As far as wedding jewelry goes, it's the engagement ring that gets the most attention—but we shouldn't forget about the wedding band, which symbolizes the marriage itself. Although they're not traditionally clad with a ton of diamonds (although nowadays many are), making these pieces still involves intricate and extensive work. "Most couples begin the process with a singular focus on the engagement ring, the one that starts it all, but it will likely only be worn by itself for a short period of time," explains Jamie Jaffe, third generation jeweler and owner of Brilliant Atlanta. "It's always a good idea to think about how the engagement ring will look with a wedding band, since they're going to be together for a long time."
In terms of design, creating a wedding band is more complicated than most people realize. "The number of diamonds, their exact measurements, and the finger size all must be accounted for to guarantee the proper geometry and design," explains David Alan, expert jeweler and owner of David Alan Jewelry. "Aside from the technical concerns, one must also make sure that the wedding band balances well with the size, type of stones, overall setting style of the engagement ring." That's why a custom wedding band actually requires many steps, and it's certainly not a project that happens overnight. To help you understand what goes into creating a personalized wedding band, we talked to the jewelers about the process, from start to finish.
Before you even schedule a visit to your jeweler, it's a wise decision to figure out how you'd ideally like to wear your ring. Some questions Jaffe recommends asking yourself include: Do you want it to match the look and feel of the engagement ring? Will it fit flush against the engagement ring? Does it need a curve to fit closely? Will this ring always be worn with the engagement ring, or will it be worn alone on occasion? Once you know roughly what you want, you're ready to visit the jeweler.
Once there, you'll start by coming up with an idea or the concept for the wedding band. "A designer might choose to hand sketch or render their designs with a pencil or watercolors," explains jeweler Tracy Matthews. "If the band is being commissioned, there's often a lot of interaction between the client and the designer during this phase for design feedback and finalizing the design." You'll probably see a number of different sketches during the design process, which typically takes take a few weeks and requires at least a couple of meetings with your jeweler.
According to jeweler Jeffrey Bilgore, there's a good reason why one of first decisions you'll have to make is whether or not you want your wedding band to match your engagement ring: it clarifies the scope and either narrows or greatly expands possibilities for design. If you want your wedding band to look like your engagement ring, Bilgore notes that it'll be hard for your ring to match the groom's. "With a matching bridal set, it's increasingly difficult for a partner's ring to match."
Next, you'll need to think about the materials you'd like to use. While the Ancient Egyptians, who are credited with creating the wedding ring ritual, used braided hemp, reed, and gold for their bands, today's options are endless. "Some choose to use precious metals, while others prefer organic or ceramic material. Sometimes materials are combined," explains Bilgore. "The range is quite broad, with options such as gold, platinum, titanium, palladium, silver, tungsten, wood, shell, meteorite, dinosaur bone, and the list goes on."
Your jeweler will likely also ask if there are any meaningful elements you'd like to see included. Architectural motifs from a place you've visited, words, dates, and symbols are all popular, Bilgore says, as is color. Many brides-to-be choose to incorporate alternative stones such as rubies, sapphires, or any gem they love, faceted or raw. "No matter the stone of design, the band still holds on to the original concept of being an unbroken circle of commitment and love," he adds.
Once a design idea is finalized, a model or a prototype is made. "Depending on the type of design, a model may be fabricated directly in the materials on a jewelers bench," says Matthews. "Bands that have a sculptural feel will often be carved in wax by the artist or model maker, while more precise designs, especially bands with intricate or detailed stone settings involved, are often created on a computer in a Computer Animated Design (CAD) program, which are printed into a wax once they are complete." Thanks to new technology, CAD also allows for printing to be performed right in the metal. "This step can take anywhere from just a few hours for a simple ring made on a bench to several days or even weeks depending on the design," Matthews adds.
"For wedding bands carved in wax or modeled on CAD, the next phase is to have a silicone or rubber mold made and then cast into metal, which allows a ring to be reproduced multiple times," says Matthews. Depending on the type of metal selected by the client, it's then poured or spun into the cylinder and submerged in water to create a raw casting of the ring. This step, Matthews explains, can take anything from one day to one week.
Once the ring is fabricated or cast, it will be pre-polished, either by the jeweler or a professional polisher. "This cleans the metal of residue and prepares it for stone setting, if applicable," explains Matthews. If you've selected a band that's clad with diamonds or gemstones, those will be added now. Depending on the type of setting and the number of stones, this phase can take anywhere from an hour for a few stones to several days for multiple stones—an eternity band with 40 or 50 stones, for example, requires hours of precise labor.
Once the stones are set, the final polishing phase can begin. "This will vary from style to style and expert polishers might include multiple finishes, like satin or high polish, and textures on any given ring," says Matthews. "The type of polish or finish can dramatically change or create the look of a ring." If you choose to have your ring engraved, either on the outside or inside, this is the time to do so. Some jewelers even have a practice of stamping their own mark, called a maker's mark, inside the ring.
For most jewelers, the last step is the most exciting: The moment you get to see your finished wedding band in real life. "Seeing joy and commitment expressed and symbolically embodied can be an overwhelming experience, in the best possible way," says Bilgore. It is also, a time for discussing a band's future. At David Alan Jewelry, a lesson is given about at home care and cleaning as well as professional tune ups and cleanings.