BLACK ROCK CITY, Nev. -- Gentlemen, if you have designs on getting married, but the rock isn't already on your bride's finger, I'm afraid the bar for rings is now literally out of the stratosphere.
Impressing your beloved with even a 5-carat diamond isn't going to be easy from now on. Not after Oakland, Calif., artist Andrew Johnstone presented his new bride, Jeri Schneider, with a custom 3D-printed ring containing 0.32 gram of Tranquillityite. That's real, honest-to-goodness moon rock for those of you keeping track at home.
In a Burning Man wedding on Sept. 1 witnessed by hundreds of friends and family, plus about 100 people in bee costumes who buzzed matrimonial songs, the 52-year-old Johnstone married the 54-year-old Schneider, surprising her with her new ring, which she'd been trying to get details on for weeks. "It was the hardest secret I've ever had to keep," he said.
Did she love it? The look of utter surprise and shock on her face when she saw it and understood what it was said yes. As she posted to Facebook, "Now, when someone says 'look at the moon,' I hold my hand in the air."
Every year, there are many weddings at Burning Man -- the annual counterculture arts festival held the week before Labor Day in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, about 100 miles northeast of Reno. But it's safe to say there won't soon be another one like Johnstone and Schneider's.
This year, Johnstone, a Scotsman by birth, was the lead designer on the Man, the 105-foot-tall, 70,000-pound icon at the literal center of the festival. The wedding itself was held almost at the foot of the Man and was attended by many Burning Man notables, including festival founder Larry Harvey.
Johnstone said that the spark for the ring came a year ago, when the platform underneath the 2013 Man -- the effigy is burned near the end of each year's event; then rebuilt the following year -- contained a small piece of meteorite. After he and Schneider got engaged last December, he realized that because she's a science teacher "and not a diamond girl" that "she would think a diamond was frivolous, and wasteful."
Plus, Johnstone added, "As an artist, I can't [just] buy a ring out of a tray...That's not me."
Fortunately, Johnstone still maintained a relationship with the meteorite dealer in Hawaii who'd sold him the stone for last year's Man, and he began to think that perhaps using some sort of space rock might be the way to go. "He said he had five pieces of something extraordinary," Johnstone recalled. "It was a piece of the moon, [known as] lunar regolith, that had fallen as a meteorite in Morocco in 2006."
Next thing you know, Johnstone had his .32 grams of Tranquillityite -- "one of the only samples of lunar regolith not."
A moon rock for a science teacher
The next step was designing a ring to hold the out-of-this-world rock. Johnstone knew that the strong-yet-fragile stone needed to be protected, and he began envisioning the concept of an outreaching hand.
As an artist-in-residence at The Gate, a hub for technology, art and makers in San Leandro, Calif., Johnstone was already in contact with former jewelers Justin Kelly, Sarah Kelly and Rod Wagner, who run Mind2Matter, a 3D-printing company based out of The Gate. Together, they created a 3D mesh of the hand holding the rock, first using Sketchup, a consumer-grade modeling program, and then Maya, a professional tool. Finally, they printed the final product and had it cast in white gold. "Then they set the stone within that," Johnstone said. "Jeri had no idea...What better for a science teacher?"
At the ceremony, which was beset by many of the frequent problems that happen at an event in the high desert where communications are nearly impossible -- delays, transportation issues and, yes, a late-arriving bride -- a nervous Johnstone played bagpipes while the gathered crowd of people -- and bees -- waited. Finally, Schneider arrived, and the wedding began in earnest.
After a set of vows from the couple's two daughters -- one from each of their previous marriages -- they delivered their own vows. Right on cue as they kissed -- "the pyro crew had somebody crouch down next to me with a radio," Johnstone said, "and as soon as we kissed it was like 'Go, go, go, go' -- a 30-second volley of fireworks went off behind the Man.
Soon, Schneider -- now Schneider-Johnstone -- began repeating the line that Johnstone had come up with. To all that would hear her, she said, "Other guys promised me the moon. He gave it to me."
Most in attendance were in tears. Some of Johnstone's friends came up to him, and speaking about the wedding, and the ring in particular, told him, "Thanks a lot, you've f----d it up for the lot of us." Later, by phone, he recalled the two of them leaving a restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., and looking up at the moon in the sky. "She did a double-take," Johnstone said wistfully. "Now whenever she sees the moon she'll be reminded of how much I love her."
Corrections, Sept. 6 at 12:20 and 4 p.m. PT: This story originally mischaracterized The Gate (it's a hub for technology, art and makers, not an artists' collective) and misidentified one of the Mind2Matter owners (he is Justin Kelly, not Justyn Myers).