Record gold prices spur wedding ring alternatives
With gold prices hitting fresh records and the economy still weak, a growing number of couples are switching to titanium, steel, and tungsten wedding rings.
Army Spc. Marco Negron of Highland Park, Ill., wears a wedding band made of tungsten so that – unlike the gold ring from his previous marriage – it won't get banged up no matter how rugged his duties.Skip to next paragraph
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Elizabeth Dobbs, a biologist in Madison, Wis., and her fiancé are shopping for a ring set with laboratory-made simulated diamonds so she can enjoy her sparkler without wondering if human rights were compromised in the production of her ring.
Wedding jewelry has acquired a decidedly post-recession luster. With incomes low and precious metal prices stratospheric – gold prices closed at a record $1,509 an ounce on Monday – some couples can no longer afford to go the traditional route. And it's no longer a given that couples exchange inexpensive rings and then save up for real gold and diamonds. Instead, today's trend is toward individual expression, along with a backlash against mining practices seen as exploiting human labor and the earth.
The result? Growing demand for rings made with alternative substances.
For men, there's an explosion of choices, with rings made of titanium, tungsten carbide, cobalt, and steel. Black wedding rings are popular, as are varying shades of silver and gray, often within the same ring. Some rings are inlaid with 14-karat yellow, red, or white gold. Specially fused metals give a zebra-striped or mokume gane (Japanese for "wood-grained") effect.
Unlike their fathers' plain narrow bands, many grooms are choosing wide rings with bold designs. They're not only more visible, they're stronger.
"Once, I scraped it hard along the cement when they said, 'Drop down and give me push-ups,'" says Mr. Negron of his three-year-old tungsten ring. To his relief, it showed no damage.
Women are open to alternatives, too. "It's important to me to feel socially responsible," says Ms. Dobbs, trying on rings at a Diamond Nexus Labs store in a Milwaukee-area mall. "I don't think you can ever know for sure the history of a diamond and how it was mined."
Manufactured stones and "contemporary" metals can also slash costs. Ron Ruback, a jeweler in Kansas City, Mo., says a man's gold band can top $1,000 these days. That compares with $50 to $300 for a titanium, steel, or tungsten ring.
"With platinum at $2,000 an ounce and gold at $1,400 an ounce, you have a lot of imagination going into alternatives," says Russell Shor, senior industry analyst with the nonprofit California-based Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
Gold might be losing its shine for other reasons, too. Men associate industrial-type metals with strength and space-age technology, says Ron Yates, a Modesto, Calif., jeweler. "High-end golf clubs and racing bicycles are made with titanium." Because alternative rings are highly scratch-resistant compared with gold, they've gained a following among blue-collar and military men.
Intense competition has sparked heated disagreements and legal battles. Four years ago, for example, Gregory Ballash started selling tungsten rings from his Salt Lake City-area base. But tungsten has come under fire from jewelry designer Scott Kay, who has held press conferences and posted videos on YouTube showing the rings shattering upon being dropped or tapped. "Brittle is not for bridal," says Kay's spokesman Dan Scott.