How do you find the perfect engagement ring for your partner? Many of us have pondered this question, but the choices typically revolve around diamond cuts and sizes and bands of gold or platinum. But what if you're dating the CEO and cofounder of her own tissue engineering company, who frequently uses digital fabrication in her work?
You 3D print it, of course.
That's exactly what Noah Keating did for his bride-to-be, Nina Tandon, a biomedical engineer who is the CEO and cofounder of Epibone, a company that grows human bones for use in skeleton reconstruction. Keating, who runs a tech consulting company, decided to create a ring using 3D-printing technology that was inspired by a data visualization of the muscle fibers of the human heart, which Tandon had studied in graduate school at Columbia University: a high-tech ring for his future high-tech bride.
That's not the only tech that was present at the couple's ceremony in August: The wedding featured laser-cut invitations, 3D printed flower vases, and a digitally printed wedding dress, following a new trend in high-tech weddings.
For Tandon's engagement ring, Keating called on the artistic expertise of the designer Manca Ahlin, whose lace sculptures evoke organic cell structures (and who's also known Tandon for nearly 10 years). While Ahlin isn't a jewelry designer, she has already made Tandon an EKG-inspired necklace, and knew her tastes.
"Visual fabrication is something that we really get excited about, that you can take data and numbers and turn it into objects," Tandon says. "It’s important for my work and it moves me philosophically."
Based on Tandon's love of science and data (and the fact that she'd dropped a hint about it), Keating also knew he wanted to purchase a lab-grown diamond. Using a tiny diamond seed as a starter, lab diamonds are created using either high heat and high pressure (to mimic the conditions that create natural diamonds in the Earth's crust), or using chemical processes. They're made of carbon, just like natural diamonds, and have the same molecular structure, making them visually indistinguishable (even professionals need special equipment to tell them apart). Brilliant Earth, the diamond retailer from which Keating purchased a lab diamond, sells both natural and lab-grown stones, all of which have been ethically sourced.
According to Kathryn Edison Money, the vice president of strategy and merchandising at Brilliant Earth, lab diamonds are growing in popularity among millennials. "Customers are drawn to them because they’re beautiful, they’re responsible, and they’re affordable," she says. Natural diamonds often have a bloody history, and have been associated with warfare, child labor, and environmental destruction, but lab diamonds have none of that baggage—and they cost 20% to 40% less than stones coming out of a mine.
Why did she prefer a lab-grown diamond in her ring? Tandon has only two words: "science and ethics." Using the exact measurements of the 2.08-carat, super ideal cut stone, Keating and Ahlin created the setting of the ring using 3D modeling software and had it 3D printed in wax. Once the wax model was finalized, the ring was cast in platinum and the diamond was set.
The ring is composed of interwoven, organic strands that are seamlessly bound together, holding the diamond in place. Ahlin wanted to push the boundaries of jewelry-making using modeling and printing technology—the ring's delicate structure would be next to impossible to make with traditional methods.
"I think there could be a lot more innovation going on in 3D printing instead of imitating the established design," Ahlin says. "That’s what I tried to do with this ring, to design something that would be really, really hard to do in a traditional way."
While based on cardiac muscle fibers, the ring isn't strictly anatomically true—making the ring as visually striking as possible was important to Keating. "Sometimes I find that you get caught up in the mathematical truths of what you’re trying to reference rather than the beauty of the object itself," he says. "I wanted to draw from data visualization as a practice but not feel bound by it. We wanted to make a beautiful engagement ring that embodied a few different things, data being only one of them."
Tandon's response when she saw the ring for the first time?
"It’s so beautiful. I loved it. It was so thoughtful. He’d really put a lot of effort into it," she says. "You could tell it was such a work of art. It’s a beautiful piece, but because it's steeped in my work and things that are important to me."
She said yes. By chance, the next day was February 29, a day in Irish culture in which women traditionally propose to men. Tandon printed a plastic version at her office and proposed to Keating—who now has a 3D-printed ring of his own to match.