New York City. Sept. 18, 2020. Rachel Dery, the daughter of Roger and Ginger Dery of Roger Dery Gem Design, organizers of retailer trips to East Africa, and the founders of nonprofit Gem Legacy, got engaged in June. To the surprise of probably no one, she is engaged to a gem cutter. What is fascinating about her engagement is how she met her beau, Björn, and, of course, which colored stone is set in her engagement ring. We’ll start with the story of the guy.
Eleven years ago, Roger Dery met an American geologist friend at a hotel in Arusha, Tanzania, for cappuccinos and to talk stones. Sitting across from them were two other men, both of whom spoke English and happened to be in the gem business as well. One of those men was Sune Merisheki. The men chatted and went their separate ways.
Over the next 10 days, Dery ran into Merisheki two more times. Dery learned that he was a tanzanite miner and had a family. Dery bought gems from him a few times over the next 11 years but stayed in touch.
On a 2013 trip to Arusha, Dery had dinner at the Merisheki home, where he met Sune’s son Björn, who was in high school. Dery spent the evening getting to know Sune and his wife, Pia, learning that they had a big heart for helping less-fortunate families in Tanzania. Björn spent most of his time doing homework.
Rachel had taken several trips to East Africa with her parents, but she didn’t meet Björn until a trip in 2018. He was home from school and, at his dad’s request, agreed to chauffeur the Derys around.
Rachel recalls their first meeting: “My dad sent me to go stand at this fuel station and look for a younger version of Sune.” Björn’s mother had given him Rachel’s cell phone number in advance of their meeting. They met and hit it off. Six months later they decided to date, long distance.
“My 94-year-old grandmother said, ‘How can you date someone from another continent?’” Rachel says, laughing. The answer: Talk. “That is your quality time and makes the time you are together in person more precious.”
Rachel learned that Björn was a gem cutter, like her dad, and had learned to cut by attending Gem Legacy’s cutting school in Arusha. Björn graduated three years ago and is now one of the school’s trainers.
“The ongoing joke is that this was an arranged marriage,” says Rachel.
It was not, but the couple learned they had more in common than just gems. They have a shared value of living a life of service to others, and that whatever is given is for the purpose of giving back and sharing with others.
“His dream is to go around to churches in east Africa and make sure they have Bibles,” she says. “My dream is what Gem Legacy is doing.” (Rachel is employed by her dad and handles marketing and communications for Roger Dery Gem Design and Gem Legacy.)
So, after spending a lot of virtual time connecting, Rachel was dead set on returning to Tanzania. “I had to get back to Arusha for that date!” she says of their first actual live get-together as a couple.
Rachel and her parents eventually returned to East Africa. While at their hotel, Roger got the shock of a lifetime when Björn asked him if he could take his daughter out for coffee.
“I wasn’t prepared for that,” says Dery. “I didn’t realize he had an interest in my daughter, though it didn’t bother me because I knew how they lived their lives.”
Over the next two years, the pair took turns spending time in Tanzania and in Michigan, where the Derys reside.
Two weeks after this year’s Tucson gems shows, Rachel flew back to Tanzania, intending to stay five weeks. Then the Coronavirus made landfall in the U.S. with hurricane-like force. Rachel’s trip kept getting extended because of borders closing. She spent a lot of time meeting with miners and learning about their needs. On June 13, Rachel learned that Björn had a specific request of his own. Would Rachel marry him?
Roger knew it was coming. “He knew all along I approved,” he says. Covid-19 interfered with cultural traditions; normally, Björn, Roger, and Sune would have had an in-person meeting with a village elder to cement a formal marriage proposal, but that wasn’t possible.
Instead, the Merisheki family (Björn, Pia, Sune, and a sister named Linda) planned an elaborate trip to make the proposal special.
The family told Rachel they had to drive five hours to the edge of the Usambara Mountains, where Pia was born, to talk to a neighbor about a boundary line dispute. “His dad owns land there and I was not thinking he was going to propose,” says Rachel.
When they reached a certain scenic point, Björn’s sister, the self-appointed family photographer, insisted the group stop for a break and take in the scenery. “It was so in character for her, so I didn’t think anything of it,” Rachel continues. But things got weird quickly when Sune, Pia, and Linda were all holding cameras pointed at Rachel. A lightbulb moment transpired and Björn dropped to one knee. He was proposing! “I started crying,” says Rachel.
Tears of joy, mind you, over the moment and the ring: a 6.32 ct. cushion-cut tanzanite that Björn cut from rough and heated himself. “He did such a good job,” Rachel adds. The gem is flanked by diamond side stones and set in rhodium-plated silver, which is commonly used in jewelry in that part of the world.
Most important to Rachel was the symbolism of the stone. The gem was from Björn’s home country and the place where her parents had established roots through their gem-cutting business. Her dad had a hand in Björn’s stone-cutting education, and Sune, Björn’s dad, was a tanzanite miner.
Roger and Ginger received a call at home shortly afterwards. “It was an emotional, intimate moment of celebration,” says Roger.
And while planning a live wedding is tricky now, Roger is confident about one aspect of the union: the ring. “That tanzanite looks like I cut it.”
The ring: a 6.32 ct. cushion-cut tanzanite that Björn cut from rough and heated himself.
Rachel Dery being proposed to by gem-cutter fiancé Björn Merisheki
This content is copyright protected and may not be reproduced.