February 23, 2004

Jeweler Turns Man’s Glass Eye Into a Ring

Al Nix has designed a lot of jewelry in the last 25 years, but nothing compares with the project Michael Burton handed him - a glass eye to be refitted into a ring.

Burton has had a glass eye for 35 years because of an industrial accident. He had to have the artificial eye refitted recently, and he didn't want to part with the old one.

So he called on Nix.

"That eye cost me $2,000 35 years ago," Burton said. "It took three days for people to hand-paint that eye. To throw it away would be like buying a new car and just taking my old car to the dump. I guess it's like they say - one man's trash is another man's treasure."

Nix had designed some unusual pieces, but "I couldn't believe he wanted to make a ring out of a glass eye. I thought to myself, 'We can make a good-looking ring out of this,' even though it is the oddest piece we've ever done."

Nix put together a design team that included his wife, Diana, and master jeweler Grover Snider. Together they designed a ring that incorporated the unusual shape of the artificial eye. Although normally referred to as glass eyes, most artificial eyes actually are made of plastic, as was Burton's. It also was not round but shaped more like a very shallow bowl.

It was large, too. Nix said if the eye were measured as a gem stone, it would be considered a 45-carat stone.

It took about four weeks for the team to design the setting for the eye and another four weeks to complete the ring. Three ounces of gold was used to set the eye as a stone. The result delighted Burton.

"Almost everyone wants to see it and hold it," Burton said. "Oh, there are some prudes who don't want to touch it. They think it's too weird. But I love it. I wouldn't trade it for a real eye."