What do you create for a man who proposed to his girlfriend with an R2-D2 engagement ring around Halloween while dressed as Charlie Brown from the Peanuts?
This past fall, Pittsburgh-based custom jewelry designer Paul Michael Bierker made headlines with the R2-D2 engagement ring, crafted in 14-karat X1 white gold, an alloy available through Stuller, custom-cut sapphires, diamonds and one ruby for the red light that appears below the droid’s eye. (This light is technically known as the “processor state indicator;” thank you Wookieepedia.)
Bierker said he created the ring after the client, a New Jersey tattoo artist who was dating his tattoo shop co-worker, posted images of what he had in mind on CustomMade.com, a website that connects clients searching for custom-made objects with the artists who can create them.
The jeweler, who sells both to private clients and via The Collection, a retail store in Pittsburgh that carries the work of several different designers, highly recommends the site. He says it netted him more than $100,000 in gross sales this past year. The fee to join is only $1 and while the site takes a 10 percent cut of whatever you sell, he said that is nothing compared to the total cost of sales inherent in running a retail store.
He said he connected with the client who made the R2 posting immediately, “of course” jumping at the chance to make Star Wars-related jewelry.
“I was a kid of the 70s,” Bierker said. “That’s the Holy Grail of awesomeness.”
With Bierker in Pennsylvania and his client in New Jersey, the two collaborated over the Internet to create the engagement ring. Now it’s on to a wedding-band version of R2-D2’s droid partner-in-crime, C-3PO, for him. The ring will be crafted in–what else?–yellow gold using brown brilliant-cut and rough diamonds.
While Bierker can’t share his C-3PO sketches just yet, the R2-D2 ring begat a number of other Star Wars-related jobs, not surprising for an über-popular movie franchise that has to have one of the biggest merchandising followings in history.
There is the Death Star engagement ring (below, left), a 10.5 mm silver-grey Tahitian pearl with black incised into the surface and white or black diamonds available in the shank, and a pair of R2-D2 wedding bands (below, right).
Bierker also has a number of other designs influenced by popular movie and book franchises that can be viewed on his Facebook page.
The designer said he while he won’t duplicate the original R2-D2 engagement ring, he has, with permission of the client, created a stripped-down version of the ring, which he refers to as R2 “light.” But when he sells one he makes a donation to the original R2 client’s wedding fund or applies some of the money to the cost of C-3PO wedding band.
It’s just the force that’s with him.
“I don’t reproduce this ring. I could make (a lot more money),” he said. “But that’s sort of how we go. I tend to be really personally connected to my customers.”