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Ringing in a new life

WASHINGTON • "This Saturday, jewellery-making course," my friend Janine says. It's not a question or a demand. More like a strong suggestion.

Saturday is my wedding anniversary. I am newly separated. For the first time in six years, I have no plans. Janine does not know the significance of the date, but she always seems to know what I need and when.

So instead of a dinner date and a toast to another year of partnership and the future with the man I love, I spend my sixth anniversary in Kristin Gerber's home-studio in West Berlin.

Workbenches and jewellery- making equipment sit below high ceilings. The floor is peppered with filings and chips of jagged metal. Kristin wears her white hair in two braids, like a schoolgirl.

She says we can choose what we would like to make, and from what materials. She has silver, copper, brass and drawers of semi-precious stones.

I decide to make a ring to replace the wedding and engagement rings I no longer wear. A ring of my own, a gift to myself.

The gleaming sheets of silver remind me of the platinum rings I've abandoned. The copper, with its rosy glow, feels too optimistic. I choose brass, the cheapest material of them all.

Finding a stone is harder. My eyes wander over different shapes and hues; onyx, malachite, tourmaline. Nothing in the neatly labelled boxes appeals to me.

Kristin hands me a pot of odd- shaped stones. As I rifle through them, she names each one: amethyst, garnet, moonstone. I pick up a turquoise pebble, streaked blue, speckled brown.

She doesn't know what that one is. She found it somewhere, she says. Picked it up off the ground. A stone with no name.

I make the ring in pieces; the band, the setting, the plate on which the stone will rest.

Janine and I saw and file pieces of metal alongside each other. She is making a pendant.

Opposite us, two 12-year-old girls twist thin wires of silver. They are making delicate bands for their ring fingers. Something to commemorate their upcoming church confirmations. Three other women, older and more experienced, are regulars to the workshop and need little guidance.

I make my band thick and long enough to circle my middle finger. The setting takes the most time. The brass must envelop the stone perfectly so it won't fall out. I push and pull the metal with a tiny pair of pliers, adjusting it millimetre by millimetre, to match the odd-shaped stone.

Once the pieces are made, it is time to solder them into one ring. The ends of the setting must be joined to each other, the setting must be joined to the plate, the plate to the band.

Kristin shows me how to blow through tubes to direct flames onto the brass to heat it evenly from all sides. It glows and fuses.

Finally, I slip the ring onto my finger. It is nothing like the Tiffany ring I used to wear. The diamond every girl is supposed to dream of having.

This is a ring I made myself, on my own terms. The blue-green stone is like a shock of water against my skin.

For the first time, it occurs to me that something beautiful can emerge from this space. A space where I still have a wedding anniversary, but no longer have a marriage. Half-home, half-studio.

As the workshop quiets down, there is time to chat. Kristin tells me about a group of women in India who started their own community.

They helped build houses for one another, completing them one at a time.

She knows that this is what I need to hear right now. The blue in her eyes is like the blue in my ring.

"Women are so great," she says. "I know so many great, great women."

She and Janine and I look at one another and nod.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'Ringing in a new life'. Print Edition | Subscribe