I had my birthday shortly after New Year’s. It was a nice day and very quiet. I’m a strong believer in non-celebration of one’s birthday; except in the form of giving away presents, instead of receiving presents on the day, in a sort of “Hobbit” fashion as famously penned by J. R. R. Tolkien, who in addition happens to share the same birthday with me. I’ve found that giving away presents on my birthday eases the pressure of…well, ageing. The way that I see it, is that on my birthday I should of all people remember to be grateful that I was born, and that one way to mark this sentiment is through giving.
So you may imagine that no gifts came in through the door on my birthday, but instead, gifts went! As I didn’t get to arrange to meet up with friends this time on my birthday, I had to give away very few specific “birthday presents” (may I secretly say, whew!?). But, there was one gift that went out which meant a lot to me and absolutely, definitively made my day.
It was an engagement ring for my fiancé:
We’ve been engaged for already over a year, but I had only bravely thought of getting him a ring in the last few weeks, the conventions of the English-speaking world having been strongly in the way in the meantime. I wasn’t sure if he would like the idea, although I loved it. I thought that it would be only fair for both us to have something special to help us think of each other; and also, shouldn’t gentlemen get to wear nice things, too?
Much to my delight, he liked the idea!
I found this vintage/antique lapis lazuli ring at Zenkat Vintage, an Etsy shop based in Canada. For some reason, this time I just knew that I had to get the ring on Etsy, because I wanted the ring to be either custom-made or vintage, and because I wanted it to be from “somewhere else”; I was set on it. It took me sometime to decide on which stone to look for, deliberating between turquoise and lapis lazuli, both of which are birthstones of my fiancé’s that I thought were nice (blue topaz is often irradiated to achieve the colour, while tanzanite is modern – 2002!), but in the end I was in love with lapis lazuli and thought the dark blue would be a subtler colour for a gentleman. It’s also very Middle Eastern, which I thought would be a fitting way to carry over my heritage; as well as being quite the signature colour of Harry Clarke, my favourite early 20th century stained glass artist and illustrator.
Katherine at the Zenkat Vintage was the kindest shop owner and let me reserve the ring for a week before purchase. I would have been very much at loss if I missed it, for it was the only ring on Etsy that I connected with and had that genuine (in Katherine’s own words, too) Edwardian/Victorian look, that Jeg and I did wish for. I’m not sure how old the ring is, but it was definitely handmade, possessing these very personal irregularities that we adore, and Katherine thinks it’s early 20th century.
Another amazing thing was that the ring was exactly the right size – what can I say? And, it arrived just the day before my birthday ready to be given, which I wasn’t even counting on…and Jeg loved it!
I must post a photo of the ring on his hand next time, when we’ve gotten a chance to take some; but here first is a sneaky photo of it on me, before it was presented to its rightful owner:
My own ring is garnet (my birthstone) and peridots, custom designed and made at Neil Conway Jewellers in Dublin; but of course I’ve enjoyed it for a year already…
While engaging in these activities – giving presents on my birthday, looking for a ring for my beau – I’ve been thinking about the extent to which we’re confined by traditions in our circles, our countries, our little worlds; which is indeed a thought never very far from my mind. In particular when I realise that those two things that I was doing would be more or less perceived as “inverting” traditions, while it might not always be so when one looks at it from a more universal perspective. For instance, in many places of the Middle East, where my father’s family were from, as well as in Central Asia, a great number of people traditionally don’t observe birthdays – and then, we have the Hobbits, of course, who do exactly what I do for birthdays. With regards to engagement rings, the Scandinavian tradition and (I think) the Dutch tradition (where my mother’s family were from sometime ago) is for the couple to both get rings for the engagement, although they’d be plain bands instead of fancy ones – which was how a lovely blogger lady from Sweden, Annika, threw most almost everybody off when she posted a picture of her and her fiancé wearing gold bands (English-speaking friends panicked: “Annika you’re marrieeed…!!!”).
And because I wasn’t born into the English-speaking world but rather arrived here through a series of accidents and events by choice, I’m realising that I would be very sad if I were ever to become overly “confined”. I’ve always been a little wary of conventions, and in more recent times, it has become a necessity for me to get down to the bottom of them – including, of course, the myth about diamond for engagement rings – and to explore what, as a combination result of my own personal beliefs, preferences, and perceptions, and the traditions from my own backgrounds and the traditions in the “world” that I live in, will be a meaningful decision for me.
I guess there isn’t an easy way to look past what’s been offered to us at hand, but then, life is all about exploring and reflecting. I believe we can all benefit from keeping our eyes and minds open, by reading, listening, and travelling. By learning new languages – which I still haven’t done enough in my lifetime – and being ready to reconsider and re-imagine the ways we can lead our lives.
For the moment my fiancé and I have decided to set our own rules about occasions for gift-giving. Christmas gifts are out. But surprise gifts are in. Original drawings always the best.
I thought to post this outfit shoot here as it reminds me of a birthday “tradition” that I find adorable, despite my not putting it into practice, which is for young girls to dress up princess-like for their birthday (oh, I suppose I’m thinking about Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Princess on her birthday, or Oscar Wilde’s Infanta?).
To say a little more about the dress, it’s a recent addition to my shop, a truly rare vintage 80s custom-made wedding/event dress in Victorian style, with yards and yards of ribbons and lace, and intriguing details. The teardrop earrings were self-made, from some five? years ago. We took the photos in the Merrion Square Park (which is across from Oscar Wilde’s family house), just when the sun was setting!
(Photos by JEG)