Wedding rings: 'Til debt do us part

Rings are displayed for the wedding of actor/producer Alan Thicke and model Tanya Callau on May 7, 2005 at The One&Only Pamilla Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Callau's ring is actually her engagement ring since her wedding band was not finished in time. Thicke's wedding band is the ring he wore on the show "Growing Pains."

TEXT OF STORY

TESS VIGELAND: We've all heard the line that a guy should spend two months salary on his fiance's engagement ring, a standard that was probably invented by the diamond industry. But even ring sellers don't specify how much you're supposed to spend on wedding bands. You know, the rings you actually exchange on the altar and that are supposed to signify eternal love. So we asked Marketplace's Sean Cole to walk down that aisle for us.

[
Wedding music

Officiant: I give you this ring. . .as a sign. . .

Groom: I give you this ring. . .as a sign. . .

Another officiant : Loosha, please accept this ring. . . as a symbol of my love for you. . .

Another groom: Loosha, please accept this ring. . . as a symbol of my love for you. . .
]

When couples watch this part of their wedding videos, they're probably not thinking, "We spent $2,000 on those rings!"

But according to a recent study from the Conde Nast Bridal Group, that is what couples spend now on average. And that's almost double what they shelled out 15 years ago.

Veronica Sagherian co-owns Adamas Fine Jewelry in Newton, Mass. She says her customers pretty much fit the status quo.

VERONICA SAGHERIAN: This is probably one of my best-selling wedding rings. One for prices, because $1,000 is a nice round number . . .

Sagherian says a thousand dollars is what women plan to spend when they walk into her store for a wedding band. And they end up spending anything between that and $4,000. Grooms spend less but a lot of the time still as much as $1,500.

SAGHERIAN: I would say the trend is up. Couples are older when they get married. They may both have careers, therefore they can afford to buy higher luxury wedding rings.

Sagherian says she doesn't try to upsell her customers. She just gives her opinion. For example:

SAGHERIAN: By spending $500 more is that going to make you happier? Is that going to be the right ring for you? And in the grand scheme of things that's not a lot of money to spend to have that for such a long time.

If you're still looking for a rule of thumb, or finger I guess, a wedding Web site called TheKnot.com suggests setting aside 3 percent of your total wedding budget for bands. But the fact is , you can spend a lot less. And many couples do.

I happen to perform wedding ceremonies. About two years ago I married my friends Gabe and Becca O'Connor . . .

. . . to each other I mean. They're pretty broke. In fact Becca's mom helped pay for her engagement ring.

GABE O'CONNOR: And by helped, we actually mean she paid for it.

But they did buy each other the wedding bands, for a fraction of the national average. Still, they weren't very happy when Gabe lost his at the gym a month or two after the ceremony.

GABE: It was just a sil. . .

BECCA: White gold band.

GABE: OK it was a white gold band yeah. But real plain . . .

BECCA: $200

GABE: Was it $200?

BECCA: Yes it was.

GABE: I thought it was actually cheaper than that . . .

BECCA: No 'fraid not. No.

GABE: Good news. Um . . .

I won't go into the fight they had over this. . . and the crying and the. . . darkness. Suffice it to say that when the band didn't turn up, they went to saltlakesilver.com and bought a replacement.

BECCA: And it cost a whopping are you ready? $26. And it's sterling silver and it's much more him.

COLE: So it cost one tenth of what the original cost.

GABE: Just about yeah.

BECCA: And it means just as much and then some. It doesn't matter. You know, if it's too valuable then it's not really speaking to what it's about.

Which is the sentiment, Becca says, the feeling you get when you look at it.

Robin Abrahams knows that feeling well. Actually, her wedding band is enough to make anyone sentimental.

COLE: It's really lovely.

ROBIN ABRAHAMS: Isn't it beautiful? She had it designed.

Abrahams writes an etiquette column for the Boston Globe Magazine. I wanted to ask her about wedding band trends. And as it turns out one of them is on her finger. It's her mother's wedding band. Or as it's known in the industry, an "heirloom" ring.

ABRAHAMS: I admired the relationship that she and my father had before he died, and so it's a pleasant reminder of that.

Her husband wears her father's ring. Of course both these bands were . . . free, except for the cost of resizing her father's. So not to be crass, but if you're looking to save money, heirlooms might the trend to follow.

Although some jewelry manufacturers will market new rings as future heirlooms. Abrahams says that's just a gimmick.

ABRAHAMS: They're sort of selling it in this way that they know it's not going to be used, because if people were just passing on their wedding rings to the next generation, well, in America population is declining, so you wind up with this wedding ring surplus and goodbye De Beers.

Plus what if your marriage doesn't work out? Do you still pass along the future heirloom -- heavy with bad juju -- to your kid?

Or do you bring it here? Suffolk Pawn Brokers and Jewelers in Boston.

EDWARD BEAN: These are called wedding sets where you have the engagement ring and the wedding band together.

Edward Bean, the president, says he has an inventory of about 10,000 wedding bands. And that his customers bow before an even stronger force than juju.

BEAN: People come in here for only one reason. Price. It's much, much, much less expensive than if you went anywhere else.

Couples can spend as little as $30 a piece on their bands at Suffolk, Bean says. But even here, some still spend as much as $10,000. That's on one ring.

Veronica Sagherian at Adamas Fine Jewelry says she's seen couples spend a lot more than that.

SANGHERIAN: The most for a woman's wedding band I'd have to say is about $25,000-$26,000.

[ Becca O'Connor gasps ]

This is Becca again. She and Gabe spent about that much on their entire wedding.

GABE: You know, if they have that much spare income they can send it our way. That's just fine.

Becca eventually says she doesn't think there's anything wrong with spending that much on a ring. Gabe says he doesn't think there's anything wrong with driving a pink flamingo Cadillac either, but, you know, why would you?

For Marketplace Money, I'm Sean Cole.

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