TOPSHAM, Maine — Master jeweler Brent Williams, 42, wears on his finger a 10-karat white gold ring etched with several fingerprints tracing the growth of his son, Elliot, over the boy’s seven — almost eight — years.
The ring also chronicles the evolution of unique fingerprint jewelry crafted by Brent&Jess, a Topsham jewelry company that uses a patented process to embed a finger-length fingerprint along the inside of a ring. The company bears the first names of Williams and his wife, Jess, who co-founded it with him after both completed studies at the Maine College of Art in Portland.
“It’s like your finger is wrapped around them,” Jess Williams, 37, said Wednesday. “And the nice thing is that [the customer] is involved in making the ring.”
Fingerprints of loved ones are wrapped around fingers in rings Brent&Jess has sent across the United States and as far away as Antarctica. Among the fans of the unique rings are men and women whose spouses have gone overseas to fight in wars.
“We’re hugely sentimental,” said Jess, whose thesis at Maine College of Art focused on family history and jewelry. “For me, my children are my life, and my parents and grandparents. That’s where it stems from. I love to create stuff that has personal meaning.”
Brent&Jess also will etch onto a necklace or ring a child’s stick-figure drawing, a handprint or handwritten notes — sometimes captured from handwritten cards or notes sent from loved ones who have since died.
For one local woman, the couple created a memory of her son who died, using words from a story he wrote as a child about floating in space.
They’ve also created rings for actors Hilary Duff and John Stamos, who is slated to wear a Brent&Jess fingerprint ring in a future television pilot, Jess said.
Brent’s first fingerprint piece was a pendant for his mother. It featured his fingerprint and a diamond representing his sister.
Then, in 2009, he was laid off at Springers’ Jewelers due to lack of work.
Jess was a stay-at-home mom, and the couple began creating jewelry in the basement of their home and selling the pieces on Etsy, an online sales venue for artists. More recently, they created their own website and built a bright, spacious production facility and showroom off Foreside Road in Topsham.
Today, most of their customers interact with them online.The jewelers discuss with an engaged couple or other customer exactly what they’re looking for, and then send them a kit that allows the customer to take an impression of the fingerprint in graphite. The precise process ensures that the customer “gets the sweet spot that’s the swirl” of their fingerprint.
“It’s a little project they do together,” Jess said. “It’s a bonding experience.”
Alternatively, if the fingerprint is not available, the jewelers can take a fingerprint from police records or military records.
Brent&Jess crafts only in precious metals — platinum, palladium, gold and more affordable silver — and uses only materials from the U.S. Prices begin at $195 and vary depending on what metal — and what jewels — are used.
The business has added six employees, in addition to the co-founders, and applied for a patent when the couple realized others were beginning to create similar jewelry.
“We have copycats and we’re trying to protect ourselves,” Brent said.
They also invested in a $40,000 laser and perfected their process, which on Wednesday jeweler Dani Gerber operated from her laptop.
She set the plain silver ring in the machine, dropped the eye shield and the laser began a 20-minute process of etching the fingerprint around the circle.
“The laser traces back and forth,” Brent said. “Every five-hundredths of a millimeter is a new line. All those passes are the things we created, to get the detail we demand.”