Hidden on an unassuming side-street on the border of Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill in Brooklyn, NY lies Aaron Ruff’s studio. Based out of the The Invisible Dog Art Center, Ruff’s jewelry line is asperous, craggy, whimsical and filled with motifs of yore: Latin phrases, ballinger vessels and other ships fueled by the trade winds, antique letterpress keys, anatomical parts seemingly drawn by Henry Gray, and other sundries. And yet, from the creation of rough-hewn objects comes some of the most unique and delicate engagement rings I have ever seen.
Meet Digby & Iona. In addition to the jewelry, the studio is packed floor to ceiling with antiques and curiousites fit for a Victorian cabinet.
And who are Digby & Iona? Well, no one…really. Ruff chose to name his company after two quiet seaside towns in Nova Scotia, Canada (inspired by a trip taken before the studio’s creation). The names just happen to also be a juxtaposition of two interesting and sophisticated people who sound vaguely literary.
Shifting his style a few years ago, Ruff now splits his focus between sterling silver creations, high-end gold stacking rings, and diamond engagement rings on commission. He sources his gems from a fellow NYC company that has an ethical mine in India. Ruff, who used to be a carpenter and cabinetmaker, has been interested in adornment since his teens. He loves to work with “the weird stuff,” such as black diamonds, “salt-n-pepper stones”, sapphires, and tourmaline. Lately, the work is becoming more geometric and architectural; literally building houses for his stones – a much more personal nomenclature than “prongs” or “settings.”
Not just for the gentler sex, Digby & Iona explores the intersection between masculine and feminine, chunky and dainty, antiquated and new. My colleague Meg and I tried on plenty of ultra thin bands alongside heavy signets (ala Henry VIII) with the idea that body decor is androgynous and personal.
Ruff is a transplant from Dresden, Maine. A town with a population of 1,672 people in a county that seems closer to Canada than the rest of the USA. This idea of obscurity pervades most of his pieces.
We continued speaking casually over the sound of a tumbler polishing pieces and Ruff’s dog whinnying at a bird outside. Extensive research is done over every piece, no matter how many millimeters of design. We explored items inspired by the War of 1812, J.R.R. Tolkien quotes, and essays by Teddy Roosevelt.
If you want jewelry that speaks to the past and is connected to human affairs and bygone quotes, Digby & Iona offers a veritable library of inspiration.
Like happening upon a shipwreck, spelunking for geodes, or unearthing buried treasure, or a map to a hidden cache, the details in Ruff’s studio and jewelry present themselves slowly but richly.