A dear friend of mine had been telling me for years—years—that when he finally proposed to his long-term girlfriend, he wanted me to make the ring, and that the ring should be a claddagh. For nearly an equal number of years, I had been telling him no.
This sounds like a terrible start to a story about an engagement ring, I'll grant you—but since claddaghs are so readily available elsewhere, I had little interest in copying the style. This was, as it turns out, a myopic point of view, as what my friend really wanted me to do was to reinterpret the 300-year-old design in a way that uniquely captured his and his intended's spirit.
He was right, I was wrong.
As I meditated on their relationship, I wanted to emphasize the manner in which they totally embrace each other and give of themselves. I re-oriented the hands in a gesture of both presentation and protection, with the heart filling the palms. There's also something freer about this arrangement—in the classic design the hands are grasping the heart firmly, but here the heart is resting in the hands without restriction. If you mentally replace the heart with a dove, the difference in hand position becomes even more significant—the heart only remains by free will. I also wanted the heart to be almost hugged by the crown rather than merely sitting underneath it, so I portrayed a simpler diadem (as opposed to the coronet that is traditionally depicted) so that the top lobes of the valentine would still be visible.
Since I was doing this all as a bas relief, I wanted the design to be BIG so that all of the detail would show up and be easy to see; but the shank also needed to be small enough to be comfortable. Creating a sweeping transition between the large, detailed design that fully covers the top of her finger and the clean narrow shank reminded me of a spoon ring—which I was confident is a kind of jewelry that the bride might actually wear—so I added raised rounded borders to the shank to emphasize that motif.
The beautiful result bared my friend's soul in such a way that I decided it should also bear his surname. The McClellan Claddagh is a reinterpreted classic for a thoroughly modern couple.