Ring Leaders

Finding the perfect wedding band for him and her takes teamwork and a touch of personal style

Engagement rings get all the attention. Their purchase is typically the result of months of research, and possibly years of saving. The ring accompanies the big moment of the marriage proposal, it causes the bride’s friends to ooh and aah, and it serves as a lifelong reminder

Engagement rings get all the attention. Their purchase is typically the result of months of research, and possibly years of saving. The ring accompanies the big moment of the marriage proposal, it causes the bride’s friends to ooh and aah, and it serves as a lifelong reminder of those months of promises and planning that lead to the wedding day.

Now give some thought to the wedding ring. For all the symbolic weight this ring carries—as the centerpiece of most wedding ceremonies, its circular shape is a marker for what is meant to be an eternal union—its purchase is sometimes given short shrift.

Getting Started
If you’ve set a date, it’s not too soon to begin looking at rings. Local jewelers say their crunch times for wedding bands are late winter—on the heels of Christmas and New Year’s Eve proposals—and in summer, during the most popular wedding season.

You can always buy a ring off the shelf and walk right out with it, but jewelers warn that even simple changes such as sizing or engraving your initials can take at least a few days—possibly weeks, if there isn’t a craftsman on the premises. A designer ring, branded by the name of the artisan or jeweler’s studio, may only be displayed in one size, and it could take a few weeks to order one in your size. Design your ring from scratch, custom jewelers say, and the process from beginning to end can take up to two months.

Some customers walk into shops clutching a picture torn from a magazine or a rough sketch of a design they’ve dreamed up themselves. Some covet the distinctive work of a particular designer or retailer. Others work from a fond memory of their parents’ or grandparents’ rings.

“[Women] come in knowing what they want, pretty much,” says Jason Lichterman, vice president of Robert I. Perlman on Philadelphia’s Jewelers’ Row. “Most of the guys just want it as simple as possible, because they’ve never worn rings before.” For men or women who are new to the world of fine jewelry, some diligent browsing is the best way to begin.

Metal Mania
Start with the metal used to make the ring. The decision could be as simple as what looks best with your skin tones, or what goes well with the jewelry you already own. Brides will likely select the same metal used in their engagement rings, and increasingly, that is platinum.

“Platinum is quickly becoming the metal of choice for all brides and grooms,” says Amanda Gizzi, spokeswoman for New York’s Jewelry Information Center, an industry trade association. She cited a recent industry survey showing that nearly 40 percent of wedding-band shoppers planned to buy platinum, despite recent surges in the cost of the in-demand metal.

That’s certainly the trend around Philadelphia, local retailers say. At Cartier, founded by Louis-Francois Cartier in Paris in 1847, platinum has long been a favored material for wedding bands. More than 100 years ago, “Cartier was the first jeweler to use platinum,” says Champalou. “So when we say it’s classic—it’s classic.”

Supplies of platinum, known for its durability, were diverted to the military and industry throughout the World War II era, and its use for jewelry was limited. After several decades in which yellow gold was the standard for wedding bands, platinum is once again the choice for those who can afford it.

New lightweight bands in platinum—perhaps in a filigree or woven pattern, more delicate in design than a traditional ring—can present a more affordable option. Then there’s white gold, which in color and finish mimics the look of platinum at a nicer price. Yellow gold is a related option. Typically, gold is alloyed with other metals—copper, nickel, silver or zinc—to strengthen it and change its coloration from deep yellow to white or a warm rose. Pure gold, 24 karats, is comparatively soft, and not practical for jewelry you’d wear every day. Toughen it by adding 25 percent alloys, and you have 18-karat gold, used in most fine jewelry.

The Shape Of Things
Next, consider the basic band shapes. In profile, a ring may have a classic domed shape or a flat, modern face. A bit of beading (milgrain) or beveling around its edge adds discreet detail. Rings are typically between 2 and 6 mm wide, though high-fashion pieces may be as wide as 12 mm. Often, these wider rings are tapered toward the back for easy wearing.

For some people, that’s enough detail. For others, it’s merely the starting point. Artisan jewelers, who are marketing jewelry in greater numbers, can create rings with more detail and in different materials than the familiar, unadorned metal band, which is typically factory-made.

The designer name “has to stand for something,” says Judith McNelis, president of Haddonfield’s McNelis & Sherry Fine Jewelers, which specializes in designer brands. “Jewelry designers who have become brands are those who really understand their niche, are consistent with their design and quality, and are unique.”

Many, like David Yurman or Temple St. Clair, are known for their work with colorful stones—perhaps set in a modern-looking bezel, or as a glittering row of gems. Others are known for mixing gold and white metals in one piece—this, with the addition of caviar-like beading, is a hallmark of Philadelphia-based Lagos. Inlays of unusual materials—rubber, leather or colored enamel—are becoming popular with men who shy away from stones but want some decoration on their band. Champalou says Cartier’s Padlock ring, which frames a strip of black lacquer in a white-gold band, often catches the eye of grooms-to-be.

A designer label on a ring, as on anything else you might wear, will come at a premium. But “there is value added,” McNelis says. “How it flows, how it fits, how it flatters—that’s from the eye of the designer.” Such a ring may appeal to those who are looking to build a collection, she says, as it can coordinate with bracelets, necklaces or earrings by the same designer.

Make Your Mark
Some engaged couples dream up their own one-of-a-kind rings with the help of a jeweler who will perfect the design and cast it in precious metal. A simple motif—Celtic knots, or a few words in Hebrew or Greek—could celebrate the wearer’s heritage. A more sculptural design incorporating three-dimensional images can speak to the passions in the wearer’s life, from a ring of flowers to a beloved pet.

Another way to ensure you won’t see your ring coming and going: Invest in an antique or vintage ring. Estate—less glamorously, “previously owned” jewelry—can represent a good value for the handiwork that’s gone into it, though if it has gemstones, experts say, their old-fashioned cut may not provide the dramatic sparkle modern consumers have come to expect.

For those who are all about the sparkle, bands set all the way around with stones (typically diamonds, but sometimes colored stones) have become increasingly popular since they were first marketed in the 1970s as “anniversary” or “eternity” bands. “It’s pretty much always diamonds,” says Lichterman. The most popular band at Robert Perlman is a platinum ring set all the way around with 18 to 20 diamonds.

Men are showing more interest in wedding bands set with gemstones, says Henri David, who creates custom jewelry at his Center City shop Halloween. He recommends a stone “burnished into the metal, leaving a flat surface. It’s what I call wearable,” David says. “You can put your hands in your pocket, and it’s not a problem.”

Wear and Tear
Men and women need to consider how their new ring will work with their lifestyle. Think about what your hands do on the job—are they often in soil, soapy water or latex gloves, where the ring can snag or be damaged?

If you are unable to wear your ring on the job, David suggests wearing it on a chain around your neck, where it’s safe, or getting a plain, knock-around band for day and a nicer one to wear after work.

Jewelers are quick to remind their clientele that the easiest way to keep the ring safe is to keep it on the finger. “Men often order a ring that’s too large, because they’re not used to wearing them,” says McNelis. “It takes a very, very good fitter to find what the right size is.”

Lichterman recalls how one bride-to-be wasn’t taking any chances with her beloved’s ring. She had Lichterman engrave it with this: “Put that back on.”