Understated wedding bands outshine bling

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      From Blake Lively’s giant oval-cut pink diamond to Kim Kardashian’s multimillion-dollar, 15-karat finger boulder, all we ever hear about is the bling. But in the real world, and especially here on the West Coast, there’s a subtler, less showy trend picking up for today’s nuptials: the understated wedding band. Call it the antibling.

      Or as jewellery designer Rosemary Bartram of Era Design puts it, “What Vancouver woman has the time for a huge skyscraper on her finger?” Outdoor enthusiasts, nurses, people who work with children: these are just a few of the active West Coasters who don’t have lifestyles that would accommodate the celeb-sized diamond. “If I didn’t have wedding bands then I wouldn’t have a business. It’s such a key part of this business. And I love doing them,” Bartram says.

      Yes, it appears that a growing number of couples are doing away with the engagement ice and opting for finely crafted bands they can wear every day. Less really is more, with the trend heading away from chunky toward more comfortable, narrower looks. The designs don’t have to be plain, though. At her Venables Street studio, just down the hill from the Cultch, Bartram shows some stunning, simple white-gold narrow bands. But new design techniques and tools of the trade are leading more people to customize their bands with fine hand-engraving of deeply personal motifs, as well as hammered, ropelike twisted, or stacked-leaf textures. In more elaborate designs, tiny diamonds and other textures add sparkle to the patterns. Still other bands find their flair in a subtle chevron shape.

      “Even though they’re very small, you can have a lot of detail and put a lot of thought into it,” Bartram says of the wedding band (which at her store, for women, can range from as low as $400 for a plain 14-karat white-gold version up to about $1,500 to $2,000 for an elaborate design with diamond details). “For hand-engraving, people bring in pieces of fabric or wallpaper or pictures of architecture to show the scrolls or fleur-de-lis they like.”

      She shows another simple, narrow white-gold band trimmed with mini, meticulous dots of milgrain, applied by hand with tiny tools under a microscope. The revival of such delicate antique techniques is also fuelling the boom in bands.

      But it’s not just the ability to add fine details to the wedding bands that makes them so popular today; the ability to stack them is also a draw. “All of a sudden, you don’t have to be matchy-matchy. You can have fun with it,” Bartram explains.

      At her shop, she shows how a simple hammered rose-gold band can mix with a twisted “rope” style, and then adds a bit of glimmer with a white-gold ring imbued with tiny diamonds. And yes, if you must have a bit of bling, you could later add a low-bezel ring with a coloured stone like pink or green sapphire—a fresh-looking companion to a rose-gold band. Bartram also loves customizing new bands to stack with old ones: a person might come in with her grandmother’s wedding band; Bartram will design something to complement it, and later, as an anniversary ring, the wearer might add another to the stack—wearing all, quite comfortably, on the same finger.

      As for men, Bartram reports that they, too, are showing a revival of interest in the wedding band—and more detailed designs. (Prices for guys’ wider bands range from about $1,000 to $2,000.)

      Hammered metal is a huge trend. “They want something that looks like it was dug out of a Viking tomb,” Bartram says with a laugh, adding that the technique actually dates back to the ancient Etruscans. She’s been using a hand-hammered look that’s more muted than sparkly; it’s gorgeous in warm rose gold—a metal that’s also seeing a resurgence in men’s wedding bands.

      Men’s looks often echo the hand-engraving that adorns the ring of their betrothed: whereas the scrollwork, overlapping leaves, or other motif covers the woman’s version, Bartram often suggests using it just on the edges of the groom’s ring and leaving the centre a simple, flat surface.

      Of course, thanks to lasers, 3-D wax printers, magnifiers, and micro-tool techniques, the sky is the limit when it comes to the themes you want to roll out on a small band of metal. Bartram shows one stunning example of what a Japanese groom and his Australian bride combined to pay tribute to their respective homelands on their wedding bands: cherry blossoms, hers inset with pink sapphires, and gum leaves—a design marriage made in heaven.