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Engaged couples have been exchanging gifts since the time of the Romans. Before betrothal rings became the dominant tradition around the 12th century, couples often exchanged thimbles or a piece of gold or silver.
A gem like no other
Diamonds gained matrimonial popularity in 1477, when the Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented his bride-to-be with a diamond engagement ring, thus setting the standard for wealthy Europeans.
Today, the diamond wedding ring is ubiquitous in the Western World due in part to tradition, the stone’s inherent hardness and durability, and an extremely clever marketing campaign by the De Beers company. It was De Beers that, in 1947, coined the slogan “a diamond is forever” in a resoundingly successful bid to combat slumping sales in diamond engagement rings.
Couples who are conscious of the controversy surrounding diamond mining in Africa can purchase certified conflict-free diamonds (typically 5-10% more expensive) or look to the north for high-grade diamonds mined in Canada.
If you like the look but not the pricetag, an alternative to consider is moissanite, a lab-created diamond available at a fraction of the cost but with comparable hardness, brilliance and luster.
Not into to diamonds but still set on jewels? Couples can find unique, durable alternatives with rubies or sapphires, both of which are available in a range of vibrant colors. Joe Maughan, owner of 9th & 9th Jewelers (formerly The Vug), offers a variety of colored sapphires mined in nearby Helena, Montana. Rubies and sapphires do require more upkeep—most needing to be re-polished every 10 years. You may wish to certify gems with a reputable lab to ensure the stone’s colors have not been chemically altered.
Creative and simple: bands
Many couples forgo gems altogether, instead choosing elegant wedding bands. With the recent legalization of gay marriage in Utah, both Maughan and Hafen have helped a growing number of gay couples craft their ideal wedding rings—a trend, according to Maughan, accompanied by an increased demand for unique and inventive designs.
Charley Hafen and 9th & 9th Jewelers both craft custom pieces for couples looking for a more intimate involvement in the creation of their wedding rings. Both local shops work closely with couples, drafting precise, computer-generated images of the design before creating a wax model and, following any adjustments, the finished piece. Couples are able to make adjustments throughout the process with an expected turnaround time of 10-30 days. “I like hearing the input,” says Hafen, who classifies his own style as art deco but is often surprised and inspired by the design ideas presented by clients. Similarly, Maughan has created bands incorporating everything from tree roots to dragons to the outline of the Wasatch Front or the LDS Temple.
The “mine” in your grandma’s jewelry box
A green alternative gaining in popularity is to “mine” an existing piece of jewelry. Most jewelers will readily work with antique or recycled diamonds. According to Charley Hafen of Charley Hafen Jewelers, vintage diamonds look different because of their cut, which has larger internal panels than in today’s diamonds, a characteristic that changes the way the gem breaks down light. It’s an old timey look that can add a touch of nostalgia to new wedding rings.
Making a recycled ring your own
Besides professional cleaning, re-cutting of stones and engraving your own words in the band, here’s another way to make a “pre-owned” ring your own.
People can be pretty superstitious about buying a pre-owned wedding ring. Are you buying someone else’s energy along with that ring, or just making an eco-friendly and cost-effective choice? Ultimately, it’s a personal decision.
However, if couples have any misgivings about recycling their diamonds or other gemstones, Ravenstone of Crone’s Hollow, Salt Lake’s headquarters for all things pagan, suggests placing the gem in sea salt, an element that cleanses bad energy and will restore the stone “back to zero.” Couples wishing to stay local should look for Redmond Real Salt, a company whose sea salt comes from ancient sea beds in Central Utah, though any sea salt will do the trick. Following this process, couples can also bless their gems with incense. Ravenstone recommends frankincense and myrrh, which represent the sun/male energy and the moon/female energy respectively, or rosewater, a traditional symbol of love, loyalty and passion.
Clare Boerigter is Catalyst’s intern this season.