even though couples wear their wedding rings every day of their married life, wedding bands can be plain and, if you buy them from a large retailer, not personal to the couple. That's where Ashley Hilton and Laurel Williams come in.
Hilton and Williams are the husband-and-wife team behind Ashley Hilton Jewelry, a New Zealand design company that creates personalized wedding and engagement rings (Husband Hilton creates the jewelry and wife Williams handles the financial side of the business). Working with photos (or occasionally just a few words) as inspiration, Hilton etches simple, elegant designs into handmade rings that tell a couple's story.
HuffPost Weddings spoke with Hilton and Williams about their design process and what it means for couples to have personalized rings.
How does the design process work?
Laurel Williams: We charge a $40 design fee to cover our time and sketching. We need to know the dimensions of the bands they want so Ashley can give them a sketch in scale, and we need a couple of inspiration images as a jumping-off point. For that design fee you get one initial sketch that usually has a couple of options, and then two rounds of revisions. Then we email them the sketches and they’ll go, ‘I like the trees in number four and the mountain in number seven and can you put those two together.’ Then Ashley will do some revisions and sometimes a test sketch in metal. We’ll take a photo of that and they’ll say, ‘Great, that’s what we want,’ and then Ashley turns it into metal.
How do you translate the photos and inspiration couples give you into a design that you can realistically carve into a ring?
Ashley Hilton: I have to be really careful when I’m sketching because it’s easy to sketch a lot of detail, but I’ve got to really think about how I can practically make it. It’s a matter of editing and stylizing down within the constraints of what I do to get a feel of what they want. We try and tell [clients] from the beginning what’s possible and what isn’t.
What are some designs people have asked for?
Williams: A lot of times it’s about a place that’s special to them or a specific tree that’s special to them. My favorite story is a couple who said they met on the corner of Spruce and Evergreen streets in 1960 and they’re finally getting married, so we did spruce and evergreen tree[s]. I thought that was the sweetest thing. One of the first designs I worked with was a couple who had a tree in their front yard they called Felice, and it was a tiny tree with hardly any leaves on it. We did it and they were thrilled. That’s usually what it comes down to -- a place or tree that’s really important to people. I think those are the kinds of people who are drawn to our designs as opposed to people who want big gemstones or that kind of thing. They’re more interested in the natural side and inspired by nature, which I think Ash was inspired by when he started making jewelry.
You are married with two children and work together out of your home. How do you balance work with family?
Williams: We’ve been able to streamline it so we split our time pretty evenly, Ashley in the workshop on Tuesday and Thursday and I look after the boys on those days, and I work in the office Monday, Wednesday and Friday while he looks after the boys. Which is great -- it can be a bit full-on to do either thing full-time so we get nice breaks and can appreciate everything. But we live in a tiny house and we have a tiny little workshop and our tiny little office. So we spend all day every day together but it really works out since we have our own separate sides of the business.
What do personalized wedding bands mean to the couples?
Williams: In the big picture of planning weddings, I think wedding bands are a detail that often gets left to the end for a lot of people. It’s kind of an afterthought, which is strange to me because it’s the one thing you see every day. I think a lot of people, once they get in touch with us, realize, ‘Oh wow, this is going to be a huge part of my life and part of my daily outfit.’ So I think it’s nice if they can incorporate their style and their story into a piece they can carry with them for the rest of their lives and then pass down. Wedding rings are an heirloom piece so it will get passed on and I think it’s really important that people can tell a story of where they were in their lives whenever they were engaged or married. It’s an enduring thing that stays with the piece.
Click through the slideshow below to see inspiration photos, sketches and finished rings.
Cape Palliser Lighthouse Inspiration Photo
One couple asked for the Cape Palliser Lighthouse in New Zealand to be etched into their rings.
Cape Palliser Lighthouse Sketch
These are designer Ashley Hilton's sketches of the lighthouse.
Cape Palliser Lighthouse: Finished Ring
The finished product.
Hawaii Inspiration Photo
Laurel Williams said one couple sent her and Hilton this image of the Hawaiian coastline, where they got engaged, as their inspiration photo. The couple runs an eco-tourism business in Hawaii.
Hilton sketched these possibilities for the ring's design.
Hawaii: Finished Ring
The final product.
Savannah Oak Inspiration Drawing
Hilton collaborated with artist <a href="http://www.etsy.com/shop/theinklab" target="_blank">Heather Young</a> to create this drawing of a Spanish moss-covered Savannah Oak tree.
Savannah Oak: Finished Ring
The final product.
For a Brooklyn Bridge-inspired ring, Hilton used images of the bridge from Google as a jumping-off point.
Brooklyn Bridge: Finished Ring
The final product.
Hilton gathered images of Mt. Arthur in New Zealand as inspiration for this ring.
Mt. Arthur: Finished Ring
The final product.
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