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Wedding bands record couples’ vows

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The shapes cut into jewelry artist Sakurako Shimizu's "I Do" wedding bands represent the sound of the human voice in waveform. (Photo by Sakurako Shimizu)

Jewelry artist Sakurako Shimizu’s “I Do” wedding bands send the same signal all wedding bands do—the person wearing one of them is off the market. But Shimizu’s rings drive home the point by signaling marriage with both sight and sound. They contain waveform shapes representing her clients’ voices that she laser-cuts into gold, silver or platinum.

“A lot of people relate to sound,” Shimizu says. “The whole process of a couple recording their own voices and making wedding rings for each other is a unique experience—something they’ll never forget.” And it’s something the Japanese-born Shimizu, 37, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., hopes to capitalize on with her conceptual designs.

Even in this economy, couples are spending more time and money on their wedding bands than in previous years, according to the Wedding Report Inc., which researches trends in the wedding industry, and the popularity of personalized wedding jewelry is increasing. According to a Brides magazine survey, the average cost of a wedding is about $23,000, and 9 percent of that is spent on wedding bands.

“Instead of seeing the wedding band as just something else to pick out, people are making it a priority,” says Amanda Gizzi of the Jewelry Information Center in New York City. “We’re seeing more customization, personality and identity because it’s the one thing customers know they’ll be wearing every day.”

In December, Patrick Lyons, a Web developer and artist in Stuart, Fla., was searching for this kind of creative, personal gift for his girlfriend of five years. When Lyons, 36, stumbled on a mention of Shimizu’s rings on a technology blog, he wasn’t planning on proposing. But her rings were unlike anything he’d seen before. All he needed to get started was access to a computer with a microphone, an Internet connection and Audacity, an editing program that renders sound into visual patterns, which he could download for free.

Lyons recorded himself saying, “I love my puppet,” his nickname for his girlfriend, Lauren. The Audacity sound file of this phrase resembles a series of inkblots with vertical lines running through them. Lyons put his own twist on the design by lengthening the waves ever so slightly in the program Adobe Illustrator. He then e-mailed his sound file and Lauren’s ring size to Shimizu.

Once she has a client’s waveform, Shimizu begins designing the ring. Working out of her apartment, Shimizu, who holds a degree from the graduate program in metalwork at the State University of New York, New Paltz, uses a jewelry saw to cut a strip of the client’s desired metal from sheets she purchases from a metal supplier—in addition to gold, silver and platinum, she works in white gold and palladium, a grayish element that doesn’t tarnish—and then delivers the strip and sound file to a laser-cutting service in Manhattan. Once the design is successfully transferred onto the ring, Shimizu measures the client’s ring size on the strip, heats the metal with a handheld torch and forms the band. She files the edges and shines the surface up with a very fine polish paper. Prices depend on the metal used. Shimizu charges $395 for a basic silver ring.

“I do” is the obvious phrase for couples exchanging vows, but Shimizu can carve in “I love you,” nicknames, inside jokes—anything her clients want. Shimizu says the phrase “I do” makes an especially interesting pattern, a kind of butterfly shape, because it’s short and its syllables sound different, a fact she discovered while experimenting with the sound waves from human giggles and yawns. Shimizu also works as a curator and an apprentice to other jewelry designers.

From start to finish, her rings take her about four weeks to create. Her clients tend to be artists, sound engineers, music geeks or fashion enthusiasts fond of her work’s machined, minimalist aesthetic. She has received inquiries from people around the world, including an Icelandic clothing designer and a 22-year-old Iranian man.

“Diamonds are beautiful, and gold is beautiful,” Lyons says. “But with this ring, my girlfriend can look down at it and say this is him—his actual voice—saying that he loves me.” Lyons is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his girlfriend’s ring.

“I think she’ll love it,” he says. “Our taste is about as nonmainstream as it gets.”

E-mail: dmb2176@columbia.edu