First Person Singular: Eric Margry, 54, Alexandria, hand engraver
By Amanda Long,
There are not many hand engravers left; it’s like everything — computers are doing more of the work. I’m still using the same tools from 2,000 years ago — just a piece of steel with a handle on it. There’s no electricity involved, except the light.
It makes a difference when a human hand touches something. Obviously, it’s more personal, because I can listen to what you want and get to know you. If you tell me this is for your anniversary or a new baby, I think about them as I am working. Computers can only do so much. It’s all going to look too much alike. I can make the letter skinnier on the top and wider on the bottom. I can change the angle of the writing. Every single hand engraver can recognize something they’ve done. When a computer takes over the job, it loses that distinction.
One of the first things I did was for Ronald Reagan. I engraved a cigar cutter for Clinton. I did make some cuff links for Stephen Colbert that his brother bought for him. I’ve looked, but I can’t see them on TV — they’re too small. I need a bigger television! The most difficult job was a going-away present for Haley Barbour: eight pages of 180 signatures of his Republican colleagues. And not just their names, but a first name, a nickname with quotations marks around it and a last name. I had to take a vacation to get that done — two weeks. And then they wanted another one for his assistant! I’ve engraved belt buckles for George W. Bush that he would give away, so some Sultan of Brunei could be wearing a belt buckle with my engraving on it. Dick Cheney has one. It is very strange. And to me, they’re all really the same job.
I have to be bipartisan. I do engravings for all religions, all customs, all cultures, all languages, all kinds of marriages. One woman even wanted me to make a ring for her parakeet, engraved with its name. I could make something that tiny, but I had to tell her that this bird would never fly again with this heavy silver thing on its claw. For the sake of the parakeet, I said no.
Customers always ask what most people engrave on their wedding bands. One time, I told someone, “From now until we know better.” He said, “Well, that is not for me.” When I met Linda, I told her that story, and when we married, I engraved that on her ring. I really don’t want to tell people their personal message — because then it’s not personal.