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.
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.
Proposals to You:
- Surprise your spouse with when and how you propose, but NOT by proposing. Talk about marriage and be as close as you can be to 100% certain she’ll say yes before even thinking about how to find the perfect engagement ring.
- Ask her dad before you ask her. You and he might think it’s an unnecessary tradition, but it can’t hurt.
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?
Proposal to You:
- Propose with something special other than a ring. (If you, like me, decide to enlist your future spouse’s input in the design.) For example, I secretly saved our text messages from the first time we met until the time we reunited two months later, picked out the highlights, and printed out a booklet out of them that we read through before I proposed.
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!
Proposals to You:
- Don’t ditch diamonds altogether. Despite all my arguments above, we included a diamond in our engagement ring because Kim’s mom gave us a hand-me-down loose diamond. (Thanks, Manako!) If you inherit a diamond or other precious gem or find a beautiful one that’s second-hand (literally) it makes sense to consider it.
- Be sensitive and patient. Telling your fiancee that you’re anti-diamond can hurt just as bad as telling a kid that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Some women have been dreaming about a diamond ring long before they dreamed about the man who will give it to them. Be careful with this conversation.
- If your fiancee tries to force you to wear a ring as a sign of commitment, offer to get a tattoo instead. That’s what I did since I’d honestly rather a tattoo than a ring. Kim doesn’t want me to get a tattoo, so she dropped the idea of me getting a ring.
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.
Proposal to You:
- Don’t pay too much attention to our criteria. Think of your own. Dig below your surface needs and wants and to the core desires by asking a chain of, “Whys.”
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.
Proposals to You:
- Use general google searches to inspire your creativity. Google your criteria and read through all the results to uncover unexpected alternatives.
- Other ideas for inspiration include to look at engagement ring traditions in other countries, to consider your ethnic heritage, to look far and wide at different materials (there’s a lot of cool stuff out there), and to think of what hobbies, passions, and beliefs brought you and keep you together.
- Don’t rush it. Inspiration will come to you eventually.
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.
If your travels or lifestyle allows, consider getting the ring made in a place like Cape Town, which has a low cost of living but high quality standard. We saved close to 50% by getting our ring made there rather than in Vancouver.
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.
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About the author
I'm Chris. Canadian, husband, dad, writer, investor, athlete, and obsessed explorer of the secrets to living a never-boring, always improving, unfollowable life story.
33 responses to “The 7 Steps for the Perfect Engagement Ring (No Marketing Nonsense)”
Fun! I love this idea. We spent $600 total on all three rings (engagement ring plus a wedding band each). Hopefully that means we’ll last 😉
Well mister mister. Great read, excellent plan, and an exceptional choice in a life partner! Will have to check out that book recommendation.
Cape Town wedding before July 22 2020!
Took me a week to respond…as I was so overwhelmed by your …everything!… the depth of love for Kim, such thoughtfulness, thoroughness, unique thinking and ideas, intelligence and the mental flexibility and strength. 4D is brilliant, and thanks for considering my little rock for a part of the “story” in the ring! (but you don’t have to, really!!) Mom
Hey Chris (and Kim),
(sorry for the long comment)
I found your blog when I started preparing for our 1-year sabbatical RTW trip with my wife – since then I’ve been repeatedly coming back as I’m going through the different topics and phases of planning (insurance, packing list, etc.). I wanna say you guys rock and your blog is like a real treasure chest in the endless sea of often useless and sponsored blogs/posts. I hope you can continue producing really high quality and useful content.
The approaches you take and conclusions you come to are often similar to how me and my wife approach the same topics – probably that’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog so much!
Regarding this post: though we’ve been married for a few years and I’m currently not in search of a wedding ring it was still entertaining to read your “quest” and recommendations. The diamond question does come up once in a while with my wife and you just gave me a new point of view – thanks for that, too 🙂
Just fyi, I have been against rings (or any jewelry) on me, so I have been without a ring for about 2 years into our marriage (for the wedding I borrowed my brother’s – that was fun:) ). Then on one of our vacations we randomly walked into a store and found a ring we both liked and thought was fitting my personality at the same time – not exactly your 4D approach but it was for me after all, not her 😉 I still had my doubts but a few weeks into wearing it I realized that little piece of metal became a piece of the bond we have between us. I only forgot to put it on outside the apartment a couple of times since and I always felt really uncomfortable as if something was missing. Similarly to how I don’t think a band for him is a must, I never thought of marriage as a must as I didn’t think it can add anything to an already stable and honest relationship. I couldn’t have been more wrong… All that’s just a long way of saying “never say never”, you never know when you become a ring-bearer 🙂
Good luck for your travels and getting the ring made!
This article should be titled “How to justify being a cheapass”. Sorry bro, but nobody buys that BS about your reasons to not buy a diamond. Regardless of how it became a tradition, it’s still a tradition. And secretly your girl resents the fact that you want to cheap out on the ring, even on your own ring. No, being “against rings” means nothing… It’s not a thing and it’s meaningless. It just says “I’m cheap” or “I’m probably going to cheat on you”. I give you kudos at least for incorporating a family stone, but fake diamonds get you a fake marriage. And non-diamonds just say “I don’t care enough about you to spend any money on you”. It’s one thing if you legitimately cannot afford a nice ring, but if it were that bad she’d already know your financial situation and understand. You wouldn’t need to try to justify spending only $500 on a ring with some BS excuses that nobody believes. That’s just a marriage built on lies. Even the poorest guys can still manage more than $500 on a ring. It’s called saving your money and taking loans if need be. It’s a 1 time expense for your entire life, so maybe being cheap isn’t the smartest idea. I had a budget in mind when is gearing up to propose to my fiance (and yes budgets are very important… with everything in life), but i spent so much time…4-5 months trying to find the perfect stone, that my budget ended up even higher cause I’d been saving the entire time. So i invested that extra money into an even nicer stone. And guess what? It’s been 15 months since i proposed (getting married next month) and she still won’t shut up about how much she loves the ring. That’s when you know you did it right. I’m also completely against involving the fiance in picking the ring. It should always be a surprise. You take so much away from the whole process of proposing by involving her. You just need to do your research by talking with her friends and family about styles… Trust me she’s already talked to them about it many times. It’s not going to be easy, but you shouldn’t be looking for the easy way out for something like this.
This is exactly the new way to buy an engagement ring. I worked with Edelweiss Jewelry that is a one stop shop for custom online engagement rings. They perfectly sketch out design that corn from your inspiration and then provide digital renderings of the ring before you purchase it. It was so easy to do and the craftsmanship is nicer than Tiffany’s. Seriously, my wife gets comments all the time and is the favorite in their group. We also get to tell the story of how we designed it and what personalizations we built into it. A one stop shop for your perfect ring. https://www.edelweissjewelry.com/
So nice to see a common sense, well thought out approach to one of the most important decisions someone may make in their lifetime. The old adage “It’s the thought that counts” should be the rule of the day, NOT how much money you spent. To each their own, for sure; but keep in mind that, much like the Drug Cartel, the Diamond Cartel exists to keep prices at the highest level possible, while restricting competition. As you mentioned, it’s only been over the last 70 years or so, thanks to De Beers, that the “Diamond Craze” has taken hold and, from what I’ve seen over the last 10 years or so, it’s on the downswing, with many deciding to go with alternate stones & metals, as well as buying used rings – Those gotten through Estate Sales can be a real find. What’s important is what makes you both happy and what you can afford. Best wishes….
Very well written Chris!
You have busted the age-old myth that a diamond is forever. Surely, getting a diamond ring should not be the whole and soul priority of a couple. There are a bunch of more important things that need to be invested on and given priority to. And, thank you for the suggestion. Will surely check out on Moissanite’s before I make my next diamond splurge.
Very well written Chris! You have busted the popular myth that a proposal is not possible without a diamond ring. Certainly, there are a bunch of different priorities that a couple must focus on rather than on investing in a diamond ring. Your suggestions are practical, and I would recommend all the couples out there who are stressing over their engagement rings to have a look at your blog post.
That’s some useful information on engagement ring. One thing i get knew that about diamonds 4 d’s & it’s great things. Im going to give diamond antique engagement ring to my fiance on our engagement day. Thanks Chris.
This is the best guide I’ve read on how to find the perfect engagement ring. Just like you said on the title, no marketing nonsense. For me it doesn’t matter how expensive or how cheap the ring is, as long the couple is happy. I agree on the comment that we have different priorities to focus on. This is a must-read post for couples who are in search for their engagement rings.
Is Gemstone Engagement Rings looking good or not? Actually I was searching engagement rings for my engagement ceremony and then suddenly my eye stick on a beautiful Gemstone Engagement Rings. So I through to buy that ring but now I’m confuse is it look good or not?
Yes, I agree with you! And to be honest, I liked the way you presented the entire picture of your story of selecting the engagement ring for Kim. Thank You for sharing these steps with us!
The best guide I had ever seen. I have read the whole blog actually I know how to find the engagement rings, but now I’m really glad to know more things, which I usually missed.
Thank you so much mate.
Reading your blog for the first time and becoming a die-hard fan of your blog. The way you explain to choose the perfect engagement ring is awesome!!
Hats off to you!!
I agree with your ideas, choosing an engagement ring is really hard for men, especially without the ideas of his partner. at first, my husband find the right engagement rings in several stores, after comparing them, he decided to shop this as my engagement rings, i love the three-stone rings
Thanks for the article.