Old jewelry. So much of it sits in a box, never seeing the light of day. Perhaps it was passed down by a relative and holds special sentimental value. Perhaps it’s a ring that can’t be worn because it is too heavy or too gaudy for your style. There may be a chic, vintage pair of earrings that you love, but they just don’t sit right on your ears.
Whatever the case, there are very few women who don’t have at least one piece of jewelry like this: They never wear it, but they can’t stand the thought of getting rid of it.
Paula Zukowski of Maple Grove was boxed in, much like her jewelry. She had an old pair of earrings, given to her by her parents at her college graduation. She absolutely loved them but they were too heavy to wear. She wanted to keep the earrings so they sat in her jewelry box for years.
Last December, Paula and her husband Tom Zukowski decided it was time to upgrade her wedding ring. The couple had, as Paula says, “dealt with all the important life stuff” like paying for college for the kids. They had never really been ones to invest in much jewelry but now, as empty nesters, the couple decided Christmas was the perfect time to treat Paula to something special.
The Zukowskis visited Mark Michael Diamond Designs in Maple Grove with Paula’s 29-year-old ring, hoping to get an infinity band for her right hand or something small to wear as a companion to the ring itself. What Mark Lauer, owner of Mark Michael Diamond Designs offered, was something beyond what Paula could have ever imagined.
Lauer has made an impressive career of designing jewelry. His foray into the craft began in 1968 at age 16 when his older brother Michael Lauer showed up one day with a new hippy friend named Louie Logan who sold his jewelry to boutiques. Michael, a natural salesman, hitchhiked to San Francisco with a few of Louie’s designs and sold them to Pier One. He came back home, paid Mark to help create necklaces, and a life in jewelry began.
It wasn’t until about 25 years later that the brothers went into business together, combining their names to create Mark Michael Diamond Designs. They started in wholesale, with Mark serving as designer and Michael selling to various diamond stores around the country. Tragically, at age 44, Michael passed away from a heart attack and Mark was left to run the business on his own.
“I found myself two weeks later on the road with a bag in my hand and I had never done that in my life,” Mark says. “It really developed me as a human being. I will say that.”
Mark, a designer at heart, continued the wholesale business and opened a small retail location on the side. Eventually, he realized the retail store was almost matching his wholesale profits, and he opened his current location on Main Street 10 years ago, selling, almost exclusively, his own designs—a fact that rings true to this day.
Fast-forward to last December and the Zukowskis standing in the showroom. Mark began talking to the couple and mentioned to Paula that he specializes in custom projects. He told the pair he could completely remake Paula’s ring from scratch, using the diamond and metals from the original.
On a whim, Paula asked if it was possible to incorporate her old earrings, the ones she had received as a graduation present, into the ring design. They had priceless sentimental value, she explained, but she had never worn them. At the time, she had no idea that this was the exact type of project Mark specializes in.
They began the process Mark provides for all his custom projects. Starting with design ideas, they discussed what Paula wanted from her new ring, and how to best incorporate the diamonds and metal from the earrings. From there, Mark sketched a set of designs using pencil and paper. Once Paula had selected her favorite, he created a computer-aided design (CAD) to give a more lifelike visual. Then Mark created a 3D model of the ring, so Paula could see how it would look and feel before committing. He then melted down the metals, cast them to fit Paula’s finger, and inserted the diamonds from her earrings and original ring to create a new, custom wedding ring.
“For me the sentimental part is huge,” Paula says. “[Mark’s works] are original designs and that is so cool. Everything you get in the store is almost like an art piece.”
Mark goes through the same process with all his clients who seek custom work as he did with the Zukowskis. Overall, it takes about four weeks between sketching, creating CAD renderings, making a 3D model and finally creating the ring itself. In the end, the customer leaves with a piece unlike any other they own.
“When I walked out of the jewelry store I almost felt like I had gotten engaged again because I had this beautiful ring,” Paula says. “When I went in there I didn’t know this whole thing would happen and I walked out with way more than I expected. It’s a huge blessing. People will stop and say ‘I love your ring.’”
Mark helps people achieve dreams they didn’t even know they had. The Zukowskis got the ring they wanted—and more. “Customers say ‘I have worn this ring for years’, or, ‘I inherited this and want to make something pretty from it’,” Mark says. He is proud to say he can give customers a jewelry experience unlike any other.
The process of designing a piece of custom jewelry begins with a consultation, moves through several steps and ends with a newly designed piece.
- Paula Zukowski’s original ring was well-worn after 29 years of marriage.
- A pair of diamond earring jackets from Paula’s jewelry box supplied the diamonds and gold incorporated into the new ring.
- A digital illustration of Mark Lauer’s concept for Paula’s new ring.
- An exact replica of the rendering is made into a 3-D model and used to cast the metal.
- The new wedding ring.