custom, part three

Bill Hulseman
12 min readJul 22, 2022
Cufflinks designed by Beth Lambrecht. Photo by Mike Olbinski.

Soon after we shared the news of our engagement with family and friends, my sister started plotting a surprise for us, a surprise that came with a story.

When she died, my grandmother, my father’s mother, left behind a really extraordinary collection of jewelry. My parents were tasked with appraising and dividing it among her children and grandchildren, and I sat at the table, rapt, as they unwrapped, laid out, and photographed every piece. Because she refused to get on an airplane (or maybe just to get some time away from him), my grandfather went on long trips to “exotic” locales without her, and he’d return with unique pieces of jewelry. In the distribution, my mom inherited a few really interesting pieces, including an intricate and dazzling diamond brooch. Because it was truly, truly fabulous, Mom only wore it on very special occasions, like black-tie events or Tuesday sojourns to the grocery store.

When Mom died, my sister inherited that brooch, but she quickly recognized that she and her daughters would never need such a piece, unless they’re summoned for a ball at Buckingham with Her Majesty. She worked with a jeweler to break the original brooch apart to make smaller pieces for her kids, but there were a few small stones left, including eight tiny baguette-cut stones. She imagined cufflinks for my then-fiancé and me, but when she couldn’t decide between silver and gold, my other sister wisely advised her to consult us. That’s when my sister called and explained her plan. When I stopped crying, all I could say was, thank you.

The next time we were in town, we met with a jeweler to look at the stones and settle on a design. I’d been in this shop a hundred times before — my parents were loyal customers to her parents for decades. I accompanied my mom countless times to get a watch fixed or to resize a ring. I also accompanied my dad countless times to pick a birthday present for Mom, an anniversary present for Mom, a Christmas present…he loved doting on my mom through jewelry, but for him it wasn’t all about the glitz and glam. He picked pieces that told a story. For one anniversary, he gave her a ring with ten diamonds, one for each of their children. For another, he picked a gold brooch in the shape of a tree with fifteen or twenty tiny pearls, one for each year since they married.