Not always, but generally in my part of the world, engagement starts with a question and a ring. Sometimes the ring that is given is a complete surprise, but I find more and more couples (including Andrew and myself) are going the other route. The giver of the ring is at least getting input from the recipient on what kind of ring to get whether gold or platinum, diamond or emerald, tattooed or no ring at all. Going a step further, the couple picks out the ring together. I think surprise proposals or completely expected ones work. After all, I can understand the hesitancy to choose an engagement ring by yourself. The person you are giving it to is going to wear it for the rest of his or her life! You want him or her to like it! And there is always room for compromise. Andrew did not feel comfortable picking out a ring on his own, but I wanted some element of surprise. In the end, I decided on what band I wanted, but I never saw the setting with a stone. Andrew picked it out, and I didn’t see the two combined until he was down on one knee. Win-win.
There are a lot of things to think about when choosing a ring, especially together, and I’m not talking about the stone cut. First off, do you both even want a ring? Some people are just not jewelry people. I myself can only remember a few brief times when I even wore rings, let alone anything more than earrings. In fact, most of the women examples I know don’t even wear the engagement ring with their bands anymore, whether it is because they do not find it comfortable or it hinders them at jobs like nursing. I just read a wedding post the other day on Offbeat Bride where the husband and wife didn’t exchange any rings because they would never wear one.
Also, some people, women in particular, may not be comfortable wearing a ring because it can symbolize inequality in the sexes or in general. A woman may think of it more as a brand that she belongs to her fiancé or thinks it is unfair that only one person gets a ring/has to wear one. I’m not arguing for or against any particular side, but I also believe you do not have to have a ring to be engaged. My great grandparents didn’t have an engagement ring; they just ran off and got married. Some people can’t afford one, and its absence doesn’t make the couple any less engaged. Do what’s best for you two. Don’t like rings; don’t get one. Or if you want, get an engagement something else! You could adopt a star together, plant a tree, or give something to do with the other person’s passion. I had a lovely boss who told me that when her now husband asked if her if she’d like a ring, she said no, but she would like a bicycle. So he got her a beautiful high quality bicycle, and they still go on cycling trips all over the country every year. It was touching, and more importantly, it was them. Think it is unfair that you get a ring but he or she doesn’t? There is no law prohibiting you both getting rings or cufflinks or bracelets or bicycles to signify your engagement. I still have my eye out to get Andrew a nice watch as his engagement token…or maybe a banjo.
The second question you may ask, or at least one I did, are there conditions you have for your ring or your partner’s ring that have to do with your values. I am not the greenest person on the planet, but I spent most of my time searching estate and antique rings because they would be more eco-friendly. Diamond and gold mining have an impact on the land, so you may not be comfortable with buying a new ring. Estate and antique rings and family heirlooms are awesome alternatives if you still want the sparkle and shiny. (Just make sure you get your estate or antique ring from a reputable source. While we were ring shopping, one jeweler told me that you have to be careful with rings labeled as estate or antique because the original materials may have been changed in various places or replaced.) Finding jewelers that only use recycled gold and ethically sourced materials are another bet, but who is to say you have to use precious metals if you don’t want to? I was acquainted with a couple at one time who used a wooden ring. The groom had crafted it himself, making it super personal and full of love. Wooden, tattooed, plastic, or otherwise, again go with what is best for you both.
I very much wanted to find a ring that was more environmentally friendly and unique, but unfortunately, I could never find the ring during months of searching. As I mentioned earlier, I am not big on wearing rings, so there was a point where I didn’t even think I would find something I liked. (And I hate making decisions. I think I told you that.) There were also some mishaps. I had found a beautiful estate ring online that was the clear winner, but it was sold before Andrew could purchase it. Some things to remember, the great thing about a one-of-a-kind ring is that there is only one. The terrible thing about a one-of-a-kind ring is that there is only one. If you fall in love with one and it is sold or not able to be adjusted to your size, that’s it.
Finally, Andrew insisted that we give up on the internet quest and do it the old-fashioned way. I made a list of jewelers in Knoxville, specifically ones that had estate rings, and Andrew added a jewelers that had been highly recommended. We looked at ring after ring, and I tried on a few hopefuls. Nothing looked or felt right. On our last stop we went to the jeweler he had picked, Markmans. I didn’t have to commit to anything, but he wanted me to try on some new rings because my Art Deco dreams were pretty much dashed.
I would like to tell you that we went in, and I found the perfect 1930s delicate gold band with a small twinkling diamond. I didn’t. In fact, let me tell you that the ring I found was not antique or Art Deco in any way. Which bring me to the third question you should ask yourself: have you tried rings on?
I had made some opinions about what I wanted in a ring, so I told the team helping us what I liked. They were really helpful and friendly, and brought out at least twenty rings for me to critique on my hand. I didn’t like most of the twenty, but what was important is that they would say, “Now I know you said you only wanted a solitaire, but this ring has more of the antique style you are looking for.” Then I would try it on. Since they were the friendliest and gave me the most options to look at, I got a chance to test out what I thought I wanted. Then I tried on my ring.
It was a modern style, two bands twisted together. I had seen similar rings trending online, but this one was a little more subtle than some of the more braided bands I’d glanced at. It was rose gold, a metal I thought looked too pink for my skin tone on the internet but made my hand look warm when I tried it on. There was no diamond or gem in it, but it was meant for a solitaire. It looked dainty and perfect for my small fingers. I would never have looked twice at it online.
When we got home, I could not stop thinking about it. But surely, I didn’t want a new ring! Surely I wouldn’t be lured in by the sparkly! I looked up their site and saw that they were a member of Jewelers of America, which states their stand on ethical and responsible gold and diamonds. I also resolved to ask at the store. It didn’t completely assuage my guilt about buying new gold, but it made me feel a teensy bit better.
Of course after I told Andrew that it was the ring and knew he bought it, I felt sick to my stomach. I felt like I had let myself down, so I made a pinky promise with myself. Because we got a new ring for the engagement, I will either not get a wedding band at all—It’s weird enough wearing one—or I would only get one if it was recycled.
So my advice is to go try on rings! Even if you have the perfect one picked out online, go to a jeweler and find a ring with a similar bandwidth or cut and see if fits your personality and not just your finger. And do your research. For example, you may be in love with a pearl instead of a gem, but you should know that pearls tend to get loose in the setting and may pop out and that since they are soft they need a lot of care and caution so as not to scratch them. Or you may want to get your fiancé a titanium or tungsten ring, but you should know about the difficultly in removing them in case there is a hand injury.
But most of all, know that you have choices. You don’t have to be traditional with a diamond, but there is nothing wrong with wanting one either. Andrew wanted to get me a diamond, and I didn’t have any opinion on gem color. I could have just as easily loved sapphires, emeralds, topaz, turquoise, cubic zirconia, you name it. It’s your ring! (Or not ring.) Stay true to yourself and your experience as a couple.
Keep the love first,
P. S. This weekend, Andrew had us stop at a Kay Jewelers to scope out men’s wedding band for ideas. The salesperson convinced him to try on a few, and it was nice to see Andrew feel just as awkward trying on rings as it was for me. When we do some more serious band shopping, a future post may be about getting his point of view on ring shopping.