October 01 2020 – Mike Yarbrough
Stories matter. They connect us to one another, and make it possible for us to share our hopes, fears, joys, hardships, and love. We’re all about telling stories with the rings we create here at Rustic and Main, and a battleship like the USS New Jersey certainly has some stories to tell.
We understood the power of those stories as we stepped aboard this historic battleship, and we felt a tangible connection to history as we walked across the teak wood decks that thousands of sailors once trod. What would it feel like to be able to actually hold a piece of that history in your hands? We’re proud to say that we've managed to make that possible.
It was a long journey to be able to create our one-of-a-kind rings using teak wood from the decks of the USS New Jersey. Long for us, perhaps, but even longer for the ship the wood came from.
An American Icon
Commissioned in 1943, the USS New Jersey is a true American icon. It's also a vessel that has seen more action than most. The ship and its crew shelled Guam and Okinawa during World War II, raided up and down the North Korea coast during the Korean War, and was pulled out of reserves and reactivated during the Vietnam War. It served as the only U.S. battleship to provide gunfire support during that conflict.
After years in the mothball fleet following Vietnam, the New Jersey was modernized in the 1980s to carry missiles and take part in U.S. operations during the Lebanese Civil War. It was finally decommissioned in 1991, having served 21 years in the active fleet. With a total of 19 Battle and Campaign Stars, the USS New Jersey is America’s most decorated battleship.
Many Stories, Many Generations
As soon as the thought first occurred to us that we might be able to craft rings using wood from the USS New Jersey's decks, we were hooked. In February, when founders Mike and Summer Yarbrough visited the ship, they were struck by the powerful sense of history that the vessel still holds—an almost palpable aura of time gone by. It wasn't the battles fought or the decorations the ship has received, though there were many, and they were surely significant. But what might be the most significant are the quiet moments.
Just think of the thousands of sailors who served on the USS New Jersey across its decades of active duty. Maintaining the ship. Keeping its engines running steady. Making sure its decks stayed clean and polished. These moments don't make the headlines, but there's an honorable commitment and sacrifice to them all the same. These are experiences shared by generations of sailors who served on the New Jersey. Generations, in some cases, within the same family.
The USS New Jersey has been open to the public as a museum ship since 2001. For anyone who visits, one of the most striking parts of the tour is a section of wall covered in names and protected under plexiglass. There were names of men and women who had served aboard the New Jersey, and then returned years later to sign the wall. There were many names belonging to the same families, in many cases sons, fathers and even grandfathers who had served aboard the same ship in different eras.
From the Old, Something New
The USS New Jersey has seen it all. The ship itself is almost like a living time capsule. It's been modified and updated so many times that you can see technology ranging from the 1940s to the 1990s depending on what part of the ship you visit. But throughout all that time, one component of the ship did not change: its decks.
Our founder, Mike, is a former sailor himself and is familiar with the fact that many of the older U.S. Navy vessels had teak wood decks. Native to Southeast Asia, teak is a type of wood that has been prized by boat builders for thousands of years, and in the 19th and 20th centuries became the wood of choice for building ships' decks. It has beautiful grain, and a lustrous tone that ranges from warm gray to almost a rich ochre depending on the finish. In many cases, it isn't finished at all when it's used to build a ship's deck; its natural oils protect it from the elements more effectively than any man-made coating.
That characteristic, along with its tight grain and high tensile strength, is why teak has been so highly prized for so long. These qualities also make it ideal for making bentwood rings, and when we found out that the USS New Jersey was having its original decks replaced as part of a multimillion dollar restoration project, we knew we had a unique opportunity at Rustic and Main to create something truly special. If only we could get our hands on some of the old teak...
The Unique Opportunity Unfolds
As it turned out, we were the first to ask about buying some of the old wood, and the folks at the Battleship New Jersey Museum & Memorial were incredibly kind and generous with their cooperation. Clark Perks, Director of Development & Membership, took Mike and Summer on a tour of the ship and made the necessary arrangements to secure some of the original teak wood. Clark made the tour enjoyable and helped us through the whole process.
It was, of course, of the utmost importance to everyone involved that the wood be used for something that would honor the vessel and those who served aboard it. Everyone on the ship who we shared our vision with was thrilled to help us out. By creating rings from the teak wood used on the deck of the USS New Jersey, we've managed to create a physical link to history. These rings connect the person who wears one with the ship, its story, and the story of every sailor who once walked across that deck.
Buy a Piece of History
Maybe you served aboard the USS New Jersey. Maybe your grandfather did. Maybe you're a student of history, or someone who treasures our shared American heritage. No matter how the story of the USS New Jersey intersects with your own, there's something undeniably powerful about being able to connect with it in a tangible way—to own a piece of history.
Being able to introduce rings made from authentic USS New Jersey teak wood has been one of the true pleasures of all the work we’ve done at Rustic and Main. It's not the first time we've made rings from unique materials. Heck, at this point it's not even the only battleship we've had the good fortune to use wood from. We had a limited amount of wood from the USS Missouri and continue to craft rings with teak from the USS North Carolina. Opportunities to form a true and meaningful connection with history are always special. Always precious. It's why we do what we do, and it never gets old.
If you are looking to have a custom ring design made with USS North Carolina or USS New Jersey teak wood pleach reach out to our live chat team at any time. We can also create a ring for you made with your own personal piece of history, whether that be wood, uniform material, or even beans from your grandpa’s favorite coffee. We love to help preserve history and tell the stories that are meaningful to you. Take our ring style quiz to find out which of our ring collections is most suitable for you!