While watching a nature documentary on television, Michael and his fiancée, Jill, learned that zebra mates are inseparable. The San Antonio, Texas, couple, who were planning a wedding in Tuscany, became fascinated by the animals’ steadfast partnership. They wanted that natural imagery expressed in their wedding rings, so they turned to jewelry designer Steven Kretchmer. On the inside of each of Kretchmer’s matching platinum and 24-karat bands, two highly detailed zebras face a heart with moons, stars, and diamonds in the background. “These rings are not about status or wealth,” says Kretchmer. “They are lasting expressions of love, romance, and passion.”
Kretchmer’s Hidden Treasure collection gives romantic couples a precious and private way to express their personalized messages and symbols on the inside of custom-made wedding bands. Kretchmer’s wife’s ring, for example, depicts a fire-breathing dragon for strength, and palm trees and the moon for serenity. “Some women wear fancy lingerie that nobody sees, but they enjoy the feel of it against their skin,” explains Kretchmer. “My rings are similar. The artistry on the inside of the band is for the wearer’s eyes only.”
Innovative and artistic wedding bands that reflect personal style, creativity, and romantic notions emphasize individualism over brand-name status. For the self-assured couple who wants to express a unique sense of style in their wedding rings, these bands are welcome alternatives to traditional styles. Certainly, a symbolic piece of jewelry that is intended to be worn every day for the rest of your life deserves a little thought and imagination.
Inventive jewelers are engineering modern gold and platinum designs that have a high-tech image. Other resourceful designers have revived age-old metalsmithing techniques to create artistic rings with historical roots. Some daring jewelers are turning to unorthodox materials such as chrome and steel combined with traditional gold and diamonds to forge striking wedding bands with an industrial edge.
“Men particularly enjoy knowing about the technical processes of how these rings are made,” says designer Michael Bondanza. “They prefer a heavy, substantial ring with distinctive qualities, whether it be subtle or something more gutsy. And matching bands are not as important as they once were. Brides and grooms are buying what they like.” His Discovery rings are platinum bands with 24-karat gold inlays and randomly placed sapphires, rubies, and diamonds. “Each ring is a unique abstract design,” says Bondanza, who is also a sculptor and painter.
“Unique wedding bands appeal to confident men or women who are secure with their own style and artistic tastes,” says Patricia Faber, owner of Aaron Faber Gallery in New York. She represents an eclectic mix of international designers known for their artistic and, at times, avant-garde jewelry. “Men with careers in technology or design, such as architecture, are especially drawn to artistic rings,” adds Faber. “It is often the only piece of jewelry they will wear.”
German designer Christian Bauer is a perennial favorite among men in the technology field, says Faber. His brushed platinum and 18-karat gold hinged rings are connected with rivets, giving them a subtle engineered look.
Also working in this industrial vein is designer William Richey, a self-taught jeweler who was trained as a sculptor. Richey hand-fabricates brushed metal rings, starting with a simple sheet of platinum or a roll of platinum wire. His distinctly masculine rings are inspired by the sleek, geometric architecture found in New York City buildings. “The molding on a door frame, columns on a building, or even the architecture within the Jacob Javits Convention Center all feed my design sensibility,” he says.
For those who are drawn to the historical legacy of ancient artistry, British designer Stephen Webster has revived the Damascene technique. This labor-intensive pattern-welding process dates to 100 B.C. and is commonly seen in decorative swords and knives from the Iron Age through the Viking age. The designer starts by deeply engraving patterns into bands of steel that are cut from gun barrels, then he inlays 24-karat gold into the pattern and fits the inside of the ring with a luxurious gold lining. The ring is then hammered, filed, and sanded for a smooth, almost rustic black steel finish that contrasts with the warm 24-karat gold.
“Guys think it’s cool that the ring is actually made from slices of gun barrel metal,” says Webster. “Damascene creates a manly and strong image, but it is a very complicated process.” As a result, the rings are made to order, and there is a minimum wait of three months.
The ancient Japanese art of metalwork known as Mokumé attracted the interest of designer George Sawyer. The technique of folding metals into a complicated wood-grain pattern was developed over 1,000 years ago by Japanese swordsmiths. “It is a ritual technique that is done in a ceremonial manner and passed on within sword-making families,” explains Sawyer, who is one of only a few Americans who have mastered Mokumé. Sawyer uses a wide range of gold tones, copper, silver, and other metal alloys to “paint” patterns, which are then hammered into a series of spirals. The metal is forged into a rectangular block that is cut into slices so that couples can have rings that mirror each other. “This is not just a ring,” says Sawyer. “It’s metalwork with a soul.”
Technological developments that may have nothing to do with jewelry making can be inspiring for designers who think out of the box. “When I discover a new medium or tool, I try to adapt it to an artistic use,” says designer Sarah Graham. She was recently drawn to black cobalt chrome, an alloy commonly used for pins in joint replacement surgery. The distinctive metal is hypoallergenic and especially durable, and is, perhaps, the only black metal that retains its strong matte color over time, she says. Graham combines the rustic black metal with gold for a positive-negative effect. “I love the contrast in both look and theory,” she says. “It is unexpected and different.”
Kretchmer’s peers refer to him as a mad scientist, because he is constantly pioneering new metal treatments and techniques. His Moonbeam Bands, for example, require several days of tedious handwork, most of which he does himself. He starts with a platinum band that is carefully channeled out and inlaid with pure 24-karat gold, then he engraves and inlays platinum images of stars, moons, or planets. “You live and die wearing your wedding band,” says Kretchmer. “It should be something meaningful, not just metal and stones.”
Contributing Writer Jill Newman recently co-authored Buying and Selling Jewelry and Gems at Auction.