The Lazy, Affordable Guide to Engagement Ring Shopping
Updated: Oct 21, 2019
Proposal Season is in full swing: we’re past the early autumn proposals with their colorful background of foliage and dying bugs, past the food comas of Thanksgiving, and safely into December when all the magic stuff is supposed to happen, like love apparently. Super subtle hints like “You know what a great present would be? A ring” are beginning to abound. The whole “Ring before Spring” thing is starting to enter the consciousness of girls while staying firmly outside the consciousness of their boyfriends. It’s still sports season, after all.
But the hints of mawwiage (which Google did not try to autocorrect) are beginning to take, because judging by Facebook I will witness a public proposal anytime I go somewhere that has more than 50 people. People who look like they’re about 12 years old are getting engaged, so no one is safe.
If you’re one of those boring people like me who looks at these events and sees dollar signs, you’re probably looking at all the engagement photos on your social media and thinking, “That is very expensive, how on earth did he afford that? Is that why he’s been eating rice sandwiches every day for the last three months?”
If you’re not one of those people who thinks engagement rings are barbaric and not at all improved from when they were a sign of ownership over the woman, you’ve probably at least wondered about your hypothetical ring future. Like, is it really supposed to cost two or three months’ worth of salary? Where did that random expectation even come from? Why are diamonds so popular anyway? It’s literally compressed carbon. And where are you even supposed to find a ring without going through tons of work and unnecessarily spending a fortune?
The salary and diamond popularity both came from a diamond cartel’s marketing campaign that began in the 1930s, and thanks to the creative laziness of our generation, you now have many options for rings outside of your local mall.
The Diamond’s Young Legacy*
*(If you like history, read this part. If you don’t, skip it and just get to the next part where I very helpfully tell you where to get the ring.)
Unsurprisingly, the Great Depression hit the jewelry industry pretty hard. People decided they’d rather spend what little money they had left on food and shelter instead of on sparkly rocks that served no real purpose. Suddenly, the De Beer diamond company had a ton of diamonds with nowhere to go. So they decided to inextricably associate them with something that would never go out of style, no matter how poor people became: marriage.
First, De Beers’s went to Hollywood and planted diamonds on celebrities to make the rest of the public connect them to fame, money, beauty, and success. Then they started the national ad campaign that convinced everyone that “a diamond is forever,” and that the bigger and better (read: expensive) a diamond was, the more a man must love his girl. Between 1939 and 1979, De Beers’s diamond profit went from $23 million to $2.1 billion, and their marketing budget grew accordingly. Nearly 80 years after the initial idea, our culture is still centered on the glamour of diamonds, and we’re not spending any less.
But, since you want to be smart and save as much money for celebratory tacos as possible, where should you go to find the ring?
You’ve got options. Because this is the 21st century. And don’t forget that it’s becoming increasingly normal for couples to shop for the ring together, which means less pressure all around. (But if you do want it to be a surprise, Pinterest is your key.)
If You Want to Shop for the Ring Without Changing Your Shopping Routine
A friend of mine saved her boyfriend all the time, went on Amazon, found the ring she wanted, and showed it to him. Boom. Done.
There are hundreds of thousands of rings available, including many from known jewelers, with certified diamonds, and designs that look like they came from the Kay and Zales ads we’ve grown up with. If you want a classic ring without leaving the house, Amazon is the way to go.
If You Want to Go a Traditional Route
Alright, we all know that Tiffany’s is famous for engagement rings. The problem, of course, is that fame and prestige lead to higher prices. However, you’re not necessarily doomed to poverty if you really want to get the ring from them.
Tiffany’s – and many high-end jewelers – has two main ring collections: “engagement” and “normal.” The biggest differences between these two are the size of the collection and price. Honestly. In fact, Tiffany’s “normal” rings are just as sparkly, just as high-quality, just as pretty, and more unique than their official “engagement” rings.
P.S. Tiffany’s has a “drop a hint” button on their website with every ring… just so you know...
If You Want Something Unique
One of my college friends proposed to his girlfriend with a ring from Etsy. I get most of my friends’ rings mixed up in my memory because they all kinda look alike, but hers I definitely remember: a rough-cut stone on a simple band. It’s unusual, descriptive of her personal style, and only cost a few hundred dollars.
Go to Etsy for the wedding bands later, too. Engaged actors Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher wanted thin platinum bands but were (rightly) mad about how much it was going to cost them at a jewelry store. So Mila went to Etsy and found two for a grand total of $190. If they can do it, you can too.
If You Want an Ethical, Sustainably Sourced Ring
There are tons of options for these rings now. As one of the fastest-growing consumer markets, the millennial concern for the environment and social well-being has reached the jewelry world, and it’s responded.
You’ve probably seen ads for Brilliant Earth. They have their own collections of rings, a myriad of stones other than diamonds, unique rings, and custom rings if you want to create your own, complete with some ideas from previous designs to spark your creativity.
Noémie doesn’t have very many rings, and they don’t have an engagement ring collection so they don’t look like something you’d traditionally propose with – think simple, diamond-laced bands and slightly artsier designs – but they’re still sparkly and very pretty, made by a family-owned production house and sold in a loft in SoHo besides their website, you get free shipping and returns, and you can pay it off in four interest-free monthly payments. Plus they love elephants.
Meanwhile, in Canada, there’s Fair Trade Jewellry Co. Mostly traditional with a small “Indie Luxury” collection, the founders seem to have gone through every test possible to be true to their name by every standard, while remaining moderately priced. They also have a more expensive “unique gems” section with both diamonds and gemstones so you can create your own ring, and one of those is a “sirius star” diamond. So if your girlfriend is into Harry Potter, and you’re actually alright with spending a lot on the ring, there you go.
Do Amore was founded by a former oil driller working on rigs – he’d hit water after a few hours, but had to keep going for weeks before hitting oil, and the thought of people in need of clean water was in the back of his head. He was looking for an engagement ring for his girlfriend then too, but didn’t want to get one with “questionable ethics.” He decided to combine these two concerns, and now a portion of the profits of every ring go towards drilling water wells in remote villages. They don’t have a ton of options, but what they do have are customizable and affordable, and one of the styles is called “Patronus” in case you didn’t want to spring for that sirius star diamond.
If You Want a Real Live Actual Diamond That You Picked Yourself
It’s difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to find the right diamond ring. So a millennial came up with a diamond startup to help out. It took him three months of extensive research to find the right, affordable ring for his now-fiancée, and one year later, he started Rare Carat to make the process easier, faster, and cheaper. Operating like a deal-finding site like Kayak, Rare Carat uses the latest AI technology to scour the web for the exact diamond you want, all while guiding you through the whole process with chatbots, a virtual “try-on” feature to see what a particular stone will look like when worn, and all kinds of trend and general information. Once you’ve picked your diamond, you can either add it to one of Rare Carat’s engagement ring designs, or order it loose to bring to a local jeweler for mounting.
If You Don’t Care About Diamonds
Dude if your girl doesn’t care whether she has a diamond or not, or if she wants to stick it to the Diamond Man, you have so, so many options. So you should definitely ask if she cares. If all she wants is a pretty ring, you can walk into any mid- to high-end store and find something. Find a color-less center stone that'll go with everything, like moissanite or white sapphire. Find something with a stone of her favorite color. Find something that matches her eyes. Find something that kinda changes color depending on the light or what she’s wearing, like a moonstone or opal. Find something from frickin outer space, like a peridot. You can literally just Google these, but I recommend searching on Pinterest or Etsy. Seeing 23,572 pages of results is overwhelming and you don’t need that kind of pressure when you’re thinking about proposing.
If You Reeeeally Want To Propose ASAP But Won’t Have a Ring In Time
If you live in Toronto, you’re in luck: the Fair Trade Jewellry Co. will get you a “loaner ring” by 5:30 pm the same day you order it, and it’s only $250. And if you end up getting the real ring from them, they subtract the cost of what you spent on the loaner, from the cost of the engagement ring itself.
If you don’t live in Toronto, use their strategy and just buy a cheap, sparkly ring to replace later. Or skip the ring entirely and get it later. True love is not restricted pending a ring!
Making the Engagement Market Your Own
The millennial love of options has infiltrated the engagement ring world right along with all the others. As we grow up and start pairing off, our sheer numbers are giving us the opportunity to shape the industry according to what we want: we’re already the largest consumer market for diamonds, and it’s only going to get better as we keep working our way up the financial ladder. If we want more affordable rings in a wide range of designs with a variety of stones, then the market will just have to continue to learn to adapt. Niche markets will start to spring up to cater to whatever additional demands we may have as well. So if you want the ring to have a 1.0 carat, teardrop-shaped emerald ethically mined from a particular country, surrounded by tiny raw rubies sustainably mined from another particular country, set on recycled white gold so it all looks festive as hell for your December proposal, you will be able to have it. Welcome to love in the 21st century.
And if you already shelled out for a ring at one of the usual suspect stores, go return it and get one at one of the places I mentioned instead. Boom, you now have money for room service on the honeymoon. Please don’t let me know how it goes.