Happy Wife, Happy Life
It sounds stupid now, but it’s true: I put off proposing to Kim because I was unsure about how to find the perfect engagement ring for her.
I could have simply seen how much my friends spent on their engagement rings, what they got, and who they got it from, then done roughly the same.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I followed the advice of a random dude on a podcast:
“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”Jerzy Gregorek
I thought and researched long and hard about how to find the perfect engagement ring for Kim. How could I ensure Kim gets a unique ring that she loves, tells our story, keeps us together forever, looks great, and doesn’t cost too much?
This blog shares the 7 steps I took. They involve hard choices. But hopefully they’ll lead to an easy life. And a happy wife.
How to Find the Perfect Unconventional Engagement Ring
Don’t Worry About How Much to Spend On An Engagement Ring Until the End
You set a budget when you’re buying a refrigerator or a car, not a wife.
So I’m not setting a budget.
Money matters. Especially when you’re pretired like me. But not as much as other factors. So it’s the last step in finding the perfect engagement ring, not the first.
Find the Perfect Partner and Propose
You’re wasting your time worrying about how to find the perfect engagement ring if you aren’t 100% you’ve found the perfect partner first.
It’s not easy, of course. It took me 27 years to find Kim, plenty of work on our relationship, then another 5 years to be 100-percent sure she was “the one” and, more crucially, get her feeling the same way about me.
By the time I proposed, the only thing I still wasn’t sure about was the ring.
Decide Whether to Involve Your Future Spouse in Picking the Perfect Ring
Some of my friends designed their fiancées’ rings without any input from them. I seriously admire their audacity and bravery, but I also seriously can’t understand why.
Here are the 3 questions to ask yourself to decide if it will be wise to involve your partner in finding the perfect engagement ring:
1. Do you need a ring to increase the chances she says, “Yes”?
If Kim would have said “no” because I didn’t have a ring when I proposed to her, that would have been my cue to download Bumble.
2. Could you possibly find a ring she’d like better than one she helps pick out?
Not in my case. I wouldn’t even dare buy socks for Kim, let alone something she’ll wear everyday forever.
My only chance would have been had I inherited an heirloom ring, but I didn’t.
3. What’s the rush?
Your wife-to-be has to wear the damn thing for the rest of her life, so what’s the big deal with taking a few months to work together and make sure you find the perfect engagement ring?
Forever A Relatively Recent Fad
The “tradition” of a diamond engagement ring is as real as Santa Claus.
Until the late 1930s, only 10% of engagement rings had diamonds. Then, in 1947, some marketing genius at De Beers came up with the famous “A diamond is forever” campaign. Seventy-odd years later, 80% of engagement rings had diamonds.
Marriages aren’t any happier because of it.
But the De Beers guys certainly are.
So as precious as Kim is to me, I wasn’t keen to splurge on precious stones (diamonds or otherwise) to finance the next round of champagne for the De Beers guys.
Forget the Two Months’ Salary Stuff
The whole two months’ salary rule of thumb is another De Beers marketing coup. They created it out of thin air in the 1980s with an advertising campaign that went,
“Isn’t two months’ salary a small price to pay for something that lasts forever?”
To answer their question, no. It’s a huge price.
If you put that two-months’ salary into the stock market instead of into De Beers’ pockets, you could reasonably expect it to have $35,000 thirty years from now. Make that $40k if you insure the ring.
Or $100,000 in fifty years.
Ask your grandma (or your future self). Would she rather have gotten:
- A ring that cost your grandpa the “small price to pay” of two month’s salary?
- A ring that cost him two week’s salary AND have an extra $100k to spend today?
Respect the Ring
Engagement rings (of the diamond-less sort) go way back to the Roman or even Egyptian ages. They went on the left finger because that was thought to be the way to the heart.
And now, when you see a woman wearing a ring you know she’s married.
Unlike needlessly expensive diamonds, that’s a tradition I respect.
What About a Ring for the Husband?
While researching the history of engagement rings, I found something else that surprised me:
Men didn’t wear wedding bands until World War II. It only then became a trend as a way for the men abroad to think back to their loved ones back home.
Well, thankfully I don’t have to leave Kim to fight in a war. And I hate wearing jewelry (except when I sleep). So I’m not getting a ring.
But if you want to, by all means, do so. Just watch out for the wedding ring industry’s greedy attempts to make “man-gagement” rings a thing.
A Gem of a Book:
I enjoyed reading The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire, Tom Zoellner’s journey into the depths of the diamond industry.
The people he meets and the stories he tells of how the allure of decorative stone has wreaked havoc on the Central African Republic, Japan, Russia, Canada, Belgium, Australia, South Africa, Angola, India, and Brazil gave me the understanding I needed to decide what to do about Kim’s engagement ring.
Diamonds aside, it’s also quite the travel book!
Figure Out What You Want
Once we’d successfully de-brainwashed ourselves of the need to get a brand new expensive diamond for her and a ring for me, we set about thinking through what would make the perfect engagement ring.
Your criteria will differ from ours. Use the four we came up with to inspire you to think of your own.
1. It Has to Have the 4 Ds
Forget the 4 Cs of diamonds. Our engagement ring’s stone needed the have the 4 Ds:
- Day-in-day-out-wearable. It has to be practical so Kim can wear it whenever and wherever. Kim felt a low-set, clear stone met this criterion.
- Durable. It better last at least as long as our marriage.
- Dazzling. Kim wants it to stand out from her other rings.
- Descriptive. The ring should tell a story, which is important enough to be a whole separate need…
2. It Has to Tell a Story
This is not the story I want Kim to tell anyone who asks about her engagement ring:
“I went on Pinterest, found some styles I liked, then Chris and I went to a few jewelers and Etsy to find something similar, and here it is!”
There has to be a meaningful story behind it.
3. It Has to Represent BOTH of Us
An engagement ring isn’t an excuse for Kim to get a fancy new piece of jewelry.
It’s a symbol of our relationship and it should represent both of us. Even though I won’t be wearing the thing, I want to be just as happy with it as Kim.
4. It Has to Help Keep Us Together
According to a survey of over 3,000 married people in the US, the more you spend on a ring, the shorter your marriage is going to last.
I want my marriage to Kim to last until death do us part. I guess that means it’s best to spend $0, right?
Maybe not. But I do want to ring to be so special that when we go through hard times we can both look at it to be reminded of why we settled for each other, all the good times we’ve had, and all the amazing experiences we have to look forward to.
Figure Out How to Get What You Want
Finding how to squeeze our four needs into a little ring required some creativity.
We scoured the net and reflected on our way of life, our tastes, and our future goals to come up with an unconventional engagement ring design that met our needs.
✓ It Has to Have the 4 Ds
We discovered two alternatives to a natural diamond that met the 4 Ds:
The Non-Diamond Alternative
Diamonds most obviously meet our 4 D criteria, but when I Google searched for “durable clear stones” I unearthed another option that I’d never heard of before:
This man-made stone is as clear as a diamond, dazzles even more than a diamond, and will only break if Kim punches a wall of diamonds. Plus it’s more ethical, environmentally friendly, and way more economical.
We looked hard for meaningful cons of moissanite and couldn’t find much to persuade us against it. This thread has probably the most honest assessment. None of the marginal complaints—too brilliant, sometimes a slight yellow tinge, not a diamond—went against our 4 Ds, so moissanite seemed like a great fit for us.
The Hi-Tech Alternative
Reading The Heartless Stone stimulated my interest in lab-created diamonds, and the deeper I researched it online, the more interested I became.
They are diamonds, but without the baggage. And continued advances in their production technology is changing the industry. It’s cool to be a (very small) part of that.
✓ It Has to Represent BOTH of Us
They teach us to look beyond our biases to discover our true preferences, which is how we try to live and promote on this blog.
So we came up with a crazy idea:
Why not make our engagement ring a blind test?
Kim’s mom was handing her down a natural diamond. If we put natural diamond alternatives beside it, would anyone tell the difference?
We doubt it. And even if so, we like that the ring will remind us to continue testing everything in life instead of simply following the status quo.
✓ It Has to Help Keep Us Together
Kim and I have a lot we want to accomplish together such as get married, have a kid or two, find a home, have grandkids, overcome inevitable tragedies, enjoy career successes.
This ring is just the beginning, so why get a ring that’s finished product?
We’re leaving the band of the ring as a blank canvas that we will etch to celebrate every milestone we reach together.
Those etches will remind us of what we’ve been through together and the blank space will remind us of how much more we have to look forward to.
✓ It Has to Tell a Story
We like to think all these things we’re incorporating in the ring will tell a pretty cool story.
Even this blog post on how to find the perfect engagement ring is part of it.
Put Together the Perfect Engagement Ring
Find a Design
I left the design of the ring in Kim’s hands seeing as the ring would be on her hand. As long as it incorporated everything we wanted, I was fine with whatever she decided.
To find the ring design, Kim followed some accounts on Instagram, collected screenshots of vintage and low-set inspired rings she’d found online, then pieced together those ideas and inspiration until she had a clear vision of what she wanted.
Enlist an Expert on Your Side
One 30-minute phone call saved me at least eight hours of research and saved Kim and me from making misguided decisions on our engagement ring that we might have later regretted.
That phone call was with Danielle Mainas from Little Bird Ring Consultants.
Unlike a jeweler, she had no incentive to upsell us on anything. And unlike some random blogger or Reddit poster, she’s a legit expert. She’s worked in the industry for over 15 years and helped over 3,000 couples find their perfect engagement ring.
She loved our plan but didn’t mince words about what was wrong with it.
For example, she said to dump the moissanite idea. It looks great on its own, but next to a diamond the difference would be obvious. The stones are cut differently and diamonds have an affinity for dirt and oil that moissanite doesn’t. She strongly recommended considering a recycled or Canadian stone for our “blind taste test” instead.
Danielle also told me not to waste time trying to buy all the parts separately. It wouldn’t save me money and I’d probably screw up and buy the wrong stones, anyway. Let the jeweler do it.
Once she picked apart our plan and rebuilt it, she gave an estimate of how much to expect to pay so we wouldn’t get overcharged and sent me on my merry, and very grateful, way.
Find a Jeweler
Our first instinct was to go the online route. I figured it’d be cheaper than going with an old-school brick and mortar business. But I was wrong. They would only be cheaper if we got one of their standard designs. And most weren’t flexible enough to make what we wanted.
The industry’s changing fast, so it’s worth looking to see if any online jeweler can help you out. Just don’t default to this option without considering brick and mortar jewelers, too.
Brick and Mortar Jewelers
Ultimately, we went with a local jeweler in Cape Town. We’re glad we did. The literally hands-on experience helped Kim tweak the design to be exactly what she wanted. And when she got the ring and found the band to be slightly too bulky for her liking, they gladly shaved it down for her at no extra cost.
Find Cheaper Alternatives if Necessary
As promised, figuring out how much to spend is the last step of how to find the perfect engagement ring. The cost should be a result of your design and desires, not the other way around.
I’m not going to tell you how much we spent on Kim’s engagement ring. All I’ll say is it was significantly less expensive than what we would have paid had we started with a budget and worked backward from there. At the same time, it’s also more unique and meaningful. Win-win.
You may follow the same steps and still come up with a ring you can’t afford. If so, think about your grandma and reassess with these questions:
- Are there less expensive materials for the band and stone(s) that meet your needs?
- Does your ring need to start as a finished product or, like every marriage, can it develop over time?
The Wedding (Ugh)
Figuring out what we’re going to do about our wedding is a whole other can of worms that we’re just opening up now. We’ll cover that when we get to it.
[UPDATE: We got married in August, 2020. Here are the hits and misses from our unconventional wedding.]
Meanwhile, let us know your thoughts or questions in the comments below.