There's something to be said for a wife who never wears her wedding ring. She turns out to be like a number of other recently wedded women--committed to the life but not the conventions of marriage.
Helen Buck Bartlett took off her wedding band four hours after the ceremony and hasn't put it on since. That was more than a year ago. If she wears her ruby-and-diamond engagement ring at all, she wears it at home, alone with her husband.
"Marriage is very personal, and it's not the first thing I want people to know about me," says Bartlett, a poet and Hollywood producer's assistant. "A ring is a sign that you're married. It's like wearing a medallion around your neck saying what you do for a living. I don't like the limitation."
Since she was married a year ago, Jill Kearney has always worn the band her sculptor father made for her. But her engagement ring makes rare public appearances. Often when it does, it becomes a topic of conversation.
The ring has a portrait of a German shepherd, crafted in enamel under a crystal dome. Kearney says it is from the Victorian Era when the wealthy had their pets immortalized in jewelry form.
"It looks like a hologram of Rin Tin Tin," she says.
Because of their unusual way with wedding rings, Bartlett, Kearney and other modern brides make it all but impossible for anyone to assume their marital--or financial--status, which is a large part of their intention.
At the same time that women are tending to find alternatives, men are opting to wear rings--simple gold bands for the most part. Most of the women in this story say their husbands wear a ring faithfully and by their own choice.
For Kearney, West Coast editor of American Film magazine, the idea of "a 10-pound rock" was too solemn.
"The classic rings looked garish and they made me nervous," she says. In comparison, the dog ring she found in an antique store near her house "seemed friendly and funny," she says. "I thought of it like a cigar band."
Bartlett adds: "I want to feel comfortable in whatever neighborhood I'm in, wherever I go. I couldn't do that wearing rubies and diamonds."
Among other things, unconventional rings suggest unconventional reasons for marrying. Or at least an unusual arrangement of priorities.
Actress Jane Seymour says she and her husband didn't set a date until they decided to have children. Like a significant number of modern brides, Seymour says: "I was pregnant at my wedding."
And there are, of course, unconventional attitudes about the married state. From the first day of her current marriage, Seymour says she has worn a diamond eternity band, entirely covered with stones. The choice of styles was symbolic.
"This is my third marriage," she says. "But it's the first time I've felt it was forever." Until now, she chose simple gold wedding bands.
Along with her decision to marry after conceiving a child, Seymour broke another wedding custom: She went alone to shop for her engagement ring, and she chose it without so much as asking the opinion of her husband-to-be.
The ring she selected is "a small, very inexpensive diamond" that her husband paid for and has since replaced with a larger stone, she says. His choice was a diamond solitaire, a style that is the most popular among women who have recently shopped for engagement rings, say spokespeople for Tiffany and Cartier.
Long before her recent second marriage, businesswoman Joan Vogel not only chose her own ring, she paid for it. Although she was living with her husband-to-be at the time, they did not marry for another five years.
He has since presented her with three other wedding and engagement rings, including a diamond, a modern stone-and-gold band and his mother's wedding ring. Vogel has also collected two other wedding rings on her own, including one by Arlene Altman, the Beverly Hills-based jeweler whose very modern style Vogel particularly likes. She wears all her rings interchangeably.
Kathryn Post, a well-known local designer of real and costume jewelry, says most people who come to her for wedding rings want big stones, at least two carats, even if it means lower-quality stones. She says her customers spend about $5,000 on an engagement ring. (The average range in jewelry stores is about $5,000 to $7,000.)
Post finds that sapphires and rubies are a distant second to diamonds for a marriage stone, despite recent royal weddings where the brides wore them.
Post designed her own wedding ring, which is actually four rings that form a serpent extending across four fingers. She wears them on her right hand and takes them off occasionally. "I hock it," she says. "Sometimes I need the cash."
In the face of so much breaking with tradition, the wedding chapels of Las Vegas may be the holdout for the old-fashioned ways. Saturdays at the Little Church of the West, there is a wedding every 15 minutes. A staff photographer there, who prefers to remain unnamed, says he seldom sees anything other than diamond engagement rings and plain gold bands.