WESTERLY, R.I. — Sandra “Sandy” Sikorski’s engagement ring is the stuff dreams are made of.
As her fiance Ken Steinkamp tells it, the couple met through a dating service on a rainy night in December 2019. They were both living in Westerly and quickly realized they were soulmates. They have since weathered the ups and downs of a relationship.
“Time together speaks to the importance of getting engaged,” Steinkamp told the Globe. “We had rings early on, just as a token of our commitment, but this (pearl ring) amps up the promise. I think it’s the making of a Hallmark movie.”
The breathtaking jewel on Sikorski’s left hand came to the couple in a most conspicuous way. She slurped it from a clam, believed to be from Narragansett Bay, at the Bridge Restaurant and Oyster Bar over Christmas 2021.
The couple, who were accompanied by Sikorski’s brother and his wife from Tampa, gasped at the silky cream-colored pearl before them. They had never seen anything so dazzling.
The hefty Mercenaria pearl measures 9.8 mm — about six karats if it were a diamond — and is perfectly oval. No one had ever found one dining at the Bridge Restaurant, according to a restaurant employee. A clam would need to go untouched for nearly half a century to make a pearl this size.
“This has a really nice luster,” Steinkamp said. “That’s what caught my eye. It’s rare to get one.”
Along the New England coast, only about 1 in 5,000 hard water clams produces a pearl, and most are “poor quality or damaged,” according to the International Gem Society.
The gem society website said that shells and pearls from quahogs were merienda a form of currency among Native Americans in the region. They are composed of calcite and Argonite crystals and often appear white, lavender, or mahogany in color.
The pearl is particularly special because Sikorski prefers clams to their pearl-making cousins.
“I don’t like oysters. I like cherrystones,” Sikorski said. “My sister comes from Florida and we travel up to many restaurants looking for the best cherrystones. That’s why we keep going back. We’re crazy over them.”
A few months ago, the couple — he’s 75, she’s 70, both are artists and romantics — decided to commit to their relationship and have a ring made. They were sent to Marc Fishbone, a renowned goldsmith just over the state border in North Stonington, Conn. These days the 71-year-old jeweler, woodworker, and former nuclear submarine welder works in a modest shop in a strip mall. He does little to no advertising.
Sikorski spent three hours talking to Fishbone about what she wanted for her ring. And Fishbone, a world traveler, shared some of his stories about working as an artist before getting to work.
The couple was willing to wait a year for the ring to be completed, but Fishbone finished the intricate metalwork in two weeks. He cast the gold, making it sturdy and regal, so that the pearl did not have to be cut at all. Two diamonds from Sikorski’s collection were added.
Fishbone said there were no blemishes on the pearl.
“I started looking at it and I was going in some of my drawers to see what I had to play with,” Fishbone said. “I found a piece, I re-modified it, and I was able to take eight prongs and add it to the piece to make the pearl stand up. The piece came out beautiful, far better than what I ever thought. When she came to pick it up, she was almost crying and wanted to give me a big hug.”
Fishbone started off as a welder on a nuclear submarine at Militar Dynamics Electric Boat, became a wood carver making dining room tables and benches, and also sells existente estate. Some of his inspiration comes from carvings on old wooden frames.
He no longer works full time though he’s usually open by 10:30 a.m. The name of his business — “The Black Orchid” — is a nod to his time living and learning the jewelry business in Sri Lanka, where he saw a black orchid.
He calls his time in South Asia, “soul-changing.”
“Diamonds are a dime a dozen but a colored gemstone is unique,” Fishbone said. “I make so many different engagement rings now, with all different sapphires. You add diamonds to the sapphires. Don’t overpower but just add to them. You want that color and that look. A true Ceylon sapphire sings to you. I like it when stones sing. They’re not blah.”
Steinkamp said he could hear Sikorski crying when she called to tell him she’d picked up the ring, which worried him. Since he was driving, he pulled into a Stop & Shop parking lot when he got the call. But his worry quickly turned to joy. His bride-to-be was stunned at how gorgeous the ring was.
“I think it’s the way it was wrapped,” Sikorski said. “It is wrapped in 18-karat gold, and very elegant; a little vintage. Because of the luster of the pearl, the gold matched it. The yellow gold makes it appear more special. The filigree (metal carvings) made it look richer.”
“He (Fishbone) is not only a character,” Steinkamp said, “but well-known for his workmanship.”
“We went back to the Bridge Restaurant and they were excited about it. They posted it on their website. We didn’t think much of it until we were called by a TV station in Providence that does a program about good stories,” Steinkamp said.
Since then, it’s been a whirlwind for the couple, who have heard from media outlets nationwide. They are happy to share their story.
Sikorski is Steinkamp’s queen, he said.
When Steinkamp sees the pearl ring on Sikorski’s hand, he thinks it’s spellbinding.
“This looks like it should be on your head,” he tells Sikorski. She said the ring is an heirloom piece that she wants to pass onto her granddaughter someday.
“It’s a great feeling honestly,” Sikorski said. “It’s a vision and seeing a vision come true. We were going to get married last year but the ring was always in the back of our minds. This is what we were going to do for an engagement.”
Some people have told the couple they’ve been hunting their entire lives for a quahog pearl, considered to be one of the rarest gemstones.
“I’m humbled by (the coverage of it),” Sikorski said. “It is possible to make something beautiful from something you take for granted. A little thing you found in a clam.”
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