A Practical Guide To Buying An Engagement Ring

Because jewelry commercials aren't all that helpful

Q: Hi APW!

I’ve been pre-engaged for what seems like forever now (a couple years). It’s a long and complicated story that I’d rather not get into, but the good news is that it looks like my boyfriend and I will be free to Officially Get Engaged in the next month or two. I told my boyfriend that I expect a romantic gesture and proposal, but not a ring. (I don’t know what I want yet, so how should he be expected to know?)

We plan to go looking for rings together and seeing as I am a big planner, I’d like to do some research on what type of ring I’d like before we go visit jewelers. I’m not a huge jewelry person, I haven’t been dreaming about a ring (or wedding) my whole life, I have no jewelry experts or big Ring People in my family or close friend group, and I am very skeptical on upselling from jewelers when it comes to rings. Money isn’t particularly an issue (we can spend what we need to) but that makes me worried that we’ll be talked into spending more than we need to if we’re uninformed.

I’m leaning toward an antique but I haven’t been able to find any good online guides for what to look for in an antique ring. How do I know it’s going to hold up to forty more years of use? Where’s the line between “so cheap it will fall apart” and “at this point you’re just paying for status”? Where’s the line between “that stone is so tiny I can’t even see it” and “you’re just showing off now”? I know one carat is a magical number for no apparent reason, so it’s good to look for stones that are a bit under that number. Are there any other tips like that? I know the three-months-salary thing is total BS, but what IS a good guide then? Have you guys done a ring-buying guide on APW before? A practical girl’s guide to finding the middle ground with rings when you don’t have a starting point yet? Buying a ring that I’m going to wear for the rest of my life without knowing the first thing about it is so overwhelming to me! Am I over thinking it? Should I just go to a jeweler and trust whatever they say?



A: Alice,

You are definitely not alone with your questions about engagement rings. Based on my experience with hundreds of couples purchasing engagement rings, I can offer some guidelines to help you find your ring. And I’m sure that the commenters can offer some other amazing perspectives (which I really enjoy learning about!).

You bring up some big-picture questions along with some nitty-gritty issues. I’ll start with the big-picture stuff and address some of the specifics in a subsequent post.

From what you’ve written, it sounds like you want to make sure you’re getting a good value on your engagement ring. That’s totally reasonable. For many people, an engagement ring is the largest purchase they’ve ever made (on something that’s not a house or a car). So how do you know if a particular ring is a “good value”? At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, an engagement ring that has a good value is a ring that you’re proud of. As disturbing as it is, questions that people will almost certainly ask about your engagement ring are:

  1. How did you get engaged?
  2. Where’d the ring come from?
  3. How big is it?

You likely think that your friends are more awesome than to ask questions like two and three (I certainly hope mine are!), but the truth is that you’ll probably find yourself answering these questions to a nosy friend or to your mom’s neighbor or a stranger in line at the grocery store. You don’t want to be in a position where you don’t like sharing the answer.

That doesn’t mean that the answer to those questions has to be super-romantic or over-the-top. And “proud” doesn’t mean you need to over-extend or look “better” than you really are. It just means that the answers to those questions should feel real to you. If a ring from a discount superstore is totally the way you roll, awesome. Rock it. If you would find it embarrassing to tell your friends (or your mother’s neighbor) that your ring came from said discount superstore, you might want to go for an awesome independent jeweler (like, say, TurtleLove.com) or a hometown jewelry store.

When you’re buying an engagement ring, what you’re really buying is the story. The story of the moment your intention to share a life became public information. So don’t look at your ring as a financial investment. At a conference I attended earlier this month, another attendee described the challenges of interacting with folks trying to resell their diamond engagement rings, and the repeated disappointment when they couldn’t resell the ring at its former retail price. Like a new car, as soon as you drive it off the lot, it will lose value. And while it doesn’t wear out the way a car does, fashions in shape and size and setting can date your ring and make it less (financially) valuable over time, too.

You raise the issue of “up-selling from jewelers.” I hate to sound so wishy-washy (and, as I mentioned, I will get to some nitty-gritty points in a subsequent post)—but if you feel like you’re having a good experience, you probably are. If you’re not having a good time, or if you don’t really trust the salesperson that you’re talking with, just leave! The purchasing experience should be fun and exciting and memorable, and result in a ring that you’re proud of. A brand name can add significantly to the price of a ring, but it’s worth it to a lot of people (and that’s okay). If you’ve never heard of the brand in question, you probably won’t want to pay extra to include that brand story in your personal story. Remember, your engagement ring is not a financial investment. It’s a social signifier that plays an important role in your conception of yourself, in you and your partner’s conception of your relationship, and in the outside world’s perception of you and your relationship.

Well, as I’ve mentioned, the value of an engagement ring isn’t exclusively in the materials. Only you know how important this social signifier is to you. The problem with the two months’ or three months’ salary guideline isn’t that it’s exorbitant (which it might or might not be, depending on your overall financial situation). The problem is that a salary guideline presupposes (and dictates) both how important this ring is to you and what you want from the ring.

So step back from simple multiplication and division questions, and figure out the story that you want. (Do this with your partner if it makes sense in the context of your relationship.) Is the story romantic or matter-of-fact? Private, or worthy of a viral video? Is humor a part of your vision? Or is humor totally out of place in this context? Do you see this ring as being about your individuality, or about your participation in a common cultural institution?

Then, taking your ideas about those questions, figure out what this ideal ring looks like: Do you want a ring that holds its own in the company of your friends’ rings? Do you want a ring that looks unlike anyone else’s? Do you want a classic ring? For many people, it’s important that the ring demonstrate a significant financial commitment to reflect the personal commitment that accompanies the ring. For other people, that’s just not the case.

So after contemplating these questions, you’ve got some good ideas about: (a) the story you want to tell yourself (and others) about this ring, and your engagement, and (b) how much you care about this story and what financial sacrifices you’re willing to make to make that story a reality.

What you want may not be a financial stretch at all—great! Or it may be that you want something that costs far more than the financial sacrifice you’re willing or able to make. If you can’t possibly afford the story that you want (four-carat diamond, Tiffany’s, proposal in Bali), change some (or all) of the elements to come up with another story that you like and that won’t cause unwarranted hardship. Depending on what you’re willing to sacrifice for an engagement ring, some options could be:

  • Candy ring pop, subway newsstand, proposal during a picnic in the park.
  • Antique ring from an awesome online jeweler, proposal at home during a thunderstorm.
  • Spontaneous purchase from a big box store, proposal in the parking lot.
  • A ring you already own, conversation in the car on the way to the grocery store.
  • For some more engagement story options, you can check out the TurtleLove.com proposal guide.

The most important thing that I’ve learned in my time in the bridal jewelry industry is that there are a lot of different approaches to the engagement ring, and no one approach is bad or good. Some couples discuss engagement rings, others prefer an element of surprise. For some couples, the engagement ring is really important, and for others it’s no big deal. The most important thing is making sure that you’re on the same page, or at least aware of your partner’s preferences. A $200 amethyst engagement ring (or a $20,000 diamond engagement ring) could be a welcome surprise in one relationship and an awkward demonstration of a disconnect for another couple.

I’ll be back to address the specifics of engagement ring purchasing in a follow-up post. In the meantime, I’ll be learning in the comments!



Adrianne Zahner

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[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Is this where we get to tell our ring stories!? Pretty please!??!!?

    • Cleo

      I hope so! I don’t have one yet, but I love hearing them (and I will reciprocate when I do have one)

      • Ok I’ll go first. When I was 21 my aunt gave me my great-grandma’s engagement diamond (which she had had reset). When my fiance and I first started talking about getting engaged, I gave him that ring and said that when the time came, to just use that diamond. He ended up going to the same store my mom had her wedding band made at, and got it custom made in a beautiful rose-gold setting with a few teeny vintage diamonds around it.

        And after he proposed I tried to propose back with a ring-watch I had in the 7th grade.

    • Katy

      I’ll go next! :) My fiancé and I had been talking seriously about getting engaged for about a year. I was so ready and I already felt that commitment in my heart, and wanted to have the ring to symbolize it and show people he was more than “just” a boyfriend. Anyway, like our 5th time looking at rings, I found one I absolutely loved! I was gushing about it and so excited. My fiancé, however, couldn’t picture it (the stone was not yet in the setting, so it looked a bit bare). He talked to the jeweler while I stood off to the side. I expected a proposal in the next few days (this was right before Christmas) and when he didn’t propose I got upset and confronted him, accusing him of leading me on with talk of getting married if he wasn’t going to follow through! He told me he wasn’t ready yet and not to rush him. I felt bad and apologized, ready to settle in again to wait. Just a few days after that he proposed on New Years Eve! It was private and perfect, with candles and flowers (that his mom snuck in and set up while we were out at dinner). Afterward we jumped up and down laughing and yelling “we’re going to get married!! We’re going to get married!” Pretty perfect :) haha and so us. Can’t wait to get married in August!

    • My ring is from my husband’s side of the family, and his ring is from mine. For us, that was a way to say that, not only are we our own little family now, but we’re part of one another’s larger extended families.

      We got secretly engaged on New Years, without a ring. My (then) boyfriend had spent Christmas with my family and told me he wanted to be part of the family forever. We decided to get married. (Though I had decided long before and was waiting for him to catch up.)

      Unbeknownst to me, my mom had been following him around the house with family jewelry saying, “You could give this to her! Or this!” He turned it all down.

      Three months later, he surprised me with his great grandmother’s wedding ring, which I love.

      And then we did accept the jewelry from my mom after all. We used a gold bracelet to make a wedding band for my husband. We are not sure where my great grandmother got it exactly; she was a loan shark, so probably it was collateral from a loan that never got repaid. She kept no paperwork, so we’ll never know whose family the bracelet originally belonged to. Now it’s my husband’s wedding band.

      • Hannah K

        haha AWESOME (BURIED LEDE HERE: “We are not sure where my great grandmother got it exactly; she was a loan shark, so probably it was collateral from a loan that never got repaid.”

        that is THE BEST! AHHH!!

    • LMN

      Yay for ring stories!

      My fiance wanted to make the proposal a complete surprise and he wanted to leave my engagement ring choice up to me (I have strong jewelry opions). He did still want to propose with *something* and ordered 3 different small silver rings (each with a different stone) in 3 different sizes so hopefully one would fit. I spent a while looking for my permant engagement ring–local artists, small jewelers, big name jewelers (personally I did NOT like the experience from the jewelry shops you can find in the mall*). I eventually picked out a ring from Etsy and absolutely love it! It was pretty inexpensive, I was able to get an ethically sourced sapphire instead of a diamond, and we supported an independent artist. All around win.

      *At one store the first thing they said to us was “don’t worry, we have payment plans.” I really don’t believe a ring (or a wedding ) is worth going into debt over so that was really off putting.

    • Aubry

      Picture Aubry, pre-engaged (a little before C caught on) and wanting to fantasize about my ring. Insert problem: I don’t actually like most engagement rings! They usually range from “thats kinda pretty but not for me” to “that is truly ugly, what was the designer thinking?” So began the Great Ring Search (thank god for the internet).

      I searched and searched to find a ring I liked, and eventually stumbled across a ring from Spence. I liked it more than any other ring I had seen! We went and looked at it! The problem, this ring was expensive. Too expensive for us (although not overly in the realm of engagement rings) at around $5000. The stone size was limited to .75-1 carat, so not a lot of wiggle room on price. We settled on it, but it became this big, expensive reason we were not engaged. Then add the price of the wedding, and the reality of this stretched into forever in our minds. I became more and more bummed. I also became a little dis-enamoured with my ring. When I looked at it I didn’t get all excited anymore.

      So began part two of the Great Ring Search. I read up on diamonds and decided I didn’t like them for lots of reasons. I found sapphires, yay! I found tension settings, yay again! So in my endless hours of googling variations of “tension set sapphire ring” I found mine, and my heart skipped. I clicked and it was on etsy! For a very cost affective $300. Suddenly all my sad wishing slammed into a possible reality. I sent it to C, he liked it (needed some convos about his expectations of gold/diamonds – he hadn’t been privy to my roller coaster of feelings about all things engagement ring) and then he sat on it. For 6 more months you guys, ug!

      There is one other fiasco I wont get into here, but we are on the other side now, blissfully engaged. A Monday night making dinner was my low-key engagement story. Just perfect. My mom was able to unexpectedly contribute a sum that she didn’t know amounted to the expected budget of the whole wedding. This wedding is so ON!

    • My hubby didn’t propose to me with an engagement ring, though I did get one a bit after. It’s made with stones from one of his grandmother’s bracelets, a marquise diamond with other smaller diamonds in the setting, which I chose. It’s lovely, very unique, and a family heirloom. I love it, especially the sentimentality.

      My wedding ring was likewise inherited, given to me by my mother. Also, sometimes I have mixed feelings about this due to the nature of my relationship with my mom.

    • Liz

      I’ll play. When my fiance and I were looking at rings, we went to this little boutique a friend had recommended. They had a gorgeous rose gold ring with a loop that encircled a chocolate diamond…the different parts were vintage, which also addressed our ethical concerns. But it seemed too expensive, so we left and went to a more mainsteam jewelry place.

      The first lady we talked to there was trying to sell us on big solitaires (not really my thing). When we asked about whether her diamonds were conflict-free, she seemed kinda confused and assured us, “Oh no…there ees no conflict in these diamonds.”

      So we left and ran back to the boutique. :)

    • I love things with a history– one of my favorite discoveries in the wake of my grandfather’s death was a box full of old jewelry from my great-great-aunt (I wore her bracelet at my wedding). So when my now-husband and I started talking seriously about getting engaged, he conspired with my grandmother and received my great-grandmother’s engagement ring. He had the stone reset in a vintage-style setting similar to a ring I’d shown him. We had talked about the proposal and such and decided that it would be a sort-of surprise. Basically, my life was a bit crazy my thesis work, so I told him he couldn’t propose until the semester was done. He conspired (again) with our two best friends to set up a hike that ended in a surprise proposal and picnic for the four of us in a meadow. It was perfect for us – outdoors, a ring with a family history, and a fun adventure with friends.

    • KE

      My husband proposed with a plain wedding band. Then we picked out the engagement ring together. I highly recommend this strategy when one person has very particular taste and the other person really wants a surprise engagement.

    • Emmy

      Yay! Ring stories! My fiancé and I decided that given our budget, we’d rather just have one very nice ring than a nice engagement ring and a plain wedding band. And we personally felt like we wanted the wedding band to be really super pretty because to us, getting married is a bigger commitment than getting engaged.

      He proposed the morning after he returned from a two-week business trip in Australia. He brought me back a beautiful pearl bracelet to mark the occasion. BUT THEN! When we were on vacation in Portland, Oregon, he saw the perfect ring in a shop and made me wait in the corner while he “secretly” bought it. I’s just a dinky little sterling silver band with a small, round peridot. But it’s a perfect placeholder till I get that beautiful wedding band on Aug. 24.

      That wedding band, btw, is from an Etsy shop. It’s made from recycled gold and conflict-free diamonds, and it cost just the right amount of money for us. I think it both stands up to others’ rings and is unique, and classic but in an interesting way. We bought his band from another seller. It has the same characteristics, but no diamonds. They’re both yellow gold because I like the warmth of that metal.

    • Katie Mae

      I wasn’t sure myself what kind of ring I wanted (I just knew that I wanted to wear SOMETHING on that finger for symbolic reasons). My man went to a local florist and had them create a “living ring” with soft evergreen leaves, baby’s breath and silver twine. He told me it was a symbol of how our relationship will continue to grow and change. He proposed with that, on a Friday night at home in our apartment, and it was awesome. :)

      I decided I wanted to wear a single ring once we were married, so during our 8-month engagement, I wore a ring that I already had. He had bought it for me for my birthday a while back and I already wore it every day on my right hand, so I just switched it to my left.

      My wedding ring is a custom design from a local jeweler/antiques dealer. It’s a reproduction of a popular design from the 1890s, with a “Belcher” setting (unfortunate name) and some twisty detailing on the band. Mine is recycled white gold with a small diamond from his grandmother’s wedding ring. It’s been three years and I still love looking at it!

      Oddly enough, my parents each were storing almost identical small diamond and gold engagement rings from past relationships. They kindly gave those to us, and I was going to incorporate all three diamonds, but we ended up just using the grandma diamond and trading in the rest.

      Whew, sorry for the long story.

    • Katie

      Hooray, ring stories! The Husband-Elect picked out a beautiful sapphire ring all by himself (telling me that he was delayed by traffic on the way home from rehearsal – I had no idea!) and hid it in a secret compartment in the trunk of the car. Before he had a chance to propose, I took the car out to an event and was rear-ended. Whomp whomp. Fortunately the ring and I were both fine (the car needed some work, and I didn’t find the ring), although it caused the Husband-Elect some moments of panic after he’d ascertained that I was ok. When he proposed a week later he got to tell me the whole story!

      • Katie Mae

        Husband-Elect, love it. :D

    • Anne

      Story! :)

      (And it includes a sloth!)

      My partner and I had been talking about getting engaged for a while, and I’d quietly mentioned it to my mom and sister. However, since we’re both grad students, we didn’t have the funds to make it happen. In February, my mom casually drops into the conversation the fact that my grandmothers left not one, but two engagement rings to me, if I want them. Woah.

      After a harrowing week with the US postal service, the ring of choice arrived to me from the other side of the country (where my mom lives). At that point I wasn’t even sure if I wanted it re-set since it looked so pretty and sparkly as a solitaire, but we decided to check out what re-setting with a local jeweler would entail. After trying on a few other rings we decided to do a fairly inexpensive re-setting with some small diamonds and sapphires around the stone. At that point, my partner took the reins. And… I waited.

      And waited. And waited. I figured it would definitely happen within a few weeks (I knew he had the ring because the jeweler accidentally called me instead of him to say it was ready… oops) and when it didn’t, I started getting a little antsy wondering if he was having second thoughts. Weeks turned into months.

      Has anyone seen that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin orders the little hat with the propeller on it, then sees that it takes 4-6 weeks for delivery? He starts out all excited, thinking “Maybe today!” “Maybe it will be there when I get home!” “If not this morning, then tonight!” And eventually he just trudges forlornly to the mailbox every day… until it actually arrives one day and he goes bananas.

      It was like that. I planned a trip back East to visit my family, but he had decided not to go because he would be too busy with school. One day my family decided to go to the aquarium, which is one of my absolute favorite places. At the very top of the aquarium in a beautiful open rainforest exhibit, I found my partner in a suit, with his family and the ring. My family had been conspiring with him the whole time. I was totally surprised (there exists a cameraphone video that shows my WHAT face). It was beautiful and romantic and shocking and perfect, and I was beyond thrilled that both of our families could be there in the moment to celebrate with us.

      The ring, which I had not seen in its new form, was beautiful and understated and unique. Unlike the mail-order hat in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, it absolutely did not disappoint.

      And we got engaged in a three-toed sloth exhibit. How cool is that?? In sight of man and sloth…

  • Amy March

    Browse! I love BlueNile for getting an idea of prices across lots of different styles. And remind yourself that you’re potentially making a pretty substantial purchase, so you get to ask the hard questions and take your time.

  • LT

    I also had no idea what type of ring I wanted and I am not a big jewelry person either. When I knew that my fiance was planning on proposing, we went to look at rings together but nothing really spoke to me. I had a vague idea of what I wanted the band to look like and knew that I didn’t want a diamond (I’m just not a diamond kind of girl) but had no idea what the alternatives were. So I googled non-diamond engagement rings and fell in love with the morganite gemstone. In the end, I told my fiance that we should custom design the ring together since I couldn’t find anything I really liked in the jewelry shop. We found an amazing jeweler on etsy who was able to create the ring I wanted based on images I sent to him. I did go to various jewelry shops and asked them how much it would be to custom make the ring I had in mind and it ended up being 3x more than what was quoted to me through etsy! I personally did not want my fiance to spend a ton of money on the ring, especially since I will probably just wear my wedding band after we get married.

    My fiance ended up proposing without the ring though. We were on holiday in Istanbul and at this point, had not found a jeweler yet to design it. That didn’t stop him from asking. He proposed with a jade ring since the jade stone has meaning in my culture. After we came back from our trip, we found the jeweler on etsy and now I am wearing my ‘official’ engagement ring. Although the jade ring will always have a special place too!

    • Katy

      I love the look of morganite!! Your proposal in Istanbul sounds awesome :)

    • Hannah

      I got my ring on etsy too! I was lucky that she happened to be local so I could see another version of the ring and even the stone options in person. From my experience, the price of her work was the same no matter what stone we chose, and she didn’t really seem to mark up the stone. So she didn’t pressure us to choose one stone or another. She just provided tons of knowledge and information about the options. It was an amazing experience.

  • Emily

    Oooh, is that the nested white topaz ring? I’ve had that on my wishlist for the longest time.

    • meg

      Buy it for yourself!! (That’s the part of ring buying that never gets discussed. I owe myself a Very Nice Ring, now that I’m thinking about it.)

      • So when you buy yourself a Very Nice Ring, do you just wear it on your right hand?

        • I think in general, many people choose that option.

          Personally, I’m a fan of: Since I Bought My Own Damn Ring, I Will Wear It On Whatever Damn Finger I Please. (and sometimes that’s my right hand, but what.ever.)

          Also, a little ambiguity goes a long way in destroying the “every engaged woman needs a diamond ring/any ring at all” myth. Ex: “I love your engagement ring!” “Oh, I’m not engaged, I Bought My Own Damn Ring, because I Deserved It”

          • Thanks, Sarah!

            This was purely a practical question; I’m a single lady who absolutely LOVES Very Nice Jewelry, and don’t want to confuse people (inc. potential suitors) as to my marital status.

          • Funny story about the right hand: In many other cultures (including Kazakh and Kyrgyz), you wear your wedding ring on your right ring finger. I have a lovely ring that was a gift from my grandmother for my 18th birthday that I’ve worn on my right hand since the day I got it. Back before I was married, I taught English in Central Asia, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to try to explain to little Kazakh grandmas in the market or my English students in my pitiful Russian that I was not indeed married.

          • rys

            I love your attitude, Sarah! I have a ring with some diamonds in it from my grandmother that I usually only wear for special occasions (weddings and such). Every time, I feel the need to look around and remind myself which hand signifies what, so as to try to ensure, like Danielle, that potential suitors are not confused. But really, I’m just the confused one.

        • Katie

          I wore mine (silver and peridot ring from TLC!) on my right hand before becoming engaged, and since then I’ve used it as a stand-in when my engagement ring is being cleaned/redipped. It will probably go back to being a right hand ring when I get married, get a plain band, and stop wearing my engagement ring on a regular basis.

      • Emily

        I just bought myself two Favor rings. Maybe this one is next. :)

    • Cleo

      Yes! That is at the top of my list of engagement rings (when we’re ready to get engaged) if we can’t find the original wooden engagement ring that my grandmother got (before getting her diamond).

  • mimi

    Antique ring from an online jeweler, but proposal at home in bed instead of during a thunderstorm (it was December, no storms to be found).

    The only issue I’m having now is finding a wedding band to go with my antique ring (which is a pearl surrounded by diamonds, set in an engraved and somewhat faded yellow gold band).

    • Amy Hawkins

      Mine is an antique (from my grandmother) with both yellow and white gold. It’s a little similar to the final picture in this post – yellow gold band with white gold setting. I went with a narrow plain yellow gold wedding band, maybe something like that would work for you?

      (However – don’t even get me started on jewelers trying to upsell me on the wedding band. Every last one insisted on me trying on a diamond eternity band before they’d let me try the plain gold one I said I wanted. ARE YOU PEOPLE looking at my engagement ring and do you really think all those diamonds would be the best match for it? REALLY?!?)

    • Hannah

      I had the same issue. My ring was untreated white gold, so I thought the only way to get a matching band would be to go with the same etsy artisan. I’m thinking of going without a band.

      • I have an unusually-shaped ring (my great-grandmother’s diamond in a vintage setting), so I just skipped the wedding band. I love my ring, so it really doesn’t bother me to not have a band. I know I’m married, and that’s all I need.

    • Caroline

      We originally thought matching my engagement ring would be hard. (The heirloom came with a wedding band but a) I don’t like the band I like the ring but not the band and b) it has diamonds. Jewish wedding bands traditionally don’t have stones. ( it’s from his catholic grandma.) Since my ring is platinum we thought it would be very expensive to get the simple band in platinum, but then it turned out we can do palladium instead. We went to our local jewlery store and they helped us find a ring that matched.

    • M

      My engagement isn’t vintage but it also won’t go with a wedding band. I’m going to swap it my right ring finger once married and just wear my wedding band on my left ring finger

  • marie

    You mentioned you have been looking at antique pieces, and that you’re wondering what will hold up over time. A few pointers from an antique jewelry enthusiast:

    Consider the setting:in many older (ie. Georgain, early Victorian) rings, the gems are foiled or set with closed backs; these sorts of rings should not be submerged in water/exposed to cleaning products, etc– which makes them impractical for continual wear, unless you are good about removing them before showering, washing hands, etc.

    If you plan to wear the ring every day (which is quite likely!), you’ll want a harder gem– diamond, sapphire, etc. Pearls, while beautiful (and common as bridal jewelry!), are rather delicate for continual, every-day wear on the hands, especially if you don’t plan to remove the ring while cleaning and whatnot. Pearlguide.com has a whole discussion board about wedding pearls, and good advice for people who have their heart set on pearl rings (protective settings, buying replacement pearls every few years, etc)

    • marie

      The best way to get a feel for prices, styles, and “value” is to just browse like crazy :) You start to see the patterns after a while. Here are a few excellent starting points:
      http://www.georgianjewelry.com/ (prices on the higher end)

      And here is a list of some of my favorite antique jewelry vendors on eBay. Ebay can be a great place to get a feel for pricing– it may seem overwhelming at first, but once you have a sense of what you like (ie. victorian, sapphire, cluster ring) it’s an excellent tool for obtaining multiple observations on prices for similar goods.





      • PumpkinPicker

        To add to that list: we got my ring from http://antiqueengagementrings.com/ which had both originals and reproductions in a really wonderful array of styles and price points. The repros are custom cast and so are available with your choice of metal and stone. They had clear pictures and concise informative descriptions so we started there just looking for ideas and ultimately ended up buying.

        They have a showroom in NYC if anyone (like us) was not willing to drop that kind of cash on an item sight unseen. They were very receptive to our questions about durability since the setting we chose was a 20’s openwork filigree design and I am one of those people that simply doesn’t take off jewelry.

        • B (the other one)

          Gemgossip.com is a jewelry blog and she links to a lot of antique or small designers as well. Also, etsy! Eastsidebride.com has a lot of jewelry posts as well.

    • PQRST

      Metal content is very important as well.

      Higher gold content generally=softer so if you’re looking for a good long-term life in the piece the more delicate the design the more durable the metal should be. I do not have personal familiarity with the coloured golds but in the classic white metals the best choice for longevity is platinum.

      Remember also that a real antique may have already been re-sized or even restored several times and this may affect your ability to manipulate the ring as needed in the future. If you are very concerned about longevity it may be worth it to look for a reproduction instead.

  • PLEASE check out luxedeluxe.etsy.com if you’re thinking about vintage or antique rings! She is without a doubt my favorite source for antique jewelry. She’s british and awesome, and so are her rings. : ) Three out of four of our wedding/engagement rings came from her, and they are all completely perfect and so, so us. They’re also super affordable ($200-$600ish range).

    • Alice

      Wow, thank you so much for this suggestion! She definitely has some stuff that I love, and it’s definitely in a much lower price range than other pieces I was eyeing. I just added about 10 of her rings to my bookmarks!

  • KateM

    Great post. Totally sending to a few friends. I thought I wanted a solitare, and had no idea what size I wore. So my then BF and I stopped at a small local jeweler in my parents home town to try somethings on. I fell in love with a custom vintage styled ring, that was about half the price of what we thought we would spend. My only concern was that it was “too sparkly”. A woman in the store overheard my comment and said there was no such thing as too sparkly. I decided she was right and he went back later and bought the ring and proposed with it a few weeks later. He proposed with a book he had made, with photos of where we had met, had our first date, first kiss, and said I love you. He had hollowed out the remaining pages and made a ring box so when I turned the last page, there was the ring:)
    I will say I worried a little at the time that we were getting too good of a deal on the ring, but even if the quality of the diamonds aren’t that great, I still can’t tell the difference and still love the ring.

  • Copper

    Something I noticed that wasn’t mentioned is that like in many other categories, you may also be paying for design. If you want a solitaire on a gold band, or a typical three-stone combo where one’s bigger and two smaller (maybe colored) ones flank it, then what you’re paying for is materials and to some extend workmanship. But mostly materials. However if you find yourself falling in love with something totally original, unique, that there’s only one jewelry maker that makes them like that, you may find yourself going, “but it’s not even a diamond. Why does it cost so much?” and it’s because in that case you’re paying for the designer’s time and work that went into crafting this unique piece, and it starts to add up in a way that’s a lot more than the material cost.

    • Yes! This comes up in Part 2 (coming next month). You wouldn’t expect to buy a painting for the cost of the paints and canvas.

  • Kate

    What I (naively) thought I wanted in terms of ring and engagement and what I got were so totally different and I am so completely thrilled with our ring/engagement story.

    What I thought I wanted: Me and him, strolling through a park in Minnesota’s beautiful autumn season (seriously, I have got to stop drinking the rom-com Kool-Aid), feeding the ducks stale bread. He launches into a little speech about how much he enjoys our time together and wants it to last forever. Cue him getting on one knee and opening black velvety box with a giant sparkling diamond (he’s a lawyer– I wanted a ROCK.)

    What I got (and love): We had been having a long, tired conversation for weeks about how I was uncomfortable buying a house together without being engaged, because, you know, that’s like all my financial assets. Finally, I said we could just “go look” but I wasn’t done asking for a greater commitment or renting instead. We looked at houses and said “Let’s go to a bar to have some beers and discuss what we liked and didn’t like.” Seemed harmless. As we are walking down a random street (48th & Elliot for any Minneapolitans), he says, “So, you want to get married, right?” To which I snarked, “[His Name]! Of COURSE I want to get married. I cannot believe we have been having this conversation for weeks and I don’t think it is SOOOOO MUCH to ask for some commitment before we…” and I looked over at him and he just stood there with a ring box with his great-aunt’s engagement/wedding ring (circa 1943), and he said, “Yeah, I am serious this time.” No park. No quacking ducks. Not even on bended knee. And it was SO perfect.

    • Amanda

      ugh, I hit report instead of reply! Sorry!!!

      We’d been talking about getting engaged for a year and a half, and he’d even had THE TALK with my parents about a year ago. I was getting incredibly impatient and antsy, and was expecting something big. I got a (truly) spontaneous picnic in a local park after our canoeing plans for the day were thwarted (he wasn’t going to risk taking the ring on a canoe!) We ate lunch, we fed the ducks, and then we decided to check out the Japanese gardens. The gardens were lovely but crowded. This was apparently a problem (though I didn’t know he was looking for a little privacy!) We climbed off the garden path up to the top of a waterfall, where we’d noticed 2 other people sitting. We basically crowded them out, and they finally left. Again, I’m just enjoying a spontaneous day outdoors and didn’t know he was waiting for them to leave. But then shortly after they left, he said “so, I brought something with me today” and pulled a box out of his pocket. And the ring was the perfect combination of all the (very different) rings I’d told him I liked.. No bended knee (we were sitting on the edge of a cliff) and nothing over the top, and it was completely perfect.

      • Kate

        You got the ducks!! Why my dream engagement included ducks, I do not know.

        • Amanda

          haha I just thought of my story as soon as you mentioned the ducks! If it makes you feel any better, the day also involved me, in flip flops, being attacked by fire ants while we were feeding the ducks. So maybe the ducks aren’t all they’re cracked up to be :)

  • Molly

    Great, realistic article! My mother gave me her mother’s engagement ring “just in case” when I visited a few Thanksgivings ago. When my fiance and I were ready to get engaged, it was very important to him that I have a new ring — this was not important to me at all, and I struggled to see why it was so important to him.

    Insert montage of us having lousy experiences with snooty NYC jewelers here. It turns out that some people do seem to delight in making you feel bad about your budget. Eventually, we found an incredible jeweler in downtown Brooklyn who specializes in estate jewelry and refurbishing. He was really excited at the prospect of rebuilding my grandmother’s engagement ring; those are his favorite projects, and he has a bunch of wedding announcements from happy couples behind the counter. The ring was very damaged, so it ended up being more of an overhaul. That way we both got what we wanted: the ring is old and new at the same time, but most importantly, it’s ours. And our living room proposal was perfectly low-key.

    • That jeweler sounds fabulous! Can you share his store name/location? Thanks!

      • Molly

        It’s the Court Jeweler on Court Street near the corner of Joralemon, right next to O’Keefe’s Bar. You would miss it if you didn’t know the shop was there. The owner’s name is Jacob.

  • IRMcK

    Um, where can I buy the ring in the second photo (the one with the pearls)? I have serious lust.

    • I’m going to guess turtlelove.com!

    • Alas, that ring has already found a home. We have a similar ring (with sapphire instead of pearl) that will come online early next week. You can sign up for email updates about our vintage rings here: http://info.turtleloveco.com/vintage-engagement-ring-updates.

    • Kathleen

      I know, right? I’ve been looking at this ring every couple hours for the past few days. I would buy it in a heartbeat. Any chance there would ever be another? I’ve looked at a lot of rings but nothing spoke to me like this one. *sigh*

  • CPM

    Antique ring from Etsy, 8 weeks of nailbiting/waiting for the appraiser to tell us if we’d made a horrible mistake, proposal on a people mover in an art museum (aka my #1 favorite place in town, even before the proposal).

    My ring (a) is 300ish years old, (b) doesn’t have a stone, and (c) has moving parts. Moving parts! It was way more expensive than any other ring I would have considered, and also totally worth it.

  • Rachel

    I really love this post! I would also add on that just going shopping somewhere (anywhere!) can be a really good starting point. We picked a chain jewelry store that seemed like it would be really low-pressure because we were both sort of nervous about the whole deal and wanted to not feel like we were being told what to like or how much to spend. (Side note: I was actually really impressed by all the chain stores we went to…they were not at ALL WIC about it and not pushy or money-focused at all!) I thought I knew what I wanted — or, well DIDN’T want — from the time I spent working in the fine jewelry department of a women’s magazine (like, handling vintage jewels and other incredible new pieces that were brought by guards for celebrity cover shoots…it was insanely amazing). Welp, turns out, I only sort of knew what I wanted. And discovering what I wanted WITH Eric discovering it too (we both just KNEW when I put on my ring) stands in my mind as, like, one of top romantic moments in our relationship. After that, I could give a DAMN what people thought of my ring; it means SO much to me for what it symbolizes. And the moment we both fell in love with my ring was my proposal, as far as I’m concerned.

    Anyway, point is, I think it’s worth it to go play dress-up at a jewelry store (and maybe an antique jewelry store) with your fiance to get your feet wet and see what you find! Doing that gave us a better jumping-off point for what to spend and all the other details.

  • nikki

    I also wanted an antique ring and scoured the interwebs for sites! Some great ones I came across:
    And ultimately where I found my perfect ring: http://www.etsy.com/shop/BlodgettandSon

    Happy hunting!

  • I’m the opposite – I had no idea what I wanted in a ring, but my husband knew exactly what HE wanted for me. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way! No I didn’t want to go shopping and dictate such a decision. Is my ring exactly what I would have picked out? I’m not sure, and I don’t ever think about it – it’s gorgeous and I know how much effort and deliberation he put in to finding something that was worthy enough to assist him in asking for my hand in marriage (he custom designed it with a jeweler).

    Size, color, clarity – none of that matters if your soon-to-be fiance puts every ounce of himself into picking a ring that he feels signifies your relationship and your love. If you hate what he’s chosen – well then maybe that’s a whole different relationship issue!

    • Yes, this. I was pretty adamant that I didn’t want a ring, at all. I don’t wear jewelry. I mentioned this at least a couple of times. But he really wanted me to have a ring, and he did all the research in secret (easier because we were long distance at the time). So would I have picked a diamond solitaire? Really, no. But if I had to, would I have picked this one? I can’t imagine a better diamond solitaire for me. And the amount it means to him (and therefore me) can’t be overstated.

  • Hannah

    I love this post. I really like the part about the story, and what the ring says about your values. For me, the entire engagement process reflected the core value of our relationship: A partnership. I picked out the ring on etsy from a local artisan, and we met with her together. I paid for some of it, and we picked a day together to get engaged. My fiance planned the activities for that day, but he also let me have some input on the day of. He even proposed in our apartment, describing it as “the home that we built together.” Our engagement was a team effort, as our relationship has been, and I know our marriage will be.

  • Chalk

    I’ve found that when I’m shopping for something expensive, I go into it with a budget and stick to it. A budget helps you decide where you shop, the size of what you’re shopping for, the brand you’re shopping for, etc.

    Regarding an antique ring – I wanted one too. My husband did his research and found that getting an imitation antique ring was the way to go. True antiques weren’t made with the same technology as they are today, and often can’t stand up to day-to-day wear. My ring came from White House Brothers. Their “antique” rings reflect the craftsmanship you’re looking for while making sure the ring is built to last.

    • KE

      Same here on both fronts. I went with an antique-inspired ring.

      And a budget is essential. I was worried it could be a little awkward, but telling the salesperson the budget at the start was the opposite of awkward. It made things easier on both of us because they weren’t trying to upsell (or at least not as much) and my fiance and I didn’t have to rebuff them.

      • Yes on telling jewelers what you’re looking for! You can talk about budget in terms of dollar figures, or in terms of ring characteristics. Either of these will hopefully avoid putting you and/or your partner in an awkward situation with a ring that’s not part of the plan.

  • Jessica

    The internet is overwhelming, there is so much you could research. I’d say look up a couple antique jewelry stores in your area, try some rings on, and ask the experts there all your questions! The internet is too overwhelming; most jewelers will be able to answer all your questions. Plus you may not know what you really want until you try it on.

    Personal story: I was OBSESSED with rings when I was pre-engaged. I even scoured pricescope.com to look at pictures of rings on actual fingers, relative to the size of the fingers and carat size. I thought I wanted one thing, but after trying on I realized I liked something totally different (and way smaller) in person.

    Also, not relevant, but…. I thought I’d be all entranced, with magical butterflies and stars in my eyes when I *finally* went ring shopping with my guy….instead I sweated LIKE CRAZY and was SO NERVOUS. Go figure.

    • Cleo

      “Also, not relevant, but…. I thought I’d be all entranced, with magical butterflies and stars in my eyes when I *finally* went ring shopping with my guy….instead I sweated LIKE CRAZY and was SO NERVOUS. Go figure.”

      Like I said above, I don’t have a ring story yet, but I can SO relate.

      I knew I was in love with an ex-boyfriend long before we said it. I was waiting for him to break the ice. And when he did, I was silent and scared and clammy and finally mumbled back “I love you too.” And I did love him. So weird.

  • Sarah

    I never thought about what I wanted in a ring and do not wear much jewelry at all. I just assumed it would be a diamond ring and I would like it, because, you know, that’s what all the Kay commercials say. When my husband proposed we were sophomores in college after dating through high school. He got my roommate in on it and when he came to visit one weekend he had her decorate the room entirely with pictures of us and letters we’d written and all this stuff I never knew he saved while he took me to dinner. Then we came back and he proposed with a 150 dollar alexandrite ring (my birthstone) and it is so beautiful and perfect.

    • Ooh! Alexandrite! That’s pretty neat.

  • Hope

    I’ve been married twice so have two engagement ring experiences with some similarities, some differences.

    Both times I wanted to help choose the ring. It was important to me to have a ring that was low profile so it wouldn’t interfere with my job. I didn’t want a big diamond as that wasn’t common in my culture and I travel on public transport in cities.

    The first time he wanted a diamond big enough to keep up with his work colleagues and money wasn’t an issue. He researched the 4 C’s and cared about cut and color and compromised slightly on carat and clarity. We didn’t know what we’d choose until we went to a jewelers in the diamond district and tried stuff on.

    This time I looked online at rings through blogs like ESB and if I liked a ring, and it was within our smaller budget, I looked at the designer’s website. I showed my then boyfriend (who wanted to buy me a diamond) and the ones we both liked we checked out at local stores that stocked those designers. We also went to a chain jeweler to see what they had.

    I picked 3 rings each with a tiny seed diamond to wear as a stack. He surprised me by proposing with my mother’s wedding band that he’d procured on a visit with my Dad before we’d even started looking in the stores. I wear the 3 rings as my wedding “ring” and the plain band as my engagement ring :)

  • Jen G

    I love this post – so many great questions and ideas to think about. The “how big” question pisses me off to no end. I have snapped at many people who have asked it because of the number of loaded assumptions. I know for some people it might matter, but it drives me crazy.

    Now – story time, because I find ours funny – as we all probably think ours is the best ;) My Ben’s mom gave him 2 rings after we’d been dating for about 3-4 months. We’d known each other longer, but it seriously was only a few months after she met me – little bit awkward. She gave him her ring from a brief previous marriage, and another ring from his grandmother on his dad’s side. We actually decided to get married after taking a trip together last August (probably 6 months in) when he survived 10 days with my parents. He really wanted to surprise me with the ring and the proposal, so I agreed to give him some hints and then let him do his thing. Turns out grandmother’s ring was really high quality costume jewelry and re-setting it or changing it would make it fall apart and it never woudl have ever fit me (didn’t know this until later). His mom’s ring was an emerald cut, seemed fine to me though I hadn’t really thought about it. Turns out, when trying to hunt for hints, I realized anything squarish appealed to me, I kinda sorta liked halos, and I really wanted a plain band b/c anything else irritated my neighboring fingers. I left the rest to him.

    He apparently emailed my friend who is now my maid of honor and discussed options. He somehow decide he wanted something that seemed floral-themed to him and also wanted color. There are not many rings in the world that have a diamond center and color accent, as it turns out. Lots the other way around, but reversing it apparently throws a lot of jewelry folks into a tizzy. But why not more diamonds!! More more more sparkles! I’m glad he stuck to his ideas, because my ring is pretty unique but still reasonably traditional in styling.

    After figuring out the ring, he planned a trip up to Sonoma the weekend that we planned to meet a bunch of my friends at a winery Christmas party. A bunch of my co-workers kept telling me he was going to propose, whereas I assumed it would be a few months later based on comments he’d made about us living together 6 months first. We have a fabulous romantic weekend – bed and breakfast, couples massage, romantic dinner, then we end up at the winery a few hours early for the party. We walk around then sit on this little bench overlooking the grape fields. He starts talking about how much he loves me, etc. And…does not propose. We walk back down the hill, enjoy the party, and go home. Turns out he didn’t propose b/c they made the ring wrong!! The day we left town, he went to pick it up and they had put in a diamond halo rather than the emerald halo he wanted (color was super important to him). He refused to propose with the “wrong” ring even though they said they could change it later.

    Cut to a few weeks later, we’d gone to Buffalo Wild Wings for a friend’s birthday after work, I was kind of tired and cranky, and on the way home he blew by our street and kept driving. He said he wanted to take me up to see the city lights and go parking, which was an old joke we’d made several times about picking our house based on proximity to good make-out spots. I was a little confused but thought this might be something important given that it was cloudy and rainy and not a good view-of-the-city kind of night – well, that and he drove back and forth a few times to find a good spot ;) He proposed in the car, no more details than that b/c it is very personal, but it was perfect and goofy and lovely. It seems appropriate for us that it took a do-over to get the proposal right since we originally went out for a few weeks, then were friends for about a year and a half, then dated again for good.

    Long-winded way to say that however it happens is hopefully perfect for you and your relationship and what you as a couple think is important.

    Looking forward to the rest of the Q&A!

  • Allison

    My wedding and engagement rings belonged to my grandmother. When she died, my dad had the diamonds pulled out and put in a heavy man’s ring for him to wear. When we were talking engagement, he gave me the stones and the original bands/mountings. My now-husband took them to the jewelry store and, with my input, had them refurbished for me and the original diamonds put back in.

    It fits us perfectly – the family story, the vintage appeal, the imperfections of the rings which have been worn and worked on so many times. I like telling the story of the rings, and everyone thinks it’s a great tribute to my grandparents’ long marriage.

    But sometimes, especially when I’m around friends who just wear simple bands, I find myself wanting to explain “They’re vintage! They’re from family! I swear we did not spend thousands of dollars on diamonds at a big box store! I would have chosen an eco-conscious sapphire in recycled white gold!”. Because my friends are the kind of people who would wear plain bands, or socially conscious stones.

    So sometimes I feel like people are judging me on my diamonds, assuming that I’m a participant in the Diamond Olympics, when really I just wanted to wear my grandmother’s rings, which happen to be diamond rings.

    You really can’t win no matter what you do. But I’m pretty darn happy about my rings when I get to talk about them, and they give me a smile every day, even if it is more bling than I thought I would wear.

  • SarahT

    I love my engagement ring, which is kind of funny since it belonged to another woman first. And not just some random person who owned it by happenstance-it was my now-husband’s fiance’s ring before he met me. So, how in the world did I come to love this ring?

    We had broken up and were both seeing other people, somewhat seriously, when my partner really felt he had made a mistake (I’m the one who broke up, but still). He had to be very determined to get my attention (did I mention I was seeing someone else?) and through many conversations he made his case that we belonged together. One night he texted me a picture of a gorgeous ring and said “This is how serious I am”. Now I didn’t think he had just gone out and bought a ring, and I knew he had been engaged before we met, so I figured that’s what it was. I couldn’t see it very clearly (lame phone) but thought it was a beautiful color and very sparkly. There is a sweet but long story of how we got back together and decided to get married, but once we did, we had a decision to make. Old ring or new ring?

    At heart I am a very practical person. Having a beautiful ring that was already paid for spoke to that part of me. Plus, I love sparkly things but would never have spent that much on a ring. Sparkly ring without the guilt equaled a win/win! But my romantic side wanted to be wooed with a ring that hadn’t been bought for someone else. My fiance was totally willing to buy another one, and we started looking. Problem was, I really liked the ring we had-it was so exactly ME. So I asked lots of questions about how he bought it and what it meant to him. Did he think about her every time he saw it? Would all his family think about her when they saw it? Would my friends think he was a cad for giving it to me?

    Turns out he had gone to the jeweler by himself and picked out the ring. I knew they had been engaged about three months when he broke it off and she gave him the ring back. He did not have a lot of emotion around the ring related to her at all. His family had never seen the ring. My friends know he’s not a cad.


    We finally went back to the store where he got it and because the price of gold had gone up so much, the ring was worth more than he paid for it. Could we do a trade? While the jeweler and my fiance were talking over the money side of things, I got to try on rings. Big, small, sparkly, sort of vintage. It’s hard to picture what it will look like when a diamond is in it, but I kept coming back to a particularly beautiful white-gold setting. I motioned them over and said-this is my favorite. They both smiled-it was the ring we already had. Arg!! I kept looking, trying to like something else better. But after a few more I realized my heart already loved that ring. To me it was not only beautiful but symbolized the very sweet time in our relationship when he was laying it all on the table, when he had a vision for us as a couple and held onto that hope in spite of the circumstances. In the end I chose that ring like I chose my partner-well aware of all that had come before, but in love with it anyway.

    • Amanda

      “I chose that ring like I chose my partner-well aware of all that had come before, but in love with it anyway.”

      This. My ring is brand new, but we broke up (twice!) before we finally were able to make our relationship work. I had friends who were not happy when we got back together (they’ve since come around), but I felt the same way as you: aware of our issues and what had come before, but still in love with him and more than willing to put in the effort required in our relationship. It might not be a fairy tale, but I think being grounded in reality is better in the long run.

    • ” I motioned them over and said-this is my favorite. They both smiled-it was the ring we already had. ”

      I love this!!

  • ak

    best sponsored post ever! great content and advise, without aggressively pushing product in or faces. thank you Adrienne!

    • Aw, thanks! More next month! ;)

  • Kate

    My ring is from TAP studios, a local Cleveland jewelry artist team. We were thinking about getting officially engaged for ages, and I found this place while looking online for jewelers that met my qualifications and where I could try on the ring before he bought it.

    I wanted sustainable and kind, hypoallergenic, low maintenance, affordable, interesting, and low-profile.

    I am a practical and moral person, an artist and teacher, and I am allergic to everything.

    We went to big and small stores and found the ring in a boutique that carried TAP studios’ work. We both knew immediately but pretended this was not the case and continued shopping elsewhere. IMO, it was worth it to try on all sorts of styles because if you’re wearing this thing every day, you should know how it looks and feels on your hand.

    My fiance sneakily bought the ring and proposed a few weeks later, while we were on vacation. It is a 2mm hammered palladium band with seven tiny recycled diamonds set flush at random intervals. It doesn’t “look like an engagement ring” and my mother has suggested that it will not “be valuable” because the diamonds are barely noticeable, but it is perfect for me.

    Lastly, I think it’s also important to consider, besides cost and its personal meaning to you, what the maintenance and risks are like. Even though white gold is cheaper, I knew I’d have to get it re-plated several times. Silver is really soft, but very affordable. In my line of work, I worried about a solitaire getting snagged on a kid or getting crusted with art supplies. I also was concerned that I could easily lose a prong set stone sine I work with my hands so much.

    • Aw, that sounds like a tough comment to hear from your mother, about your ring not being “valuable.” I’m glad that the ring is exactly what you wanted.

      In case it helps understand where your mom is coming from, an engagement ring used to be a kind of insurance policy for a woman whose reputation and social and financial prospects would be dramatically affected by a broken engagement. If the issue is still open with your mom, she might love to hear that you understand the old function, and you could explain why you don’t need that now. She might be thrilled to hear your perspective about what your opportunities and ambitions and reality is like, though there are lots of other possible reactions. (Or she might not.)

      In any case, congratulations!

  • In case anyone in the New York City area is looking for a custom/unique place to look for a ring that has super ethical practices, this is where I got mine. http://littlekingjewelry.com/

  • Kerry

    what a fantastic post!

    I went with my now-fiance to Lang Antiques in SF (had a great experience there, despite being reluctant to put anything on and scared of how much everything cost) and ended up choosing a lovely, simple ring that we both loved.

    He then surprised me with a proposal on a return trip to SF about a year later.

    I plan on just wearing my e-ring after we’re married, both because I love it and feel that it represents me and our commitment, and because it is a unique shape that would be difficult to pair with a wedding band.

    • If you have a wedding band, you can also wear it on the other hand, so that each ring can stand alone in its glory. (It can help to wear the engagement ring on your non-dominant hand, it’s a little more protected there.) Congratulations!

  • Cait

    Okay, I can’t not share on this topic: I am freaking in love with my engagement ring. We got both my ring and my fiance’s at Pippin Vintage Jewelry in NYC. They were extremely helpful while not being pushy, and even let me order his ring over the phone when we got home and he finally made a decision. They had a really wide selection of vintage and antique engagement rings in some really beautiful styles. And you don’t have to sacrifice quality for cost: mine is a .4kt antique diamond in a gypsy setting (at least I think that’s what it is) and it only cost $480, but it appraised for three times that. I would highly recommend them!

  • Caroline

    “At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, an engagement ring that has a good value is a ring that you’re proud of.”
    Best advice ever. I haven’t really gotten questions on my ring, because I’m so proud of it that I volunteer whenever someone asks to see it: “it was his GRANDMOTHER’s” like that’s the best thing ever because to me it is. Not only is beautiful, but I love that it is a family heirloom.

    • Yes! I think that most questions about engagement rings (even awkward ones) are about sharing excitement and joy, and it is FUN to be able to share that. (When we encounter questions that seem like they aren’t about excitement and joy, it’s great to be able to re-infuse that conversation with light and love.)

  • Laura C

    I am so excited to see this post, and here’s why: I didn’t want and didn’t get an engagement ring, but I wanted my wedding band to be sparkly and special. I’d looked around and the more I looked, the less I was in love with what I thought I wanted.

    Then last week, after reading Elisabeth’s post about her family ring, I clicked over to Turtle Love and looked at their vintage rings and sent out an email to my fiance saying “do I want this ring? it’s a lot of what I want, but vintage and interesting, and also so much less than I’d expected to spend.” Then I didn’t hear back from him so I sent similar messages to my mom and my best friend, because I was rapidly becoming obsessed with the ring. Anyway, a certain amount of misunderstanding later I found out that my fiance’s hesitation about it was not that he didn’t like it or wanted to shop for rings together, but that he was worried that I was thinking of settling for something I didn’t like in order to save money. So it is on its way to me now and I am so excited to meet it.

    • Hooray for misunderstandings cleared up! Now I’m excited for you and your ring to meet, too!

  • The Bull

    And right here is the first time I experienced the scorn of WIC. Everyone banging on about diamonds, spending 3 months of my partners salary, making me feel stupid and poor because I set the budget with what I was comfortable paying and wearing on a daily basis. Here’s the thing: its not the last piece of jewellery you’ll ever buy, the diamond trade has some serious ethical issues, and I’m happy enough within myself that I don’t need something to make other people jealous!
    We found our ring at a local antiques dealer who sold exclusively online but had on office in town. It was made 100 years before we met, the central stone is a white opal (I’m Australian) and it was made in England (he’s a pom). I love it, but the symbolism is worth so much more than the dollar value. When in WIC land stay true to your values!

  • Nicole

    We didn’t want an engagement ring, because we were both not comfortable with some of the symbolism that comes with engagement rings. (See e.g., http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/weddings/2007/06/diamonds_are_a_girls_worst_friend.html and http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/the-strange-and-formerly-sexist-economics-of-engagement-rings/255434/). I got lots of harassment for this throughout our engagement from people I barely even knew – it got to the point that it was quite entertaining. Many people really went out of their way to express essentially how unacceptable they thought it was that I did not have an engagement ring.

    Multiple members of my husband’s family have a copies of a great-grandfathers wedding ring as their wedding ring, and my husband also wanted to follow in this tradition. We worked with a jeweler to make the ring, and he paid close attention to the details, for example, materials that went into the ring so that it would be authentic to the time the original great-grandfather’s ring was made.

    The same jeweler also worked with me to design a ring. I knew I did not want any diamonds, or any stones that could be mistaken as such. I had some specific functional needs for my ring, for example, as a medical student I wanted a ring with smooth edges and something that would tolerate a minimal amount of daily abuse. I really liked light sapphires, luckily it is a hard stone, and the jeweler was able to find a few stones for us to choose from. We then designed the rest of the shape of the ring to the shape of the stone. The price in the end was very reasonable for both rings.

    The jeweler also had lots of great estate pieces that certainly were inspirational and a delight to admire.

    In the end, I am really happy with my ring. We both put a lot of thought into what we wanted out of our rings, so for us our rings are very symbolic.

    Here’s a shout out for our fabulous awesome jeweler: http://www.grinsteinjewelry.com/home.html


    Our official engagement started because I turned around one day and said “I know it’s something we’ve sort of been getting at, and before it comes up – I am not comfortable with a modern source diamond engagement ring for ethical and financial reasons”.

    We started talking about the ifs and by the end of the discussion we were engaged but decided to make the ring shopping date the “official” day.

    He wanted a lot of input from me because I’m very particular about aesthetics and function (and I’m a research fiend) and so I decided what I wanted instead was a Moissanite (all the durability, a fraction of the cost, and TWICE THE SPARKLY – YES!) in an antique or reproduction setting.

    We looked around online at settings and one caught his eye as I was flipping through a site and as it turns out it was (and remains) perfection itself. We visited the brick and mortar site for the store to be completely sure but no other setting came even close, and then had a generally lovely day in NYC fielding all the “what, what, really? YAY!” responses on Facebook.

    I do have kind of a weird experience having a Moissanite because the setting and my small hands make it look like a rather large, high quality diamond (seriously, it’s freaking SPARKLY). At least once a month someone will use someone else checking out my ring as an excuse to smugly declare all about the fact that diamonds aren’t *really* worth what people pay for them and there are way better alternatives out there.

    Yes, I know this. That’s why I have this ring in the first place… but how freaking rude is that?

    Not one has even bothered to ask me the source of my stone before diving into a lecture on the falseness of diamond scarcity. For all they know it could be a family heirloom or a *gasp* alternative stone!

  • B (the other one)

    I honestly felt as I’d the commenters were more helpful than the post! None of her main questions were even answered.

    And can we please move away from the ‘how much did your ring cost?’ and ‘where did he get it?’ narrative? Asking and answering those questions especially to ‘a stranger in line at th grocery store’ is about as rude and offensive as asking someone what their salary is. Responding to rude people who feel they have a right to ask and know the answers to those private details reinforces the cultural normative that bigger and expensive is better.

    • Hi B! Yes, the comments are awesome (as I hoped/knew they would be)! I broke the response into two parts because there’s JUST SO MUCH in the question, and it made for a REALLY REALLY long post. Next month’s post fills in the nitty gritty stuff, with lots of info about the diamond industry, diamond retailing, and diamond alternatives.

      You know, when I started TurtleLove.com, I also had a really straight-forward approach to these issues. But I’ve learned that there are lots of ways for people to experience their own culture, and to create cultural change. Sure, you could plan on refusing to answer questions that you don’t approve of. But (depending on where you live and your social circles), that could be a pretty uncomfortable decision. It can also actually reinforce the cultural norms you’re trying to subvert.

      Another way of participate in cultural change is by answering those questions proudly, and in unexpected ways. That’s probably the most effective, right? The promoter of the cultural norm actually *learns* something from that interaction, and the person responding to the question can respond in a way that’s consistent with the joy and pride that accompanies the ring.

      For example, nosy grocery store patron asks how big the stone in your ring is. Possible answers that productively teach (without being confrontational) are:
      “Well, I don’t know – that’s not really important to me.” or
      “It’s a 6mm white topaz. I didn’t want a diamond.” or
      “This is a tiny stone in an awesome vintage setting. I’m so proud of it!”

      Besides the confrontational and the non-confrontational cultural changers, there are plenty of people who see the engagement ring as a way of participating in a cultural institution, and JOINING the community practice is an important part of the engagement ring purchase and presentation. This is OK!

      (We also must consider that there are TWO people involved here, and they may not have the same perspective. So there can be some navigating to do.)

      (It should also be noted that an engagement ring is not a necessity, has some weird history, and is not required for an effective engagement or marriage. So a simple opt-out of the entire cultural practice is another perfectly acceptable course of action.)

      One of my main goals in this post was to provide some guideposts for individuals and couples to think about how (and if) they want to use the social signifier in their own lives and relationships. It sounds like you’ve got this sorted out already, so that’s great! Nitty gritty stuff next month – let me know if you have specific questions you’d like answered – I’ll put them in, too!

      • B (the other one)

        I really appreciate your coment! I think I was really disappointed because the questions she had are exactly what my boyfriend and I are trying to figure out right now! Looks like I have to wait till next month.

        Maybe its a personal thing, but there’s just no way I’d ever ask to talk to anyone, stranger or friend about the costs and size of an engagement ring. It’s kind of like a man and his package size: you might know they are packin’ but unless youre dating him, you don’t have a right to see or know ;)

        • Hey! If you have specific questions, let me know! Email me at [my name] at turtlelove.com, and I’d love to help you out! Or we can chat on the phone if you’d like.

  • green sophie

    [your engagement is] the story of the moment your intention to share a life became public information.

    this is great. i am struggling with feeling like we’re not committed because we’re not engaged, when the truth is i guess i’m struggling with our commitment and decision not being common knowledge yet (pre-engaged).

  • Ruth

    I really enjoyed reading this and wish this had been around when I was thinking about engagement rings years ago. I never thought about AFTER the engagement and what the ring would mean then or how people’s reactions to it might make me feel. Thanks for another excellent post, APW!

  • kh_tas

    So, we’re in negotiations about maybe getting engaged within the next year. A few weeks ago I decided I wanted the nested ring featured in this post, after a long time wanting something else altogether. Now my indecisive syreak has kicked in and I’m second-guessing myself.

    This post came at a good time, and I am looking forward to part 2

  • Sarah

    It’s hard to pick something that has so much meaning! Oh, the choices! Some things to remember:

    People will judge your financial situation by the size of your diamond should you go that way, or the fact that you don’t have a diamond, should you go that way. They will. But it’s up to you how much you give a crap. They probably judge your clothes and your hair and your body and everything you do and say too. It’s just more acceptable to make inappropriate comments about how much the ring might have cost (to your face, even) than it is to talk about all the other things people use to pigeon-hole you and shove you into a box.

    Also, yes, the ring is meant to last a lifetime but you should think of it as a reflection of where you are right now. That includes your financial situation and your sense of taste and style, and what your partner thinks too. Don’t take on the next 40 years with this decision. Because, if for some reason down the line you don’t like it anymore or you want something different, or it fell apart, or it doesn’t fit, you can change your mind and it doesn’t have to be life-altering.

    *For context, my ring is a solitaire that I picked out and that my finace paid for. It cost more than I ever thought I would ever spend anything other than a house or car. I had always pictured a plain silver band with a diamond chip or two. (I know, poor me, right?) And I worried about what people would think of an expensive ring, especially since I work at a job where the salary is well known to everyone and they already think we’re overpaid. But what I realized is that it’s a reflection of where we are right now. 10 years ago, neither of us would have dreamed of spending that much but we aren’t getting married 10 years ago. When people ask to see the ring I get two reactions: 1) A polite, “Ooh, pretty!” from people who think it’s pretty and people who are just asking to be supportive and think that I expect them to ask about the ring and 2) “Ooh, wow!” Followed by a mental calculation of what my FH must take home every two weeks and a reassessment of how they should relate to me from now on now that they think I’m marrying into money. I’ve gotten over that. Whatevs. And for the record, I friggin love my ring. More that I ever thought I would. FH does too. So there :) *

  • Alice

    Hey everyone! This is the person who asked the question for this post.

    I know the engagement story is a Big Deal, but I’m not connecting the ring in my mind with that. I’m already engaged for all practical purposes (and have been for a while) but am waiting for The Proposal and The Ring to make it “official”. I see those as two separate things, though. If it’s not obvious from my question, I don’t know what sort of ring I want, so I expect to figure it out with my partner once we’re engaged, and to pick out something together. So I won’t be buying the ring for the story of the ring, as the story will have already happened.

    I’m not seeing it as a financial investment in the sense of re-selling it or needing total value for money– more like I am so totally ignorant with jewelry that I just want to make sure I’m not being ripped off! Mostly I’m really nervous about buying antique (which I love the look of) and then having it fall apart in a few years (I’m not generally the most dainty of people, and tend to be hard on clothes, so I can only imagine what I’d be like with a ring on every day).

    I know social circles are a big thing with engagements, but I only have one close married friend and her ring was her grandmother’s, and my mother had the most low-key engagement and marriage ever (and then divorce, so she hasn’t even worn a ring for 20 years and I don’t remember what it looked like). I have no siblings or other close friends or family with engagement rings. My partner and I are sort of alone in this- there’s no pressure from anywhere to be like anything. Maybe that’s where I’m having trouble. Usually people have friends or family as a starting point for what is “expected” and we’re totally free of that. Which is pretty awesome, don’t get me wrong, but when an engagement ring is such a big social signifier and there’s no society to worry about, you have to figure it out yourself somehow, and it’s hard!

    • Hi Alice!

      I agree that the engagement story and the ring aren’t associated in your mind, but they will be in conversations that you have about the ring.

      Vintage rings come in all different levels of delicate. Some are quite fragile, and others are complete workhorses. (Just like modern rings, except with a heavier concentration in the fragile zone.)

      If you want to talk before Part 2 is published, I’d love to talk by email or by phone – my email is [my name] at turtlelove.com!

  • Katie

    $10 stegosaurus ring from amazon. I got it a while after the engagement because I don’t care what other people think. It is sooo me those who know me love it. He did pick out the exact ring after I said dino ring. Still deciding what wedding ring I want and what to do with the steg.

  • Kate

    So…I’ve got my own ring story now, as of Saturday, the 15th. My fiancee (still haven’t called him that to anyone else, still calling him boyfriend) included his proposal in the final draft of his PhD dissertation I was going to proof-read for him. When I read the dedication, it thanked his friends, family, and…fiance. I turned to tease him about planning ahead, and…there he was, on one knee, ring box in hand.

    I had a less-than-lady-like response. “Are you f**king s**ting me?” Yeah, maybe not the best response. After tears and more confirmation that yes, this was the real thing, I accepted, after about 2-3 years of pre-engagement and 5 years together.

    But the back-story to this is that in May, he’d surprised me with a trip to the jewelry store to just look – brainstorming ideas, he planned to custom design something for me at the best place he could find in his area. After a minor freak-out in March about how this was never going to happen, I’d tried to clamp down on it, read this site, and tell myself it would happen when it happened. But in May, he brought me in and we brainstormed. I, really, did not take it well – I felt like it was giving me false hope.

    Eventually though, it came out that he planned to order something before the end of summer, when he was moving out of the area where the jewelry store was. So, considering we were going to get to spend 2-1/2 weeks together in July (we’re long-distance, have been for 3.5 out of 5 years, with the living together in the middle), I figured, considering the custom work, that it would be in July.

    In my glee, and trying to get over my initial odd lack of excitement, I did continue my brainstorming on my own, and came up with an “art project” describing to him aspects of rings that I really liked, like two-tone metal color, stone size, blah blah blah. The first and last two pages were both too fluffy and romantic to show anybody else, but this project was hand-written on construction paper, with pasted-in pictures of rings. (Yeah, over-ambitious, but I wanted to have it as a keepsake later). Turns out, he’d already ordered it waaaay before I’d given him “the final report”.

    So when he gave it to me on Saturday, I was completely surprised – his whole goal all along. He’s big on surprises – he’s asked me about twenty times if I was really surprised. Yes, yes, I really was – best surprise of my life.

    Sorry for long story – I’m flying pretty high, considering. It’s a beautiful ring, and every time I look at it, I think it’s prettier than the last time I saw it. I really like how I gave him design aspects I liked, and then he considered what he liked (and his personal tastes), so it reflects both of us. My other favorite is that the stone design (center stone a bit higher, with three smaller stones on either side in a side-ways triangle pattern) is reminiscent of a ring his grandfather (a very dear person to him) left him when he passed.

    Ahhhh, I’m so excited!

    • R

      Congratulations!! Isn’t it great that he was able to combine both your preferences? I did the same thing – gave him several pictures of rings I liked (any of which I’d be happy to wear, but some were VERY different from each other), we talked about what I liked about each of the rings, he nixed some of the aspects he really didn’t like (turns out he was anti-halo and anti-cushion cut, who knew), and then he chose my ring. It’s like all the things I liked best about the ones I showed him are combined and it is perfect and what I’d have chosen for myself.


    Ultimately there were a few specific questions we needed to answer before we could pick a ring. These questions helped narrow things down considerably for us and I hope having these helps others.

    Source: Are there sources that are more or less acceptable for you? For me the ethics of my stone source was critically important. There were no heirlooms involved in our situation but for others there may be questions about the family connections that heirlooms may represent.

    Financial concerns: What is the balance between affordability and investment (and I use that term to cover multiple measures of worth, not just “how much can you sell it back for”)? In our case it was very important to me that he not burden himself financially with the ring purchase but he was concerned about not having “skimped” on me.

    Style: Do you even *wear* jewelry? Do either of you have specific ideas of what you would like to see? Do these ideas agree? How do you feel about wearing something without prior design input?

    Cultural buy-in: Do you look forward to a life of explaining the significance of your engagement tiara/condo/restored VW Bus or do you prefer the idea of having a straightforward quickly recognizable wedding set?

    Construction: Are there safety/durability concerns? What stones/metals/objects match your lifestyle? I wear jewelry until it breaks and falls off of me and I am extremely crafty so I needed a ring that was extremely durable, unlikely to snag on things, and easy to cut off in case of injury.

    And something I didn’t even think about until after I got my ring: Does the style of your engagement gift make a statement about your financial situation and are you comfortable with that?

  • Meghan

    So I never tried on a single ring before we purchased ours. Over the internet (with a few phone calls from my cautious then-boyfriend). From a wonderful little shop in Brooklyn that I have now recommended to everyone and their mother. It’s called Erie Basin in Red Hook, and it is impeccably curated by Russell Whitmore (whose name I think perfectly matches his shop).

    When my now husband started asking what I might like, I had no idea what to tell him. When I was in high school, way back when, I knew with certainty that I wanted an emerald cut solitaire on a thin gold band. Now, I wasn’t so sure. Cue the interwebs. I started sending him photos of things I liked from Pinterest. They really ran the gamut, and probably didn’t help him very much. Then I found what I thought was “the one.” After a fair amount of hemming and hawing on my part, he ordered it sight unseen. We waited on pins and needles for two days for it to arrive, with the understanding that, if we didn’t love it, we had three days to return it. No harm, no foul. Well, I loved it. I’m not really a jewelry person, and had no idea I could like a ring so much.

    And then he sat on it. From May until November. I knew where it was, and visited it occasionally. I tried really hard to remain patient. I’ve felt like I was married to him since not long after we met. What difference would a ring make? But it was oh so pretty. And it was right. there. But in the end, when he finally did give it to me, it was perfectly us.

    Two weeks ago, I added our wedding band to that finger. I still can’t believe I could love a piece of jewelry so much, and I like to tell myself that it’s obviously because of the deep meaning behind these two rings. But also, I can’t kid myself – they are beautiful and sparkly and fun to look at. Which is just the icing on the cake.

  • Great post. Very useful for those who are having problems in choosing the best ring that is just right for them. Seeing that engagement rings are expensive, it would be wise to plan things out.

  • That Sarah

    Oooo, I love these stories. Great questions, Alice, and great response Adrienne (and thanks for sticking around in the comments, too!)
    I adore my ring. I sit and stare at it when I should be working. It’s objectively gorgeous, I think, but the best part is the back story, I think.
    It’s my grandmother’s ring from her engagement in the 1930s. My mom gave it to us a year or so ago, when we said we were getting serious about getting engaged after about 4 years together. then it went in FH’s special metal lock box until the day he brings it to the jeweler to take the center stone out and reset it in something modern. And it sat there. And sat there. And sat there. And then I started worrying. And worrying and thinking, and over thinking. He doesn’t want to. He feels pressured. He’ll never do it. Then I put him on the spot a little and asked where he was in this process, and he said, by June.
    For Christmas last year, he got me tickets to a show in Boston in April. “Yay!” I says to myself. We’re getting engaged on the common with the ducks (what is it with ducks in these imaginings?) and the trees and the sun. Nope.
    I am crushed. The next day, I tell him, tear streaked face, I don’t understand why he doesn’t want to get married, I thought we were on the same page, etc. He says, oh, um, I didn’t realize how invested you were in this, I’ve been scared to change the ring without you knowing and having input on it, let’s go to the jeweler this week.
    So I go online and print out some things I think are really pretty and we go to the jeweler. And he takes a look at the ring and says, no. I will not tear this ring apart to rebuild it into the same thing, because the pictures I printed were almost identical to the ring we had. I am so proud to say my engagement ring cost my fiance $300 for replacing the yellow gold band with white and plating the whole thing in rhodium. Bargain!
    The story of how he then proposed is ridiculous, but much longer than this already long post.

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