My partner and I just got engaged, and …this means a lot of things! Ever So Scrumptious isn’t going to morph into a wedding blog. But some related posts will crop up from time to time. The first one to come out of our engagement experience is that our different cultures, backgrounds, and those of our friends made engagement ring negotiation thought-provoking indeed.
It gets sticky because engagement rings are where love, money, and expectations collide. Some of my friends dislike engagement rings, or dislike diamonds (for sociopolitical reasons), or expect that Americans are all mercenary about going for big expensive rings. Others have rings on every finger, or treasure a classic diamond. As a result, I haven’t tied myself up in so many anxious knots about a post since I first started this blog…even though, having worked at a jeweler, I have some Ideas about choosing rings.
Another dame who has an engagement ring for her fiancé and herself says, wisely, “I love hearing about other people’s choices, but I hate that we live in a society where women are screwed for both liking and not liking rings.” Yes! This!
So, this post is for those of us who like rings, and jewelry, and the idea of special rings and jewelry to symbolize relationship commitment. At the same time, we chafe at showing off, overspending, and not considering the environment and human rights when choosing said jewelry.
We chose: rings for everyone!
My partner and I formalized our engagement by exchanging rings. Yes, we both have an engagement ring. Because of the jewelry work involved, getting from No Ring to Two Rings did eliminate the surprise that some people expect from an engagement. But when Ring Day came, we woke up as excited as kids on Christmas – a delicious feeling that neither of us had expected. We made a pilgrimage to the springtime Wellington Botanical Garden to exchange rings with each other. My partner picked the spot – an alley of blooming magnolia trees.
Mine is an antique Victorian sapphire and diamond ring, a family heirloom. His has a chrome tourmaline, bezel-set in a hand-forged gold ring.
Rings and Money and Convention
Engagement rings with center stones are a cultural construct, adopted at varying levels in the USA, New Zealand, and Australia – a carry-over from our parent country, Britain. In most of the rest of Europe, engagement rings are understated bands, often worn by both halves of a couple. Engagement ring marketers are working hard in Asia, but many Asian cultures focus more on other types of engagement and wedding gifts – this forum thread is fascinating. The engagement ring “push” or culture has become stronger in New Zealand in the past 20 years. I’ve known several couples who got rings after long-term anniversaries, and several more where there is no engagement ring, or the engagement ring is very understated, European-style.
Rings are often more expensive than bracelets, when bracelets, curiously, involve just as much work and more material. But the value of “The Ring” is inflated in our minds – here’s a deep discussion about engagement rings and value metrics. One woman told her partner that a good engagement ring budget was what he would spend on a gaming system, saying, “You are happy to spend X on yourself, I would like it if you could spend X on me, too.”
There is a difference between engagement rings that are cold rhodium-plated signifiers of the Wedding Industrial Complex versus an ethically made, daily celebration of love. And that difference is an independent jeweler. The people who take years to become independent manufacturing jewelers are creative free spirits or geology-engineering-artist types. And they want to adorn you with rings that break the mold and make you happy every day.
Choosing a Ring That Will Last
“A diamond is forever,” said the classic advertisement – setting up the weighty expectation that personally significant rings are indeed forever. In real life people get their rings repaired, choose to upgrade them (often for major anniversaries), and have to deal with losing rings. Sometimes they even pass rings on to the next generation long before they die. How can you pick a ring that will last?
- The sturdiest ring settings are bezel settings or solid 4-6 prong settings, preferably with the stone set lower/closer to the finger. Bezel settings are favorites of health professionals and others who work with their hands.
- Keep your metals old school: yellow or rose gold, platinum. White gold is an alloy and is often plated with rhodium. Unplated white gold often has warm or steely tones. Which I, personally, like! But if you see shiny perfect white gold, it’s rhodium plated, and you can expect to replate it at some point.
- Get a ring that can be resized easily. That means avoiding detailing or diamonds going all the way around the band. Mokume gane metal bands are also challenging to resize. Rings with complicated bands may be resizable, but you should go back to the jeweler who created them to get this done.
- Avoid melee/pave settings, with lots of little diamonds, for everyday wear. These settings are everywhere now – DeBeers created the “right hand ring” campaign to sell a flood of smaller diamonds, and that’s probably where these settings got started. Also, the beading – the tiny claws that hold the pave in place – gets worn down over time.
- Got a ring with lots of small diamonds? Wear it more carefully, and get it looked at every year to see if it needs repairs, especially deep cleaning or prong/beading reinforcement.
Gemstones That Last, Too
Here are my picks for durable daily ring stones. Like other minerals, gems get measured on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, and it is recommended that gemstones for daily wear in a ring are 8 or above on the Mohs scale. Often folks get very woo-woo when talking about the mystic symbolic treasured wonder of gemstones. I’ve done my best to link to actual information – scientific, legal, and gemologcial – rather than vendor claims.
- Diamond – There’s a lot of diamond downers out there right now – so much so that the demand for diamonds is going down in Western countries. For durability, I cannot argue with 10 on the Moh’s scale of hardness. The alt-diamond approach is to reuse a family stone, choose an ethically mined diamond (Canada or Australia), or buy a vintage diamond.
- Blue Sapphire – Blue sapphires are the blue version of the mineral corundum. For a sapphire where everyone from the miner to the cutter is fairly compensated, look for sapphires from Montana or Australia. Sri Lankan sapphires are also considered to be at fair trade levels of ethical, lots of detailed information here in the Sri Lanka Mines and Minerals Act 1992.
- Ruby – Rubies are corundum that is tinted within a specific range of red hues – not too purple, not too pink. Did you know that rubies from Burma/Myanmar are banned in the United States, and haven’t been sold by many gem retailers for years, due to Myanmar’s human rights violations? Ow. These sanctions will be lifted soon, but read this first. Go vintage or go for gems from Sri Lanka.
- Pink or Peach or Purple Sapphire – Speaking of those Sri Lanka gems! Pink and peach sapphires are increasingly popular. And purple sapphires delight those who, like Anne of Green Gables, wish that diamonds were actually purple.
Also worth considering:
- Spinel – Like corundum, spinel comes in a ravishing range of colors, including ruby-alternative reds, cool blues, pinks, and even sparkling gray. Why yes, I do like spinel! Watch out for Burma sourced ones, though.
- Tsavorite Garnet – For a gorgeous green stone that holds up to daily wear, I’d choose a tsavorite garnet over an emerald. I’d still set it carefully, though. And I’d read this piece about the death of the gem’s discoverer first, in a tangle of race and mining rights issues.
- Tourmaline – If you want a natural big stone – a really huge rock – and you can wear with care (it tops out at Mohs 7.5) tourmaline is for you. They come in almost every color including hot neon-blue and watermelon (combined pink and green).
- Quality Lab Gems – If you want a big durable stone that’s affordable and has no ethical issues, go for lab gems. A flawless five-carat ruby? It’s yours! You like emeralds? Get two lab emeralds in case one cracks! And many people who like the look of a scintillating white gem go for moissanite, diamond’s ethical lab twin. Several of my friends are delighted with their eye-catching lab gems.
Sentimental favorites that are too soft for daily-wear rings: opals, pearls, turquoise, pounamu (nephrite jade/serpentine). Beryls are higher on the Mohs scale but unfortunately tend to be brittle – this includes emeralds, aquamarine, and morganite. Emeralds are a popular gemstone but there are many sad emerald ring stories like this one – after a few years of wear, her emerald center stone was pretty shot.
Some sturdy and accessible ring inspiration for you:
You’d Think Men’s Rings Would Be Sturdier as a Rule, But No
Have you met a guy who is lukewarm on the ring thing? I haven’t – guys either hate rings or want them to be unique and fascinating. The latter, when choosing a ring for themselves, will go for rings that can be seen from outer space. Titanium rings, which are popular amongst men, are perfectly fine, but have suffered from an urban legend about being too strong/having to be cut off of fingers.
Sadly, men’s rings can have durability problems, too. Avoid tungsten rings, which are strong but brittle. What’s more, many tungsten rings are sold with designs that are often decals sealed with PVC. PVC!!! Why is it that women are supposed to be sticklers for the four C’s and 18k or platinum and men get fobbed off with plastic? For a darker ring that has technical interest, I recommend instead that perfectly fine titanium, damascus steel, and oxidized silver or gold.
You’re allowed to have more than one piece of jewelry. So don’t feel that you have to cram all your pent-up ring desires into one ring. Most of us have a whole other hand that can also wear rings.
I often find that the jewelers I want to send my friends to, or the ones with the coolest, most inspirational stuff, about 50% of the time have out-of-date web sites. They’re busy making great pieces and not overcharging for them, and getting word of mouth recommendations, so the web thing isn’t at the top of their priority list.
I’m not a melee/pave fan, but if you want a setting with lots of diamonds, get a hand-forged setting. It will cost more, but it will be sturdier and last longer.
Antique and vintage rings are hip right now. But be advised that many of these are delicate, or require some work to make them wearable in the modern day. My ring required enough work that getting it wearable for the 21st century cost as much as a modest ring in and of itself. Quite a lot can be done, too – prongs can be renewed, shanks and engraving can be restored, gems can be repolished, even a deep clean of a neglected ring can turn it into a stunner.
Antiques aside, there is nothing wrong with secondhand jewelry and some of it is good quality. It’s a great way to make the most of your budget.
When you want a new shiny thing for a loved one, a great time to commission jewelry is between June and September – the quiet period for jewelry sales. Larger jewelers often have sales during these months. Jewelers get busy with holiday commissions between November and February.
Cool Jewelers in NZ, and Some Gemstone Sources
Why are they cool? They’ll work with your own stones. They have a better than average selection of men’s rings. And you’re talking to the jewellers themselves, instead of hypertrained, pushy sales troops.
- Bell Arte’ – One talented guy in…Te Horo, of all places.
- Unio – A group of great people in Havelock North.
- Berry’s – A great crew based in Wellington.
- Tory & Ko – Another Wellington team.
- Also, Artifact for titanium and damascus rings in NZ.
All these jewelers have gems in stock, along with finished jewelry. If you want to go the extra mile and pick out non-diamond stones yourself, check out these online vendors. There are many gemcutters out there – I have chosen these because they combine gorgeous gems with NZ friendly shipping options.