For many young couples, wedding bands don’t need to be priceless – just unique. It’s a growing trend to express a rejection of societal expectations, as much as an avenue to express personal tastes. After all, they’ll wear wedding rings for the rest of their lives, so why not make personal statements as well as a commitments to their lifelong partners? From simple wooden bands that snub the conventions of diamonds and gold, to physics-and-math-inspired silver bands designed meticulously with the help of 3D printers, these rings are made for shoppers who want their bands to say more than “I’m taken” – each is custom-made to express the individual’s interests or personality.
Vicky Whaley is one such bride-to-be. A bentwood ring of ziricote rosewood lined with grey maple graces her engagement ring finger. And where some would find a wooden ring from a suitor to be insulting, it was not so in Whaley’s case. “He knew me well enough to know that I wouldn’t want a huge diamond ring with gold,” says Whaley, “and that I don’t really need to buy in to the whole ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ thing.”
The ring, which was bought through an American Etsy dealer, Stout Woodworks, is only the beginning: The couple plan to buy their wedding rings from the same source – this time with their favourite colours thrown in the mix via crushed stone. It’s a simple and inexpensive alternative (prices for a Stout ring range from $125 to $500) to what Whaley believes is a clever marketing campaign on behalf of the diamond and gold industry. “The rings are a symbol,” she says, “and an acknowledgment that we know that about each other.”
Dave Curoe, a hobbyist ring-slinger who sells though Etsy, draws inspiration from symmetry in nature, math and the visual works of M.C. Escher. But in his wedding and engagement ring work he has found that inspiration comes from his consumers who want something unique. Using a 3D printer, Curoe has been able to design casts for rings that give very exact designs, providing a tool that can create intricate rings.
One of the strangest rings he’s made was a spiral silver ring. “I thought that it was a really risky design for an engagement ring,” says Curoe. “I wasn’t even sure it would work, but he (the customer) was very adamant about it.” In the end, Curoe designed a ring that did not inter-connect and was accented by a moonstone at the top – a touch the customer wanted due to the moonstone’s symbolism for lovers.
A former Edmontonian and current Saskatchewan-based independent jeweller, Jeanie Andronyk, says that she’s witnessed the rejection of common rings for years – especially in Edmonton. “I think a reason people come to me is because my jewellery is not traditional. That in itself is enough sometimes. My stuff is a little weird and a little sculptural,” says Andronyk. “I draw heavy inspiration from science fiction, robotics, futurology and transhumanism. So the people drawn to me are also drawn to that. The challenge for me is translating that sensibility into a wedding band that is wearable.”
One of Andronyk’s customers, Jim Johansson, sports a ring that looks to be a sculpted piece of metal indicative of ’70s sci-fi or some organically formed silver sculpture rather than a sleek wedding band. And it was the abstract nature of her rings that drew Johansson to Andronyk in the first place. “We pointed to something she had already done and said: ‘We want something like that,'” says Johansson.
Originally, he and his wife shared a matching wedding ring set, though, in the long-run, his wife commissioned Andronyk for a replacement wedding band that was “even more abstract than mine,” says Johansson. They opted for a sterling silver ring that looks more monolithic than angular.
In some cases, knowing where materials come from (blood diamonds being the fiercest of a few consumers’ fears) causes the newest generation of brides- and grooms-to-be to cast aside material bands altogether. For Andrea Layton and her husband, Matt Layton, it was one of the factors for having their ring fingers tattooed instead. “For myself, there was definitely a social aspect to it,” says Andrea. “I’m pretty sure no one’s blood went into this ink.”
Jessica Wright, a tattoo artist at Capital Tattoo, says that she’s seen a rise in requests for wedding band tattoos in lieu of expensive rings: She sees a request about once every three to four weeks. A tattoo, in contrast to a $3,000 ring, for instance, costs about $100, although she states that the price isn’t always the motivating factor. “They’re in love,” says Wright, “so they want to profess it in their own way.”
Wright understands that not everyone will want a tattoo ring – and she admits they rarely hold up over time. But she also understands why some people are interested in them. In cases like Layton’s, for instance, where he is a construction worker and not allowed to wear a ring the majority of the time, a tattoo provided a solution he may not otherwise have had. “I have a really nice handwritten ‘A’ on my finger that stands for Andrea’s name,” says Layton. “It’s beautiful, and it works.”