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Wedding rings' with wacky words of love

It's handy having your initials inside your wedding ring, in case you ever lose it. And it's useful to have your wedding date in there, too, particularly if you're the sort of person who's likely to forget your anniversary, and even more particularly if you're married to the sort of person who's likely to mind. But for some people, it's just not enough. Initials are so flat, so inexpressive. Dates are soleft-brain. Some people want a wedding ring that really says something _ something different, personal, meaningful, maybe even poetic. After all, as Philadelphia custom jeweler Henri David points out, "It's one of the most important rings you'll ever own."

There's plenty of precedent for personalizing wedding rings. For instance, Sir Thomas Gresham had his engraved _ some time during the 16th century _ with the familiar admonition, "QUOD DEUS CONJUNXIT HOMO NON SEPARET." (What God has joined together let man not separate.)

One of David's client's had a similar idea. Inside her husband's wedding ring she had engraved the reminder: "Oh no you don't!"

Some sentiments are more sentimental. Be mine 4 ever, 4 instance. Or a heart or infinity symbol. After all, on a narrow band there's room for only so much originality. But, David says, "take a wide band, and I can put a story in there. I've done sonnets. I've done whole paragraphs." He has done druidic runes and Egyptian hieroglyphics. He has done other symbols _ "a little picture that means something to both of them" but not necessarily to him: "They know what it means, and I'm not going to ask; it's none of my business."

Sometimes they don't know what it means. Philadelphia public relations woman Krista Bard has 1/137 engraved inside her wedding ring. It's because her husband is a physicist. She, however, doesn't "know anything about physics," so she's not sure what it means, exactly, except that it's "a physical principle _ a ratio that defines the way the universe looks and, if it were different, everything would be different."

A wedding ring's message doesn't have to be hidden inside. It can be raised or pierced or sculpted on the outside of the ring. For one couple, David took the date they'd met, translated it into Roman numerals, and turned it into a pattern that encircled their rings. They liked the fact that, even though it was right out there for anyone to see, nobody else was likely to know what it meant.

A couple who'd met in a research lab ended up with a giggle of tiny gold mice scrambling around their ring fingers. (They insisted on mice, not rats.) Unless you looked carefully, you'd probably think their mouse rings were some bumpy abstract design. Same way with the couple who wanted a man in the moon _ winking _ curled around their fingers. Or the couple who wanted wreaths of dolphins. Or the foxhunting couple _ she had horses; he had fox and hounds as well. Or the couple who wanted rings that replicated the knot they used to tie up their boat.

One couple had themselves, lying entwined in each other's arms in a field of flowers, sculpted on their rings. But even that's not a first. A seventh-century Byzantine couple had their rings engraved (not by David, needless to say) with tiny full-figure portraits of themselves being blessed by Christ and the Virgin.

A sixth-century couple ordered a ring engraved with head-and-shoulder portraits of themselves not unlike the ones you see in newspaper wedding announcements.

But David's own personal favorite was the bride and groom who wanted a ball and chain. For her, he made a ball overlaid with diamonds, held by a band of delicate gold links.

For him, a plain gold ball with heavier links.

Sentiment isn't for everybody.

(Henri David is proprietor of Halloween at 1312 South St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19147.)

Patricia McLaughlin has written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post and Rolling Stone magazine.