“Cheap” isn’t a quality that many women look for in a lifemate, but a few might have been swayed if they’d met my husband before I did.
He raised the art of penny-pinching to something quite admirable, somehow managing to blend it with romance on our wedding day. Rather than buying an opulent gold wedding band or a diamond engagement ring, he chose to hammer out an old coin with persistent beating over the course of several months. As a result, I’m now the proud owner of a custom silver ring that no other woman on the planet will ever own.
It’s not a ring that you’ll find in any jewelry store. It’s not made of gold, and it’s not encrusted with precious gems – hell, it’s not even symmetrical – but no store-bought ring can claim to be what mine is: truly unlike any other.
It’s a dual-purpose engagement and wedding band made out of an 1896 silver sixpence coin, and it seems to have impressed more people than any clear rock he could’ve given me – it was the talk of my mother’s office for several weeks. More often than not, people react to it on a completely different level than they would a diamond. Old ladies swoon over its sentimentality; young cousins see it as a revolutionary idea; it triggers wealthier women to pour out strange and bittersweet emotions that they may or may not understand. Men even gaze upon it in wonder – a male friend of mine saw it and said, “That’s the manliest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
My man created an engagement ring, a wedding band, and all that ensuing manly clout – and saved a lot of money – with just a handful of easy-to-find supplies: a few rubber mallet heads, a steel ring-sizing taper, a heavy tabletop vice grip, and an old silver coin from eBay.
Many coins in different currencies are composed of mixed-metal alloys, and the exact composition will depend on its mint date. The composition is important because if you use a half-copper coin, the ring will be a lot harder to drill a hole through, and you’ll end up with a greenish stain on your ring finger before too long. To avoid this, make sure your coin is at least 85-percent silver.
Here are a few that fit the description: U.S. quarters minted before 1963, one-franc Swiss Helvetias minted before 1968, and British silver sixpences minted before 1920.
Drill a hole through the silver coin with a Dremel tool. Before the sizing taper can be used, the coin has to have a hole punched through it. The hole needs to be as close to the coin’s center as possible – when the hammering starts, the metal will flatten to the sides, and if there’s more metal on any side of the hole, you’ll end up with areas of unequal thickness in the finished ring.
Secure the ring-sizing taper upright with a heavy tabletop vice clamp. The weight of the vice clamp is important and will make the process infinitely less troublesome. Tighten the vice as much as possible around the taper’s wider end, to where the point of the taper is more or less upright. Because the hammering may jar the taper loose, it helps to wrap the wide end of it with a cloth rag before putting it in the vice; it’ll help keep it in place.
Place the coin through tip of the taper. If the hole isn’t big enough for the taper to fit through, widen it with the Dremel. Note that it doesn’t have to go very far down the taper at this stage – that’s what the rubber mallet is for.
Using the rubber mallet, hammer the coin down the taper equally on all sides until it flattens out and reaches the right size. Depending on the size and type of coin, this step can take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks of hammering sessions. Mine was made from a silver sixpence, which is about the size and thickness of a dime, so it took a few weeks of pounding. The wedding band I subsequently made for my husband was originally a Swiss helvetia, which is thicker and more nickel-sized, so it only took a few hours from start to finish.
Polish the rough edges.
After all the hammering, you might find your ring to be a little rough and jagged around the edges. If you’re planning on giving the ring to your beloved, you should consider sanding those down a bit beforehand.
Lay out a sheet of 180- to 200-grit sandpaper on a flat surface, and rub both sides of the ring on it in a circular motion until all sharpness is sufficiently buffed away. If the edges are vastly uneven or too sharp for the sandpaper to handle, use a metal file to level out those areas before pulling out the sandpaper. Afterwards, if necessary, use an extra sliver of sandpaper to round out the inside and outside edges of the ring by hand.
Money was saved in this endeavor, but I’m just as sure that money wasn’t at the top of my husband’s mind when he decided to go this route – I don’t know anyone, man or woman, who would opt to handcraft their beloved’s wedding ring just to save money. There’s much more to such an effort than merely pinching pennies, closely related to why most people end up splurging when it comes to wedding jewelry: no one sees money the same way when they’re in love. ♥
Christie Matherne Hall is a contributor to Dig Baton Rouge, a sister publication of (614) Magazine.