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Ringing in an engagement ... with the bells of McGraw Tower

Waitz Ngan '02 was a sophomore when she fell in love with the Cornell chimes.

She first climbed McGraw Tower's 161 steps to hear a concert with friends. Drawn in, she auditioned to play them.

"I thought it was a really interesting and unique instrument, different from anything I've tried," she said.

Soon she was a full chimesmaster, playing three to five concerts a week. After she graduated with a degree in nutritional sciences and left for medical school at Stony Brook, she kept coming back, at least once a year, for a nostalgic session on the bells.

It was in medical school that Ngan met Adam Schuldt, and he began coming along on those trips to hear her play the chimes. "I knew how much she loved it," Schuldt said.

And over the years, as the two med students grew closer, Schuldt learned some of the history of the chimes. He discovered, for example, that the bells had been shipped to Ohio for tuning in 1998.

So last winter, when he started thinking about engagement rings, Schuldt called Meeks, Watson and Co., the bell foundry.

"I thought it would be really neat if I could incorporate that bell bronze into the ring," he said.

He explained his idea to the foundry workers, who looked around their shop and came up with about 11 ounces of bronze shavings -- remnants from their work tuning the Cornell chimes.

If tracking down the bell shavings was surprisingly easy, though, finding a jeweler willing to incorporate them into an engagement ring was not.

"The response from most of them was, 'Why would you want to make a ring out of something that's not a precious metal?'" Schuldt said.

New York City area jewelers seemed uniformly unimaginative. So Schuldt moved his search upstate -- and eventually reached David Nytch at West & Co. Diamonds in suburban Rochester. Even Nytch, though, was dubious at first.

"We get some pretty bordering-on-not-right-in-the-head requests," he said. And bronze shavings are decidedly not an agreeable material to work with.

But, the jeweler confessed, he is a romantic at heart. And he likes a good challenge. And since both of Nytch's parents happen to be Cornell alumni, he has a soft spot for the chimes. "The way I viewed it, I may lose my shorts on labor -- but … it was a little too cool to pass up," he said. "The story was so good."

So Nytch took the job. As he expected, the bronze was stubborn and brittle. But months of effort paid off, and the result was a simple ring of rich bronze, sandwiched between two layers of platinum, topped with a diamond in a half-bezel setting -- shaped, in profile, like a bell.

On their trip to Cornell last April, after Ngan had played the chimes, she and Schuldt were walking under the tower when the chimes began ringing again.

For a moment, Ngan later recalled, she was confused. Then she recognized the song "Close to You," a melody she had arranged for the chimes when she was a student.

That's when Schuldt bent down on one knee.

He asked the question. She said yes (was there any doubt?). The moment was perfect.

But the ring, at the center of that perfect moment, was (for just the briefest instant) almost forgotten.

When Ngan learned about the ring's origin, she was amazed. She still is.

But at first ... "It was funny," Schuldt said. "I had gone through all this effort, and she didn't even look at it. She hugged me and said, 'of course.'"

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