The Wedding Series – The Engagement Ring

“A diamond is forever.”

Historians credit Archduke Maximilian of Austria with presenting the first diamond engagement ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. But it wasn’t until 1867, the Victorian era, when a large cache of diamonds was discovered in South Africa that this beautiful and storied stone really caught on. That event was followed in 1886 with the invention of the popular Tiffany setting. During the Great Depression diamond engagement rings were sacrificed in favor of more practical investments by couples headed to the altar, such as homes, appliances, and cars. As the economy improved following WWII, everything changed again. In 1947, the giant diamond dealer De Beers, launched the slogan, “A diamond is forever,” and captured the imaginations of women of all ages everywhere. Created by Frances Gerety, a copywriter for ad agency N.W. Ayer, the pithy catchphrase established the diamond engagement ring as an integral part of modern betrothals.

An Important and Expensive Purchase

There is much more to purchasing an engagement ring that meets the eye. First, for the average young person or couple purchasing an engagement ring, this will be the most important and costly jewelry purchase made to date. In addition to setting a budget that will avoid placing you behind the economic eight ball for years to come, you must also take steps to ensure that you get the best diamond or other gemstone that you can afford. Those couples who have the finances to do so sometimes commission a jeweler to custom design an engagement ring (as well as wedding bands); this process requires additional research and preferably a referral from a trusted source.

Second, when selecting a diamond ring you must address the five C’s: cost, cut, color, clarity and carats. Some experts believe that the most important of these is cut.

Third, deciding where you want to make your purchase can be challenging: will it be at one of the many well-known jewelry retailers, a big box store (Costco, B.J.’s, Sam’s Club, etc.), a department store, independent jeweler, wholesaler or an on-line company. Personally, I prefer to buy something as important as an engagement, wedding, anniversary or other kind of ring in person so I can see it “in the flesh,” touch it, see how it looks on my hand, and be able to look the seller in the eye.

Mandy Walker of Consumer Reports offers these words of advice: “Few purchases are as emotional as fine jewelry. But being lead by your heart and not your head can get you into trouble when shopping. Unless you’re a gemologist, you probably can’t tell if a diamond ring you want to buy for Valentine’s Day is of poor quality, a gemstone is an imitation, or a pearl has been treated to enhance its color. If you’re shopping online, you can’t be sure the pictures and descriptions of the goods you’re considering are accurate. And fine jewelry is often one of a kind, so you can’t shop for the best deal the way you would for a television or vacuum. So it’s important to seek out jewelers and retailers that you can trust and know what questions to ask when you shop. You also need to check return policies and guarantees, and know how to find a professional appraiser.”

It’s crucial to do your research, as well as ask among your family, friends, trusted colleagues and coworkers, neighbors, etc., for referrals to reputable jewelers. Gathering valuable information and leads can help you avoid the many minefields in acquiring your engagement ring.

The Ethics of Buying Diamonds and Other Gemstones

Fourth, consider the ethics surrounding your purchase. Recent wars in Africa — specifically in Angola and Sierra Leone — have been fought over diamonds. Blood has been shed and you might not want that blood, even symbolically, on your hands. You might recall the 2006 movie, Blood Diamond, about conflict in Sierra Leone and the corruption in the diamond trade.

Ensure that the seller you settle on has a policy of dealing with suppliers that adhere to the highest ethical standards to protect its country’s economy, citizens and environment, and avoids dealing in blood diamonds, AKA “conflict diamonds“.

One such company that declares that it adheres to and promotes such practices is Brilliant Earth, which has showrooms in Los Angeles and San Francisco and sells online as well. Brilliant Earth clearly seems to be setting itself up as a transparent, ethical leader in an industry that has a questionable history. On another of its webpage’s Brilliant Earth states, “As we continue to shape the dialogue, we believe it is also important to accomplish change directly. We give back to communities that have been harmed by the diamond trade, and we have funded pilot projects that will make fair trade diamonds a reality.”

But, it’s not just diamonds that are fueling wars; gold is, also. Do your best to ensure the ring that sparkles on your finger has a clean history.

A Diamond Isn’t Every Girl’s (or Guy’s) Best Friend

Diamonds aren’t your only choice. During other eras, such as the Georgian/Regency (1714-1830), Victorian (1837-1901) and Edwardian (1901-1910) periods, women often preferred other precious gemstones — including sapphires, rubies and emeralds — as well as semi-precious stones, such as opals, garnets, amethyst, aquamarine, topaz and so on. Often such stones were combined with diamonds in beautiful settings. Other unusual rings, incuding “posys” and “mizbahs,” were also popular.

When picking out stones other than diamonds, the same principles apply: consider your budget, do your research on all aspects of the particular stone you prefer and the types of settings that work best, and which dealers have the best reputations for the stone you plan to wear on your finger the rest of your life.

There is no doubt that while wearing a diamond ring on the third finger of your left hand will tell the world that you are engaged to be married, wearing another type of beautiful stone on that particular finger will send the same message, although perhaps with a bit of romantic mystery.

How and When to Present an Engagement Ring

If you are the one presenting an engagement ring, you are most likely the hopeful groom-to-be; here are some accepted approaches to help things go smoothly:

  • Ask her to marry you and then offer to take her shopping for a ring that she will love and that is within your budget. Don’t stand on ceremony about cost unless you are wealthy enough not to be bothered with price tags. See what is out there in your price range and research dealers, so you are prepared.
  • If you plan to present her with a family ring, it should be your decision rather than someone else’s desire; parents should be understanding and apply no pressure. When you present the ring, let her know that it is your idea and what it means to you. But also convey that her happiness means more to you. Let her know that she has the option of picking out her own ring or using the stones in the family ring to design her own setting.
  • Should you decide to surprise her with a ring that you have selected and purchased, be on firm ground that you know her taste and that she will love it. But, keep the receipt and be prepared to exchange it, and be a good sport about it. After all, she is the one who will be wearing the ring and you want her to be thrilled with it.
  • Many couples prefer to select an engagement ring together to ensure that the recipient will have the ring that she wants, followed by the planning of a secret occasion for the groom-to-be to “pop the question” officially, formally present the engagement ring and slip it on her finger. Be gallant and have a hanky to offer her in case she cries. If she laughs with joy, that’s great, too. And, be sure to let her know how happy she has made you by agreeing to marry you.
  • If you decide to break your engagement at any point after presenting the ring, protocol dictates that your fiancée should keep her ring. If it is a mutual decision, be generous and offer to let her keep the ring. If she declines and returns it, accept it with kindness and dignity.

If you are the one receiving an engagement ring, following are some etiquette guidelines for accepting gracefully:

  • If marriage has been discussed but the subject of the engagement ring has not, it’s probably time to drop some hints if you’ve got something specific in mind. Consider his budget, but if you have savings or are earning more than he is at the moment, when the subject comes up offer to pay part or all of the price of the ring. No one but you and he need know about this arrangement. Or consider a smaller or less expensive stone to be replaced or supplemented later on when finances are in better shape. This is a common trade-off, especially when a couple is planning to purchase a home or still in school.
  • If you think he’d like some guidance in picking out a ring but hesitates to ask, solicit help from a good friend who can casually and tactfully offer some advice and encouragement.
  • If you’re both practical and open about matters, consider simply reminding him that you tend to have definite ideas and preferences and acknowledge that you know he does, too, and that you’re happy to discuss anything with him.
  • Should you be presented with a ring that he picked out himself and it’s not exactly what you wished for, be gracious and considerate of his feelings. He is more important than the ring, so tell him that you love it and that you love him. There is plenty of time later in your marriage to get the ring you want. However, should he graciously tells you that he will not be upset if you prefer something different, say that the ring is beautiful and you are thrilled to be engaged to him, but that your taste runs to something a bit different. Then, let him take it from there.
  • If he offers you his family ring, be gracious and accept it. Keep the moment happy and memorable. If you really don’t love the ring, speak with him later. Find out how important it is to him, as opposed to his parents or other family member. Perhaps it was offered to save money and you don’t want to embarrass him. Perhaps he would be agreeable to your using the stones in a setting you would like. But, if he seems at all hesitant, let it go. You can always replace it with an anniversary ring later in your marriage.

End The Current Marriage First

One rule about when to wear your ring after accepting it, and thereby announcing your engagement, applies to those who are going through a divorce. It is a violation of etiquette and a demonstration of extremely poor taste to wear an engagement ring before the divorce becomes final. And, while it is not technically illegal in the U.S. to become engaged while still married and awaiting a divorce decree, doing so publicly could complicate and extend the divorce proceedings should the news reach your future ex-spouse.

Etiquette for Same Sex Couples

Although the rules are generally the same for both straight and gay couples, Steven Petrow offers this (and other) advice in his book, Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners For Every Occasion: “If there’s one prevailing custom today, it’s that most lesbian and gay couples shop together for their rings, and pay for them together…On the other hand, if it seems more loving, then you could each pay for the other’s. However, if you’re planning to surprise your LGBT sweetheart with an engagement ring, then it’s on you.”

Famous Alternatives to Engagement Rings

In last week’s entry, I wrote that a bride-to-be does not require a ring to be engaged. Well, you don’t need the most expensive one, either. Remember the scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s when Paul asked if Tiffany’s would engrave a ring from a box of Crackerjacks for Holly? Or when Maxwell Sheffield gave The Nanny Fran Fine a soda can pop top for an engagement ring (well, okay, the real one was stolen and they later wound up together at Cartier’s)? But, whether it’s Crackerjacks, pop tops or diamonds…savor the moment you give or receive a ring of any kind!

Until next time,



Note: While I find the websites included in my blog entries informative and interesting, I do not endorse any unless specifically noted. They are for your information only. 


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