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Antiquing for a wedding ring on Hawaii's Big Island

The Big Island's antiques shops are full of the usual Hawaiiana, but a wedding band for hubby? No such luck, until two sea turtles show up. The result? Titanium.

October 21, 2012|By Michele Bigley
  • Kitschy Hawaiiana at Orchids & Antiques in In Kealakekua, Hawaii.
Kitschy Hawaiiana at Orchids & Antiques in In Kealakekua, Hawaii. (Michele Bigley )

KEALAKEKUA, Hawaii — My husband, Eddie, was allergic to his wedding ring.

I know that sounds like a bad opening to a novel, but aside from the traditional growing pains, we were solid. So instead of overanalyzing the fact that his skin became irritated whenever he slipped on the white-gold band, I decided to remedy the situation.

We had been together for 12 years, and Hawaii was the place we escaped to whenever we needed to slow down and forgive each other for life's minor squabbles. Why not search for a new symbol of our love in Hawaii, the one place that has never failed to connect us? It turned out to be more challenging than I expected.

I wanted something that would represent the test of time, something that would not make his finger bleed or crack, something that would stand for our struggles and successes, something he would wear. After doing a ridiculous amount of Internet research, I decided to look in antiques stores on Hawaii's Big Island, a mountainous isle where history prevails.

I headed out on the Mamalohoa Highway toward Kealakekua, which houses most of the island's antiques shops. My first stop was Antiques & Orchids, a decent-sized shop filled with bric-a-brac, aloha shirts, tea sets, framed art and remembrances from many past lives. When I asked the owner about rings for men, she said with a chuckle, "The stuff you'll find here, honey, is from people who thought they could make it on Hawaii, lasted a year, turned around and went home." Sure, the koa wood hair clips and the surfboard hanging from the wall were fun, but not what I was after.

A few miles up the road in a smallish house was Mayme's Attic, with koa perfume bottles that the saleswoman said were the rage among antiques shoppers. Near a collection of Hot Wheels from the year 2000 sat a ukulele that I got for a steal (a girl needs some tropical kitsch to take home), a rack of aloha shirts and muumuus, and one dancing hula girl to perch on a dashboard. Again I inquired about rings and was told that men's jewelry sells fast in vintage circles. Women's jewelry, such as plumeria necklaces, could be found here at much better prices than in Kailua-Kona boutiques.

I was starting to get bummed out, but across the street was the largest antiques shop on the island, Discovery Antiques. I knew about its locally made ice cream, served at a counter behind all the collectibles, and if nothing else I could satiate myself. Displayed outside the rosy plantation-style building were plenty of hints of yesteryear — Japanese glass fishing floats, vintage signs and even a bright red DeSoto — suggesting that this could be the spot to find an antique Hawaiian ring.

Inside, the curiosity shop was filled with Hawaiiana crammed into glass cases. My first find was an old-fashioned Japanese shave-ice machine — the kind you crank yourself. My 5-year-old son, Kai, had gotten into the spirit of the hunt, pointing out every ring in the shop, and shouting, "How about this one?" Feeling optimistic, I explored the Hawaiian figurines that would look great on a bar, aloha wear, surfboards, historic books, poi pounders, antique clocks, vintage postcards and even Hawaiian money. But when I asked about men's rings, the salesman shook his head.

I decided to take a stroll along the ocean and accept that I had failed. Kai jumped into the waves and suddenly two honu, or sea turtles, appeared around him. We tiptoed back a few feet, giggling and pointing at these ancient sea creatures.

Eddie wrapped his arms around me and said this was all we needed, indicating the sea, our children playing in the waves and the sun traveling west as the sky turned a shade of rose. I knew he was right, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed.

On the way back to the car, Kai ran ahead, disappearing into a store, a hole in the wall, really. I chased him, berating him for running away.

"Mommy, look!" Along the walls were hundreds of rings, mostly men's. The sign on the wall read, "Hawaii Titanium Rings."

It turns out that Eddie and I could craft a ring by selecting a design, made with ancient koa or palm wood, which is then set in titanium, said to not irritate skin. We chose a blue wave set against the clear sky.

Of course, our 5-year-old with the Hawaiian name would locate the treasure, our new symbol of our commitment.

Maybe I hadn't scored an antique Hawaiian ring, but at least we were taking home a piece of local art. If nothing else, my husband's new ring had its own story and its own future in our family.

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