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August 12, 2009 11:00 AM   Subscribe

What are some good engagement ring alternatives/equivalents for a man?

The boyfriend and I (the girlfriend) were having a conversation about this the other day, and we concluded that the current engagement traditions are in need of a massive overhaul. In this day and age, proposals should be fair game for anyone who wants to get hitched, so what do you do about the ring?

I know engagement rings aren't mandatory, but sometimes you want something special you can flash at your family and friends to say, "Look! I'm engaged!" DeBeers tells us that guys should purchase expensive diamond rings for their beloveds, but what if she wants to propose? Or what if it's a gay couple? What if she just loves her ring and wants to reciprocate? I feel like a male engagement ring would just be interpreted as a wedding ring by most, so it doesn't seem like a good substitute, and I've seen watches listed as a potential equivalent, but what if he doesn't wear a watch? While I'm sure an iPhone or fancy TV would be much appreciated, it doesn't have quite the same romantic glitter of an engagement ring.

And if you're reading this, honey, relax. It's just a question.
posted by Diagonalize to Shopping (45 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what the alternative is - but if it were me proposing to my guy, I think I'd go the ring route - something way nice that he could wear on his right ring finger (as opposed to his left) - that way it's not construed as a wedding band, yet. And then when the time comes, switch the ring to the left ring finger - ta-da! wedding band.

Although, a watch is still a nice idea. I never used to wear rings until my engagement and wedding rings, so the same might apply to a guy - perhaps he doesn't currently wear a watch, but something that significant might change his mind. I'd have to have it engraved with some sappy mention of "time" though.
posted by Sassyfras at 11:14 AM on August 12, 2009

Depending on your guy's personal style, I always thought a cool wood ring would look interesting and if put on the right hand ring finger (as opposed to the left wedding finger) could serve as an engagement piece.
posted by greta simone at 11:18 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I (female) proposed to my (male) fiance last September. He's a history buff, so I got him a sterling silver World War II British victory ring off of Ebay for under fifty dollars. He's not a jewelry guy at all, but he loves it and wears it, at least, whenever we have a date night. It's not a flashy ring at all, but very him, and he's fond of it because of that. Before I proposed, I searched far and wide for something that would work--wood rings, platinum bands, scrimshaw rings (surprisingly difficult to find), but I knew when I saw this one that it was right for him.

I didn't get a ring, and I'm fine with that. We'd talked about it in the past and agreed that if I was going to ask (and I was probably going to be the one to ask), it wouldn't make sense for him to run out and buy me a gift, particularly as I'm not the type of girl to be into the whole diamond industry thing. Our friends have had no problem with this; they've even oohed and aahed over his ring.

In our eleven months of engagement, only two people have objected to his having a ring and my not having one. One of those people was my boss at a new job, who asked me if I was sad not to have a ring. I actually have plenty of rings, so it didn't make me sad at all. The other was his mother.

His mother, who is more traditional than the rest of either of our families, felt guilty and embarrassed about my lack of a ring. After our engagement, she told me she wanted to buy me a ring as an engagement gift. Never one to turn down offers of jewelry, we went to TJ Maxx and I picked out a pretty opal ring. At the time, I thought it was a lovely, generous gift. A few days later, she told me that she expected me to lie to people about it and tell them Mr. WanKenobi bought it for me, which really soured the whole thing for me and made it clear that, while well-intentioned, his mother doesn't really fully understand who we are as a couple.

In light of that, I think you should just really think about what would be personal and meaningful for the two of you. There are no easy answers--and I don't think commercial jewelry industries will really help you find them. Figure out who you are as people, and honor that. You'll be surprised how most other people will respect that, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:19 AM on August 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

I just got married, and got nothing to show off. Which I was perfectly fine with. I already had a watch (and I'm weird about those, so I ended up buying the one I'd just broken again) and don't wear other jewelry. And I never expected anything either. After all, I was the one who asked her.
posted by theichibun at 11:21 AM on August 12, 2009

Best answer: I am a man, and I wore part of my wedding ring as an engagement ring. The final ring is three rings stacked with narrow gaps between each. I wore the middle ring by itself for several months. A couple of weeks before the wedding, we took it back to the jeweler to finish the design.

I got a lot of positive comments about it, and I my wife was pleased that I was wearing a visible token of our engagement.
posted by Xazeru at 11:21 AM on August 12, 2009

I don't know what the alternative is - but if it were me proposing to my guy, I think I'd go the ring route - something way nice that he could wear on his right ring finger (as opposed to his left) - that way it's not construed as a wedding band, yet. And then when the time comes, switch the ring to the left ring finger - ta-da! wedding band.

Strange, we never thought of Mr. WanKenobi getting mistaken for a married man as a problem at all. He wears his ring on his left hand, since that's the traditional hand for these things (vena amoris and all), though we are getting new matching (and awesome) bands for our wedding.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:22 AM on August 12, 2009

Best answer: While I'm sure an iPhone or fancy TV would be much appreciated, it doesn't have quite the same romantic glitter of an engagement ring.

If an engagement ring has a "romantic glitter," it's only because of the excellent PR work of DeBeers, as you mentioned. If a ring is a symbol of an investment, I think an iPhone or TV fits perfectly well in this category. Why not just give him something he likes?

As for the gay couples I know, both partners wear a ring, but I don't know the actual process for when they were given and by whom.
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:27 AM on August 12, 2009

Best answer: Oh, and you might find this article on men's engagement and wedding rings interesting.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:27 AM on August 12, 2009

Details had an article about this last month.
posted by charlesv at 11:31 AM on August 12, 2009

Does it really matter if a man's engagement ring is misconstrued as a wedding ring? If you're engaged, I'd assume marriage would be coming along at some point.
posted by eralclare at 11:37 AM on August 12, 2009

I suggest the ring route makes the most sense (it's a symbol that everyone understands, not to mention many people appreciate a way of knowing ahead of time if someone is "off the market") but just not falling into the diamond trap.
Go another direction instead, perhaps design the ring yourself, or together. I've seen some rings where a fascinating design is far more attractive than a diamond, as well as rings that incorporate materials with more significance than diamonds, or are made out of the metals recovered from something significant to you him/her/them/science/history/whatever, thus the ring has a story as well as symbolism.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:47 AM on August 12, 2009

Would it be a catastrophe if a stranger thought he was married rather than engaged?

After I first proposed to my ex-wife, we went out together and bought a pair of little silver rings to wear. I don't think I even realized that men weren't "supposed" to wear engagement rings. Eventually someone commented on it — but in a "hey, that's cute and unique" way, not in a rude or puzzled way. It never caused any confusion or trouble, and if a few strangers made the mistaken assumption that I was married back when I was still just engaged, it didn't impact my life one way or another.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:52 AM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: That is a fascinating article, PhoBWan. Thanks! I'd known a little about the shifting ring traditions over the years, but it definitely gives me more food for thought. I'm sorry to hear about the awkwardness with your future mother-in-law. I hope it works out. I know that in my case, I have a huge family that, while they would likely be understanding if I went against the norm, I'd still have to deal with a lot of unwanted comments.

I'm a little surprised by how embraced the ring idea seems to be. Most of the single men I know wear little to no jewelry, but I suppose a really significant piece would trump personal conventions. Are male, uh, multi-part? rings very common? I've seen plenty of stacking girls rings, but not so much for guys.

runningwithscissors, I kind of agree with you about getting him what he wants, but I also think that an engagement ring is often meant as a public declaration of love, and sometimes you don't want to deal with the public snarking about your engagement iPhone.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:54 AM on August 12, 2009

I am a man who wore my wedding ring as an engagement ring. My wife and I got matching (save size and width) non-gemmed rings that we designed and engraved with the help of a local metal-smith/artist. We actually got to Dremel the inscription in each others ring, it was rather fun!

We wore them for our engagement on our ring fingers, took them off prior to our marriage ceremony (i.e. like 10 minutes prior), put them on each others ring finger during the ceremony, happily ever after, etc.

We were both personally quite happy with that solution.
posted by wrok at 11:58 AM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: I don't think it's a bad thing if he's mistakenly thought of as married instead of engaged, it's just that given today's conventions, women's engagement rings are typically in a different style than wedding rings. Men's rings tend to always look the same, no matter what the significance, with the finger it's worn on being the most important point. The period of being engaged is generally seen as being different than being married, so if you wanted to signify that, you might want a different symbol.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:00 PM on August 12, 2009

Best answer: I once met a married couple who, when they got engaged (I believe she proposed to him, but I'm not sure), each got a simple tattoo on the ring finger. Their wedding rings now cover the tattoos.
posted by trip and a half at 12:01 PM on August 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My guy asked me and gave me a pretty traditional engagement ring. After a while, I realized I wanted him to have some symbol of our commitment, too, and got him an inexpensive silver ring from an independent bookstore/record store/jewelry store we both enjoy. I gave it to him in the car in the parking lot of the store (not very romantic...), but it was meaningful for him. He wears it on his left hand, so some people assume we've eloped when they see it now months after we got engaged, but neither of us seems to mind. I'm sure strangers think we're married, but that's ok.

Secondarily, I thought maybe it would be a good idea to see what style of ring he liked before investing more money in the wedding band since he'd never worn jewelry before. And I just like the public announcement that he's already taken!
posted by BlooPen at 12:03 PM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: I feel everybody on the diamond issue. I'd want a non-conflict diamond/other stone myself if I got a ring.

The tattoo idea is kinda neat, but I think it would send my grandmother into fainting spells (and possibly my boyfriend too).

I'm the type who would probably drag my feet on the wedding planning, so you raised a great point, BlooPen, about people thinking you've eloped.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:12 PM on August 12, 2009

My husband got me a claddagh with my birthstone in it as an engagement ring and I got him a plain (no-stone) claddagh almost immediately after. We ended up liking them so well that we never got wedding bands and still wear them nine years later.

We're both Celtic music fans and into Celtic culture, to the point that we had a piper at our wedding and the men wore kilts, so this may not be your thing, but perhaps there's a similar cultural tradition that you could look into for a symbolic ring that doesn't have a diamond.
posted by immlass at 12:24 PM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: I don't think rings of any sort factor into Japanese tradition, although it's my understanding that they're becoming more popular.

"Get the guy a ring" seems to be the prevailing attitude, although most of the responses seem to be coming from women and men who wore an engagement ring, so that's probably skewing the bias a bit. Any single guys out there want to chime in? Ring dissenters?
posted by Diagonalize at 12:33 PM on August 12, 2009

We got aircraft-grade titanium rings since both me and my SO are hard on jewelry and "lesser" metals like gold and silver tend to get misshapen over time. One of us got the "Abyss" ring, which in the movie is what prevents the scary door from slamming on somebody's finger. The other got a titanium ring with a pressure setting.
posted by answergrape at 12:37 PM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, nice, I totally remember the Abyss ring! I didn't realize someone was out there selling them.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:38 PM on August 12, 2009

My husband and I picked out my engagement ring after he proposed, and then we picked out an engagement ring for him. He wanted something to wear since I had something. I wound up picking out a sterling silver ring for him - it was inexpensive and had stripes, so it didn't look quite like a wedding band, but it was worn on his left ring finger so it might invite questions if someone was paying attention.
posted by christinetheslp at 12:39 PM on August 12, 2009

Mr. F and I got answergrape's previously-mentioned Abyss rings. Neither of us got an engagement ring, but Mr. F agitated for an engagement HDTV for a bit. ;)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:44 PM on August 12, 2009

Best answer: nthing wearing the wedding ring during the engagement.

My ring is white gold with a high-polish finish, so it shows wear VERY easily. New looks good, and it looks fine after it's worn for several months; it lends some character once the fine scratches appear all over, giving it an almost brushed finish. However the period in between these doesn't look as good. Luckily white gold can be re-plated at very little cost. We had this done a week or so before the wedding, and the ring stayed in the box until the big day. This way I got to wear something to commemorate the engagement, but my ring looked shiny and new the day we were married.
posted by tkolstee at 1:00 PM on August 12, 2009

Best answer: Oh, and before we went with rings, there was some talk of me getting an engagement bicycle instead (bicycle chainrings...rings...close enough!).
posted by BlooPen at 1:03 PM on August 12, 2009

I got a relatively fancy engagement watch. I don't normally wear a watch, but it's nice to have something shiny to wear when I dress up. And it's a nice reminder of the engagement.
posted by lalas at 1:22 PM on August 12, 2009

When my first fiance proposed to me, neither of us was anywhere in a position to afford a traditional engagement ring, and neither of us really wanted one anyway. We decided that we'd make each other engagement pendants, because we were that kind of artsy type. I made him a beautiful pendant out of fimo clay in the shape of a puzzle piece--creative, full of possibility, receptive to completion but not from just one other piece. He loved it--and promptly lost it on an airline flight back to his home state. Meanwhile, the pendant he made for me got stolen from the art lab at our college. Needless to say, this all seems like a bunch of Bad Omens and we did not, in fact, end up getting married--but I still like the idea of something mutually created as an engagement gift/sign.

My husband and I got married within two weeks of deciding to get married, so an engagement ring wasn't exactly priority there, either (not that we had much in the way of wherewithal then, either). We both had small silver rings, though, that we'd given each other previously as a sign of belonging to each other, and we did wear those on our ring fingers. We didn't exchange any other rings at the teeny-tiny ceremony we had. We did upgrade later to these rings. We're just not really-expensive-jewelry people, I guess, but I do love what we have.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:25 PM on August 12, 2009 . MY fiance loves her ring from there. Cost between $100 -$200 and inher and my opinion much better looking then the normal engagement ring. Also made out of titanium and will last much longer.
posted by majortom1981 at 1:28 PM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: Oooh, engagement bicycle...I like it!

I never knew how the "engagement ring as a wedding ring" thing worked, so good to know!

I'm impressed. Everyone's suggestions have been terribly thoughtful and downright classy, so thank you. You also all appear to have lovely taste in rings. I think I was expecting a few "girls rings only" traditionalists and a few more wacky suggestions from left field. This has been a surprising show of bucking the trend gently.
posted by Diagonalize at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2009

Best answer: Nthing everyone above who suggested although a ring doesn't seem quite like what you're looking for, it probably most closely encapsulates the feeling you're striving for.

Failing that, how about cufflinks? I know, they seem kind of impersonal, but there's some beautiful and unique ones nowadays, or more traditional ones you can get engraved. My husband has been given a few pairs of cufflinks over the years by extremely dear friends, and although he doesn't dress up quite as often as he used to, he still wears them every time he wears a dress shirt, and they give him the same warm and fuzzy feelings that I get when I look at my ring.
posted by anderjen at 1:41 PM on August 12, 2009

The woman could tie a strong cord around the guy's wrist, which he could wear until the wedding. Symbolic, but not actual jewelry.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:59 PM on August 12, 2009

My then-boyfriend-now-husband talked to my mom when we were visiting home helping her sort through my deceased grandmother's house, and proposed to me with my grandmother's ring. We talked briefly about getting something for him to wear to signify engagement, but decided it was unnecessary - he couldn't stop talking about how excited he was, thus little need for a physical symbol, and we set the wedding for about 6 months after engagement, thus a short-term question anyway.

Regarding non-jewelry technology as engagement gifts: A friend (male) whose lady also wears a family ring felt bad that he wasn't giving her anything, so he took the money that he'd set aside for her and got her an engagement laptop. We were joking around and asked her what she'd do when her romantic laptop became an obsolete doorstop, and she said she had no emotional attachment to it, it was just a laptop. Yes, a thoughtful engagement gift, but not something like a ring that becomes a permanent part of the couple's symbology.

As a side point, both couples mentioned were on grad student penny-pinching budgets.
posted by aimedwander at 2:06 PM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: Honestly, I don't know if I'm looking for anything in particular. (Honey, if you're still reading, you can still relax.) Although, that said, I seriously doubt my guy would be that excited about cufflinks, much as I personally like 'em.

A strong cord sounds almost kinky, although it makes for a simple, symbolic gesture. And it's even cheaper than a silver ring.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:10 PM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: aimedwander, I think the penny-pinching pragmatism of your friend would resonate very strongly with my postdoc fella, but he likes symbols too, which is what lead to our lively discussion.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:13 PM on August 12, 2009

I think probably the best thing I've seen in the ring department for men is a meteorite ring. This way you can still have everything taht goes with the tradition of a ring, but with something a little more masculine than gold or silver jewelery. And he gets to tell an interesting story about it every time someone asks.
posted by gregoryg at 2:43 PM on August 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I know a couple where she proposed, she got a ring, he got a PS3. :-)

As a male dating a female, I'm not a jewelry person. I have two exceptions, both from her, that started because she got them for me (but she agrees two's the limit). One is a necklace, the other is an ornamental ring that was meant as a prop for an RPG we both play in. I wound up wearing it all the time as a reminder of her, as well as something to fidget with, even if it was not meant for "mundane" wearing. Before she got it for me, I would have said I would never do such a thing.
posted by GJSchaller at 3:21 PM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: I asked my boyfriend how he felt about the PS3 option, and his response was "Oh, I don't know. I already have two consoles. It seems excessive. I feel like 6 games would be more worth it than a new console."

Isn't it sweet where his priorities lie?

He already has a PS3, for the record.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:36 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The day we went ring shopping we burnt out very quickly - over a coffee break we re-examined "why are we doing this?" and ended up at a local craftsman hatter's shop, where we bought our engagement handmade top hat.

It's one-of-a-kind, beautiful quality, locally made, and will last a long, long time. (How many top hats do you buy in the average lifetime?). We can both wear it, in turns. I like to get drunk and Astaire machine-gun pedestrians from the front porch. My husband does a great Harpo at fancy-dress parties.
posted by Catch at 4:29 PM on August 12, 2009 [9 favorites]

My husband and I both wore our wedding rings on our right hands until the wedding, and then switched them to the left. This approach doesn't announce "engaged" to strangers, but it can be meaningful to the two of you and those who know you, at least.
posted by torticat at 5:14 PM on August 12, 2009

Have you considered a bracelet? There are lots of men's bracelets available in a wide variety of materials and designs. I received a titanium chain link bracelet as a thoughtful gift from a girl friend who knew I was into bikes. Out of all the jewelry I own it's one of a few pieces that I never remove from my body.

This site has over a hundred from which to choose.
posted by torquemaniac at 9:16 PM on August 12, 2009

I was planning on buying my fiance a Claddagh ring to reflect his Irish heritage, but he never got around to picking one, and the wedding is in two months, so I guess he's not getting an engagement ring. He is, however, probably getting a wedding tattoo in addition to his ring!
posted by echo0720 at 5:26 AM on August 13, 2009

Yeah, a claddagh ring has the same sentiment of an engagement ring (more or less), and has the benefit of being unisex. Conventionally, worn right-side-up it means "taken," but not necessarily married, and it's pretty universally recognized (at least in areas with lots of Irish people).
posted by oinopaponton at 11:19 AM on August 13, 2009

Response by poster: I personally don't know many guys who wear bracelets, but it sounds like a nice option for a guy who does or would, which is basically how I feel about watches too.

I think claddagh rings are more reasonable if you're Irish, of Irish heritage, or really into Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'd just feel weird wearing one myself, sort of like how I feel when white girls dress up in kimonos. There's nothing particularly wrong with it; it just seems off somehow. I'd probably feel different if Mr. Diagonalize were Irish and I were wearing it as a reflection of his culture and traditions (or vice versa), but he's not, and I'm not, so I'd probably avoid it altogether.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:07 PM on August 13, 2009

More in the bracelet vein: The Sound Advice Project allows you to record a message and then order a bracelet in the sound-wave-shape of that message, which would allow him to wear your "I love you" or inside joke or other significant phrase. Cheap and sneaky!
posted by coppermoss at 8:10 PM on August 13, 2009

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