Valentine’s Day often finds couples speaking of love and lasting commitment. Some have concluded (for better or worse) that there is no finer way to celebrate eternal love than by showcasing it on one’s ring finger with a tattoo.
“Once you get it, there’s no turning back,” said Christopher Forsley, who was married in July to Sarah Patterson in Santa Monica, Calif. For Forsley, a comic book writer, and Patterson, a cake maker, the factors driving their decision to get inked came down to cost, minimalism and timing — oh, and the fact that Forsley’s brother is a tattoo artist.
“We’re both broke and not materialistic,” Forsley said. “We liked the idea that this wasn’t an object, but rather something that was going to become a part of us.”
The bride added, “This matched who we are.”
Mike Martin, the owner of Flesh Skin Grafix Tattoo in Imperial Beach, Calif., said, “I see maybe one couple a week, which is a lot considering five years ago almost no one was asking for them.”
Given the permanence of tattoos, inked-on rings are generally for those who have recently been married rather than simply engaged. Surprising one’s intended with an unexpected trip to a tattoo parlor, perhaps on one knee, may not go over as expected.
“A proposal isn’t always forever, and the wedding might not happen,” said Martin, who is also the president of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists. He said he has never had calls for tattooed engagement rings. Like the ink itself, he added, “Once the knot is tied, it’s far more permanent.”
Tattooed-on wedding rings come in an array of designs. Among the most popular are branding the wedding date, spouse’s name or initials onto the finger. Some designs are simple; a monochrome squiggle line or the infinity symbol around the digit. Some favor words: “always,” “forever” or “together.”
Kyle and Tasha Reed of Boise went with tattoo rings “for many reasons; some practical, some aesthetic,” said Kyle Reed.
“I work with my hands every day and I did not want to take my ring off just for my job,” Reed said. “I feel the wedding band is very symbolic and it staying in place was importance. We also had the opportunity to customize our designs without the extreme cost of rare metals and stones.”
Those who go for inked-on rings are often also looking for a different kind of wedding experience to go along with them.
“I never wanted to have a traditional wedding,” said Molly Serena Dorsman, who married Dzermin Mesic in 2012.
She contends that those who favor the traditional gold ring often get divorced. “We want to be married forever,” she said, “and this cements that.”
In addition to “increasing the feeling of permanency of a couple’s faith,” said Myrna L. Armstrong, a retired professor from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, a ring tattoo represents a “distinctive choice to have this done, and the understanding that no one else will have anything like theirs. These intense meanings are very appealing to couples.”
“Tattoos make people feel good, special and unique” and are particularly appealing to millennials, said Armstrong, who has studied tattoos for 25 years. “It’s become a common and comfortable means of providing a message to themselves and to others.”
Those seeking tattooed wedding rings, said Martin, want to step out on the edge a bit.
“But they don’t want to freak anyone out,” he said. “It’s acceptable at work, and no one will fire them for it.”
Pros: Cost Cons: They fade
Gold wedding bands typically cost $300 to $700 each, according to a representative of the Jewelers of America trade association. Martin said his shop typically charges about $60 for a simple design that the couple brings in. If he is creating it, and there are a number of colors or it’s a technical piece, it could be $100 or more.
The latter price is what Forsley’s brother said that he would have charged per ring to other clients. But for Forsley, the fact that the rings were free was not as important as “having my brother design and tattoo us. It was far better than going to a store and having a salesperson talk you into something.”
Dorsman and Mesic recall paying the personal friend who inked their wedding bands about $50 each. That doesn’t mean that Mesic skipped over presenting her first with an engagement ring.
“My husband did give me an engagement ring,” she said. “It was a plastic one from 7-Eleven. I was pretty gung-ho on not wanting a ring.”
Tattoos can cost less than traditional jewelry, but that doesn’t mean they are cost-effective or long-lasting. Inked rings do fade with time. The skin on hands sheds more quickly because of constant use, and gets the most exposure to sun. To compensate, tattoo artists must inject the ink deeper than the customary two levels of the dermis.
Last month, almost every chair in Kings Avenue Tattoo in Manhattan was filled, as Devin Ikram and his wife, Kayla, sat on the padded black seats while Zac Scheinbaum fixed the triangle tattoo he had inked onto Devin’s ring finger four months earlier, when the couple wed.
Ikram, a graphic designer, had created the triangles after he spent two weeks researching symbolism, alchemy and elemental shapes.
“These represent a dichotomy of polar opposites and the fitting together,” he said while Scheinbaum re-inked his ring finger, a process that took only minutes. “A triangle pointing up is masculine. One pointing down is feminine,” he added.
The cost of permanence
If a marriage does not work out, one can’t simply tug off a tattooed ring. Among those who may now wish they hadn’t gotten inked are Rosie O’Donnell, who has an “M” — her second wife’s first initial –— tattooed on her ring finger, and Pamela Anderson, who had her “Tommy” ring tattoo removed.
“In the past two years, we’ve been getting approximately one patient a month asking for the tattoo to be removed,” said Dr. Roy G. Geronemus, director of the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York. “Prior to that, I’d not seen them at all.”
Geronemus said women were more apt to appear in his waiting room, eager for the deletion.
“More women come in. Some are angry, some convey concern, some remorse,” he said. “The tattoo now is a constant reminder of a failed relationship. Women want it off and they want it off quickly so they can move on psychologically.”
That is very expensive. The tattoo may have cost $50 to $150 and taken a short time to ink, but to make it vanish, Geronemus said, could take four to five office sessions, costing $400 per visit.
Yet that hasn’t deterred those seeking something different. And tattoo artists are welcoming couples with open, tattooed arms.
“Tattoo artists tend to be very entrepreneurial,” said Armstrong, the retired professor. “It’s a competitive world, and it seems quite logical that some would create tattoo wedding band packages where the couple comes in together to have them done either before or after their ceremony.”
The Ikrams left Kings Avenue Tattoo all smiles and kisses.
“We own this,” Devin Ikram said, while looking at his newly re-inked finger. “We were part of this creation. Now that it’s back to its original color, I feel much better. It didn’t look like my wife’s. Before, people couldn’t tell what it was. Now I can show it off.”
Statesman staff contributed.