Ball + Chain, engagement rings and you
August 28, 2009 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Engagement ring woes... to diamond or not to diamond? Any alternatives?

I have been with my girlfriend for a while, and I think its time we get married. I know she wants to get married and am not worried about her saying no or any of that... no the problem is the engagement ring. She has said in the past that she thinks diamonds are fairly stupid from a financial / blood diamond aspect. That said I do think that she wants something special to show off, and I am worried about the "oh, so he couldnt afford a diamond for you" crowd. Her parents and grandparents are fairly traditional and I think they wouldnt approve if I broke too much from the norm. Not that there is anything wrong with that...

I looked into non-blood / debeers diamonds but they are still super pricey, and I have no desire to go the "fake" route.

I have looked at a few jewelers and could afford a nice ring, however it would be most of my savings... I think that she would more appreciate a nice long vacation in europe or something over a diamond ring for the same money... but again, I think she needs some kind of symbol to show our engagement.

I have been looking at estate jewelery @, I like the older style stuff. Any other advice the metacrowd has?
posted by anonymous to Shopping (86 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of discussions on diamond alternatives to engagement rings on the WeddingPlans LJ (some entries are friends locked, you'll have to join the community to see them).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:48 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

My wife has a sapphire. Her mother has a ruby. Either one is a good alternative to a diamond.
posted by JMOZ at 11:51 AM on August 28, 2009

I know it sounds stupid, but "fuck 'em". Who cares what her grandparents secretly think about the cost of her ring? It's not worth either of you compromising something you choose.

My wife and I went with matching grooved titanium bands. They look hella sweet to us, but that's just our style.

Choose something she'd like, be it a big ornate gaudy antique ring or a plain steel band. Make her (and yourself) happy and screw everybody else!
posted by wrok at 11:51 AM on August 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

What about another colored stone? I asked for a sapphire but there are tons of options out there. Benefits:

1) Not a diamond, so usually much much cheaper (my ring was less than $200 at an estate sale),
2) Many more unique stones and settings,
3) A lot easier to turn the conversation to, "Oh, my ring is so unique and so me!" rather than, "Oh, he couldn't afford a bigger diamond."

Since she's already expressed that she thinks diamonds are stupid, I don't think you need to worry about what her parents will think.
posted by muddgirl at 11:52 AM on August 28, 2009

Get her birthstone or a semiprecious stone in her favorite color?

Propose with one of these (or something else obviously temporary that would suit her sense of humor) and go shopping together for the "real" one?
posted by itesser at 11:52 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am worried about the "oh, so he couldnt afford a diamond for you" crowd

Don't. If you worry about them, you also have to worry about the "oh, so he couldn't afford a big diamond for you" crowd, and then you have to worry about the "oh, so he couldn't afford a big diamond on a platinum setting for you" crowd, and on and on.

If you're concerned about traditional-leaning family members, maybe you could get them involved: my diamond engagement ring is a family piece. I didn't especially want a diamond, but as my husband and I were thinking about our options, it seemed silly to buy a new ring (diamond or not) when we could use one that already had sentimental value.

There are quite a few AskMe threads with recommendations for non-diamond engagement rings and/or links to estate jewelry sites, but I'd try the family angle, first.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:56 AM on August 28, 2009

My advice: get your priorities straight and do not blow your savings on a symbol. You can be real meaningful for $100.
posted by mattbucher at 11:57 AM on August 28, 2009 [11 favorites]

My wife specifically banned me from buying her a diamond. And told all the nosy old moms/aunts/grandmothers every chance she got that those were her specific wishes when I expressed my concerns about their concerns.

Ask your future fiancee what she would like, particularly since she's the one that will have to field annoying relative comments.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:03 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

How is your relationship with her parents? I wonder if there is a ring that belonged to a relative of hers that would serve and would have sentimental value to her?

My engagement ring was the stone from my Grandmother's engagement ring, but reset in a new setting with some stones added. Its an opal (now set with rubys, which are my son's birthstone).
posted by anastasiav at 12:07 PM on August 28, 2009

Have you looked at recycled/second-hand diamonds?
posted by oinopaponton at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2009

There are gorgeous alternative stones that look similar to a diamond and can sometimes be more cost-effective. White sapphires are one example. I've heard that The Natural Sapphire Company is a good source. (Here is one couple's ring, if you want the whole picture.--sorry for the source, but that's the best picture I could find.) They're hard, and thus durable, and also gorgeous.

Also, this may be merely because I'm a giant nerd who is obsessed with all things astronomical, but--even though the mineral moissanite gets a bad rap as the poor man's diamond, I think it's sort of romantic. I mean, it's synthesized from a substance found in meteor craters at the turn of the last century. That's right: in its natural form, it originally came from meteorites. Yours would probably be synthetic, I am guessing, since the natural stuff is quite rare, but still: swoon. What a story. It's sparkly and pretty, it might satisfy your craving for something sort of traditional-looking, it's relatively cost-effective, and nobody has to suffer for you to put it on your girl's finger. I figure that's a win-win.

Finally, nthing the idea of family or estate jewelry. You get the benefits of a little history, less expense, and a less direct contribution to the trade for new diamonds.

Good luck, and congratulations on your impending engagement!
posted by teamparka at 12:10 PM on August 28, 2009

Your intended will be wearing this every day. Surprise her with a guard ring or another gift, but let her help pick out her engagement ring, unless you are absolutely certain of her taste.

The markup on jewelry is huge. The 'spend 3 months salary' advice is absurd. Worrying about what people will say can only make you crazy. Gramma will think I'm cheap. Her social justice friends will think I'm evil. Her sisters will hate my taste. She's going to wear it, and you're going to look at it, so pleasing her, and you, is the goal.
posted by theora55 at 12:13 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Mine's a sapphire, also, in a solitaire setting. I've had it for over 20 years now, and have received so many positive comments over the years, and never even a hint of any negatives. I have a diamond ring guard that does with it, which makes it stand out even more. It seems much more personal to me, and individual. I chose it for the blue color, which matches my eyes, but could have gone with anything else that had meaning to me. I went to a jeweler that was recommended to me, we sat down with all his loose stones, picked out the stone and setting, and had it made. My ring guard was given to me by my mother. Between the two, I think we paid a total of about $200 at the time. I've never regretted it. I would have been happy also with some type of estate jewelry. Set your own style, make it a symbol of how you will live your life together, and neither of you will be disappointed, I promise.
posted by raisingsand at 12:13 PM on August 28, 2009

Mine's a sapphire, also, in a solitaire setting. I've had it for over 20 years now, and have received so many positive comments over the years, and never even a hint of any negatives.

I've only gotten one comment, from MuddDude's mom (my MIL); when she saw it she said, "Well... when you two celebrate your 10th anniversary, he can buy you a a great big diamond like FIL did for me!" **facepalm**
posted by muddgirl at 12:15 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Opals are also nice, or any of the non-OMG expensive precious stones. She'll be presumably wearing this for a very long time, so ask her what she'd like. Even if you want to spring the proposal on her, you can still put out feelers for what she likes in jewelry.

What kinds of colors does she like? What kind of other jewelry? You can also do really pretty things with just metal. My 'engagement' ring is just plain white gold, because I use my hands for my job, but I've seen some very pretty just metal rings with scroll work or intricate designs or cuts.

If she thinks diamonds are stupid, DO NOT BUY ONE. Seriously, if someone you care for tells you 'no diamonds', don't get her one. Getting her one is really saying "Hey, I wasn't listening to you and I don't care what you think, I care more about these old people who might judge us than I care about what you really want." This is the person you love and want to spend the rest of your life with. NO ONE ELSE's opinion matters about the jewelry and she can defend her own decisions. "I told him I didn't want a diamond and he listened. I don't want one, I won't ever want one, shut up about it already." does wonders to shut the cranky people up.
posted by FritoKAL at 12:18 PM on August 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

I just saw a necklace that was very lovely and it had lab created gemstones that looked and had the properties of diamonds. They weren't cubic zirconia. I forget the name of them, but they were really beautiful.
posted by anniecat at 12:19 PM on August 28, 2009

I just proposed to my GF, and am very glad that I bought a diamond. That's what everyone expects and they're quite happy to see.

I ended up spending $2000. Doesn't seem all that extravagant to me, but is nowhere near the BS "three months salary" thing.

I don't think that I spent as much as many people do, but most people who see it seem to think it's beautiful and a "nice rock".
posted by davey_darling at 12:19 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

What about lab-made diamonds? My guess is that such a stone would be cheaper than anything other than cubic zirconium, would sidestep her objections, and still be useful as a symbol of "I am married/engaged; this isn't just a ring I put on the left ring finger."
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 12:19 PM on August 28, 2009

I also prohibited diamonds on a ring-- I have a Star Sapphire, and I love it.

Just find out what her favorite stone/rock/metal is and go with that. Personal preferences are always better than tradition in my book.
posted by hybridvigor at 12:22 PM on August 28, 2009

and still be useful as a symbol of "I am married/engaged; this isn't just a ring I put on the left ring finger"

No one will think that. Seriously. I don't think any adult in America is confused as to what a ring-on-the-left-ring-finger means for a woman.
posted by muddgirl at 12:29 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

In fact, for awhile I tried wearing my high school class ring on my left-ring-finger (because it was the only finger that it fit on), and I got comments about it constantly. Because women don't lightly wear rings on that finger.
posted by muddgirl at 12:30 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

We did white sapphire and it's awesome.
posted by odinsdream at 12:30 PM on August 28, 2009

This sort of discussion has come up for me in past relationships, esp because I'm a girl with varied tastes (I like "fine jewelry" (read: expensive/blingy), and I also like artsy pieces made of stone and untraditional materials. I also don't like the corrupt diamond industry. I also know what it's like to have disapproving glances from family who have "upscale" and traditional tastes in material goods. On one hand, yes, fuck em. On the other hand, it'd be cool to show off a "nice thing" to say to them, "He loves me, but this is how we roll: fashionable, socially-responsible, moderation in consumerism stylee!"

So, my ideas, which might help:

1) Heirloom jewelry, as aforementioned, is great, because you a) are recycling! and b) it adds symbolism to the piece, and no size of rock can trump history and meaning. You just can't buy that with money, period. If you don't have that as a resource, estate jewlry would be a good option, especially if you knew the piece's history. Again, having a cool story to tell about a piece's origins is super-classy, and can't be purchased, plain and simple.

2) Have you tried figuring out what she likes, in terms of styles? (Modern and clean lines, or victorian filigree-d pieces?) You could ask, or employ a mutual friend to help in the reconnaissance mission. This will help you narrow a time period/style for estate pieces. Alternatively, if you decide to make a ring/re-purpose some old family jewelry for her, you'll know what you're aiming for. This will also help you get ideas if a ring *is* even necessary, in her point of view. It's hard to tell...

3) Please, do consider your budget, and don't bite off more than you can chew. You're entering into a partnership together, your debt becomes her debt pretty much -- don't go overboard and bring financial misery into your new life together!

Good luck, don't stress too hard, and have fun -- you're getting married! Happy event times to come!

Oh, well, if her family is really traditional you're going to go through this all again when event-planning, but, hey, happy times overall.
posted by NikitaNikita at 12:33 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think anniecat is referring to moissanite. But if she doesn't like diamonds, maybe another colorless stone wouldn't work either?
posted by crankylex at 12:33 PM on August 28, 2009

I found out about MiaDonna, which is a diamond alternative, here on Metafilter.

I also think estate rings are a nice way to go.
posted by pised at 12:34 PM on August 28, 2009

Oh, and yes, seconding white sapphires and, as per sarabeth's comment, mossainite. It looks absolutely gorgeous, and not "fake" at all.
posted by NikitaNikita at 12:36 PM on August 28, 2009

Not all diamonds are blood diamonds. When I was in the market for a ring, my jeweler (who also happens to be a family friend and has no reason to lie to me) said that blood or conflict diamonds are a relatively small percentage of the total diamond market. A quick googling suggests 1% to 20% of the diamonds on the market, depending on who's counting.

But that's all beside the point. The person who will actually be wearing the ring has stated that she doesn't want a diamond. Unless she says otherwise, get her the nicest non-diamond ring you can.
posted by lekvar at 12:37 PM on August 28, 2009

Beware of opals because they're soft and can be damaged by everyday wear.

Mr. Shotglass gave me a e-ring with a tanzanite main stone. It's purple and I love it. However, tanzanite is not as strong as other stones and it got a very tiny chip in it. I think sapphire is closer to diamond on the moh's scale.

congrats and good luck!
posted by mrsshotglass at 12:39 PM on August 28, 2009

DOH! Clearly I didn't preview well enough.
posted by crankylex at 12:39 PM on August 28, 2009

I did not want a diamond either and I ended up with a tourmaline ring. I love it and have gotten a lot of compliments on it. And it was very affordable.
posted by sulaine at 12:43 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about the cost. My tastes are the same as your girlfriend's, and I wouldn't care a whit what someone said about the cost of the ring. Travel would be a much more worthwhile investment, in my view. I think you're on the right track with the vintage ring site, and agree that a birthstone would be a good choice. You might want to look for a lighter-colored stone as an engagement ring, just to sort of reference the tradition of a bright, light-reflecting stone foe engagement, but not to be hidebound about the tradition. If your gf has mentioned to you that she thinks diamonds are stupid and meaningless, she means it, and it's likely she knew you were listening when she said it!
posted by Miko at 12:49 PM on August 28, 2009

The grandparents aren't going to like what you guys do on your wedding night, either — you gonna let them decide what happens then as well?
posted by anildash at 12:54 PM on August 28, 2009 [7 favorites]

Don't worry about the cost. My tastes are the same as your girlfriend's, and I wouldn't care a whit what someone said about the cost of the ring.


Talk to her about what kind of jewelry she would want, then look on etsy or someplace similar for a really unique, nice piece. The most important thing is that you respect her wishes about it--after all, this is a gift for her, not her parents.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:54 PM on August 28, 2009

I love my wedding ring, but as time goes on I wish I'd used my mom's star sapphire ring. See if there are any heirloom stones in the family (yours or hers) that would work. If there are no heirloom stones (and I mean, stones that have been in the family that are nice and meaningful, not like, omg the Hope Diamond or whatever) then I think you are on the right track looking at estate sales and whatever. If you get a 2nd hand diamond, or an antique sapphire, that's really cool. From your description, it seems like she would agree with that assessment.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:54 PM on August 28, 2009

I say don't worry about convention. Propose with a gumball machine ring and then ask your girlfriend what she wants. Or, if you feel you need a ring to propose, forget about the solitaire and just find a ring you think she would love. Check out independent jewelry stores that specialize in working with jewelry artists or even Etsy. Get her something unique and tailored to her taste, without blowing too much money on a stone that it doesn't sound like she wants.

My husband and I managed to get married sans engagement ring. We didn't have money to spare for a ring, so instead saved up and bought really lovely wedding rings. I would have loved an engagement ring, but don't regret foregoing it at all. And I've never had anyone ask why I wasn't wearing an engagement ring.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 12:57 PM on August 28, 2009

I've asked a question about this before on here.

My (now) wife preferred a diamond, so we went online together (, if you're interested), she found something she liked, and I surprised her with it at a time in the future.

If your SO said she doesn't want diamonds, as people have said, don't do diamonds. White sapphire is a great choice, and unfortunately, at least when I was looking, lab made diamonds weren't quite up the visual quality for something I was looking for.

Good luck, and congrats!
posted by SNWidget at 1:05 PM on August 28, 2009

I got my fiance a white sapphire, and she wouldn't have known unless I told her. Then again, she's not a jeweler. If you have the presence of mind to worry about this kind of thing, I get the impression that the person you want to marry will probably appreciate an alternative to a diamond.
posted by orville sash at 1:06 PM on August 28, 2009

Beware of opals because they're soft and can be damaged by everyday wear.

Plus one school of thought holds they are unlucky.

Re: diamonds- they hold their value less well than cars, they chip easily, they only look really good at night, and they are the product of a cartel. And really, they are so twentieth century....

We went with an obscure green stone, the name of which escapes me, but the value of which has, I am told, actually gone up.

Not that it's for sale, of course.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:10 PM on August 28, 2009

I just want to nth a different stone. I have a solitare sapphire and I love it. When he proposed/had a discussion about finally tying the knot, he didn't even have a ring. We were at Disney World at the time, so the next day he bought me a cheap Mickey head band ring. When we got home we both picked out a ring. I have received nothing but compliments since. It's white gold, and the wedding band is white gold as well. Looking back, the only thing I would change is getting a different, stronger metal.

Good luck and best wishes.
posted by lizjohn at 1:11 PM on August 28, 2009

Seconding the vintage/estate route. My wife had I went through more or less the same thing, and I ended up buying her a vintage diamond ring (which she loves) at Doyle and Doyle in New York.

That said, I think that you should consider finding clever and romantic a way to propose without a ring, and let her be involved in the ring selection. I know it isn't traditional, but it is the easiest way to make sure she ends up with something she will be happy to wear for (hopefully) the rest of her life.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 1:15 PM on August 28, 2009

There are a lot of good tips in this thread and I would like to add one more that some of my family members have followed.

If you don't want to or can't spend a lot of money at this point in your life, get a pretty ring that is within the budget you set for yourself. Later in life, when the two of you are (hopefully) more established and well off, you can take the stones out of the engagement ring and set them in a new ring with more / bigger stones, etc - if you even want to. Both of my grandparents did this because money was tight when they were young. They both ended up "upgrading" their engagement rings on big anniversaries, like 40th.

And nthing not to worry about what other people say. People who say that its bad you couldn't afford a bigger diamond apparently couldn't afford a better personality for themselves.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:27 PM on August 28, 2009

My favorite teacher back in high school didnt want a diamond engagement ring either. Her fiance bought her a parrot instead. Not exactly the thing for showing off at cocktail parties, but she was delighted.

I think get her a ring from a bubblegum machine for the proposal, then shop with her for whatever she wants, whether it be a honeymoon, a ring of any variety, or something off the wall like a parrot. And forget about what Aunt Busybody has to say. It's not her engagement.
posted by notashroom at 1:48 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

How about a cultured diamond?

It's not fake in any functional use of the word. It is a diamond. But, it was made in a lab, and will usually cost a fraction of what a mined diamond would. And the only blood shed in its production will be that of the scientist who worked out the process.
posted by Netzapper at 1:54 PM on August 28, 2009

Hon, is that you?

Seriously though, I'm in the same boat as your girlfriend. I've been with my fella awhile now, and while I'm sure he'll propose eventually, The Would-Be-Mr. Diagonalize and I have had quite a few long, drawn-out discussions about engagement rings. Diamonds are...problematic for me, but I also have a large, somewhat traditional family, and there's a lot of weird pressure about this kind of stuff, even when I'm not personally interested in a big rock. I still haven't fully resolved what kind of symbol I'd like my relationship to have, and I can't tell you what's appropriate for your relationship, but I can share some advice that I hope my guy would take to heart.

1. Talk to her and find out what kind of rings she likes. I'm all for surprises, but you can still learn a lot from having a casual "what if" conversation. You might find that she has surprisingly concrete ideas about exactly what kind of ring she's interested in (or vehemently NOT interested in).

2. If you really want to propose, then propose. You don't need a ring to express a formal commitment. If you know she wants a ring, remember, this is something she might very well wear the rest of life, so if you want to be absolutely sure she loves it, wait, and let her pick it out.

3. If you must propose with a ring, consider using a throwaway ring. A pretty, but cheap or fake ring with the understanding that the real ring is yet to come would be a nice way to let her choose while still keeping the surprise factor. I've heard stories of proposals with Ring Pops and pull tabs. I've also know someone who propose with a loose diamond, stating that he would set the rock in whatever setting she liked. This is a great opportunity to get creative with things that are meaningful to you two.

4. If you're considering estate jewelry, make very sure of your ladyfriend's feelings on the subject. I wouldn't care personally, but some girls get really weird about "used" jewelry.

5. Make sure you're happy with the ring too. An engagement ring is a symbol of your shared love and commitment, and no big, shiny rock is worth it if you're going to be secretly resenting the purchase or loudly complaining about the cost of diamonds every time she shows it off.
posted by Diagonalize at 1:56 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe blue topaz? I think the fact that it's light and see through like a diamond would still make it look very much like a traditional wedding ring and if you were to place it in a setting with smaller diamonds on the sides, it would be much cheaper than a traditional diamond ring, but still look respectfully expensive. A Sapphire would be a good choice too.

This website appears to have a lot of reasonably priced sapphire engagement rings.
posted by whoaali at 1:56 PM on August 28, 2009

On the offchance that your girlfriend has a March birthday and you like the birthstone idea, aquamarines are not a good choice for a ring worn daily -- they are very soft, and scratch/cloud easily. Blue topaz is the logical alternative, though the color is noticeably different.
posted by gnomeloaf at 2:03 PM on August 28, 2009

I have a sapphire (my birthstone) with two v. small diamond baguettes. I have this ring, except with a blue sapphire, which is kind of vintage looking. Other great middle stones are: emeralds, rubies, aquamarine, and tanzanite (which is increasingly rare).
posted by questionsandanchors at 2:07 PM on August 28, 2009

Or based on what gnomeloaf said, scratch aquamarine.
posted by questionsandanchors at 2:08 PM on August 28, 2009

Make sure she really truly thinks "diamonds are stupid", because I've had a couple of friends who said the same thing, but when they were proposed to without a diamond things really changed, lol.
posted by zarah at 2:12 PM on August 28, 2009

Emeralds also aren't so great for rings, as their tendency towards inclusions makes them prone to damage, despite being fairly high on the Mohs scale.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:12 PM on August 28, 2009

I proposed without a ring and let her chose her own (sapphire) and I've had no complaints. The jewellers we visited seemed to find this a perfectly familiar business, except that she kept picking ones I didn't think were expensive enough.
posted by Phanx at 2:19 PM on August 28, 2009

Ask her. For the love of God ask her, and you'll save both of you a world of hurt. If you want, you can scope some stuff out, then take her on a tour, but just involve her in the buying of the ring.
posted by rocketpup at 2:19 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

davey_darling: "I just proposed to my GF, and am very glad that I bought a diamond. That's what everyone expects and they're quite happy to see."

I do not wish to derail, but I do want to add that not everyone - and certainly not every woman "expects" to see a diamond with a proposal. It may be the convention, but lots of people have very different expectations of what symbols correlate to this kind of happy commitment. In fact, many women expect to not be given a diamond.
posted by raztaj at 2:40 PM on August 28, 2009 [8 favorites]

I have a tsavorite as the main stone in my engagement ring. They are the most amazingly pretty sparkly green - much livelier than emeralds. My ring was a few hundred pounds and it's very pretty and unusual - you could team the tsavorite up with a couple of very small cruelty-free diamonds and have it as the main stone. It's hard to find a picture which does justice to how good the stone can be, but here's what the largest gem quality one in the world looks like!
posted by Flitcraft at 2:48 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

We skipped the ring thing altogether until we got married, at my wife's request. I proposed without a ring and she never wore one until we got married, but it was her decision to not get an engagement ring. She wanted to have one made with our birthstones and no diamond so it worked out fine.
posted by iamabot at 2:49 PM on August 28, 2009

ASK HER. Engagement rings don't have to be utter surprises. You can surprise her with a really cute sentiment engraved inside, but I would strongly encourage you to talk with her about what she wants and expects.

And that's all that matters; the two of you need to be happy with your choice, and the heck with everyone else.

Here's the thing about "only X% of the diamonds are conflict diamonds"--most of the diamonds sold in the US are sourced from mining conglomerates that sell conflict diamonds. For myself, I wouldn't want a diamond from any company that sells any conflict diamonds, because I would feel like I was contributing to that trade even if my particular diamond wasn't one of them. (This is the same kind of logic I use for my "I eat meat and wear leather, but not fur" stance: I know that a mink in a cage and a chicken in a cage aren't that different, but the poultry industry isn't going out and killing wild and rare birds, whereas much of the fur industry is.) Of course, this may not be your girlfriend's philosophy, and there are certainly strong arguments to be made against it--it's just my own personal approach.

So if your girlfriend shares my position on that, that narrows your choices to non-DeBeers diamonds, non-diamond gemstones, vintage diamonds and gemstones, and lab-created gemstones. Ask her what she thinks about each of these categories. Ask her if she'd prefer gold, white gold, rose gold, or platinum. Ask her what shape she wants in a stone.

My own story is this: my husband and I bought me an amethyst engagement ring, which was handmade by an artisan jeweler from a stone that came from a worker-owned gem mine. Later, his mother gave him an heirloom Art Deco diamond-and-platinum wedding set to give me, which I found both really touching as a gesture and absolutely to my taste. So I got beautiful diamonds without having to give money to DeBeers because every now and then I get lucky like that. I wear my original engagement ring on my right hand, and it all works out.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:59 PM on August 28, 2009

I'm going to have to put in a vote for don't ask her. Some girls would be fine with this, but others would find it very unromantic. Obviously, you know your future wife best, but I would err on asking her best friend/sister for input.
posted by whoaali at 3:23 PM on August 28, 2009

You will probably disappoint her if it's not a diamond. Women love diamonds. Period.

Political correctness goes out the window on this one, folks.
posted by Zambrano at 3:23 PM on August 28, 2009

We went with an obscure green stone, the name of which escapes me....

(thank you, flitcraft)
posted by IndigoJones at 3:24 PM on August 28, 2009

Zambrano: You will probably disappoint her if it's not a diamond. Women love diamonds. Period.

Huh? You've not been paying attention to these answers, have you? There've been a lot of women saying they don't want a diamond.

Me? I'd have been very, very disappointed had MrR proposed with a diamond ring, unless it was an heirloom. Probably not to the point that I'd have said NO, but pretty damn close.

My engagement ring was opal with iolite side-stones. Wore it for years, until the center stone fell out. The ring I currently wear as an engagement ring is a large trilliant cut peridot in a swoopy silver setting. I have *no* diamond jewelry. (Oh, I take that back. I have some pearl drop earrings with diamond chips in the stud.)
posted by jlkr at 3:38 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

My fiance proposed without a ring and let me pick out the engagement ring myself. Neither of us wanted to support the diamond industry, so I picked out a moissanite ring and I LOVE it...people don't know it's not a diamond unless I decide to tell them; I get a lot of compliments about how clear and sparkling the stone looks. Moissanite actually refracts light better than your typical diamond, so it's got an extra sparkle to it.

I got the ring here: Moissanite Co

Plus we were able to get a .8 "carat equivalent" ring for ~$500, which is awesome. I'd much rather have a big moissanite stone than a tiny speck of a real diamond, personally.

So really, consider proposing without a ring and letting her pick one for herself. After all, she's the one that will be wearing it. My fiance's parents were aghast that he decided to propose without a ring, but it was fine.
posted by castlebravo at 3:46 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

i didn't want my fiance to buy me a diamond. instead, he bought me a new deck for our house.

i'm wearing my late grandmother's engagement ring. it's a quarter karat and i love it. i know there are people who might judge my fiance by it, but i shut them up by telling them it's my grandmother's ring and it means so much to me.

give her what she wants and don't worry about what other people say. she's the one who's showing it off--people will say it's lovely and she'll say, "i'm so glad we didn't get a diamond. i'd rather go to france!" and everyone will say, "that's really smart. i wish i'd done that."
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:50 PM on August 28, 2009

I'm going to have to support Zambrano on this one, while there are no doubt women who don't want a diamond engagement ring, of my many, many female, liberal, progressive friends I can think of one that did not want a traditional wedding ring. One or two others would probably be open to the idea of a non traditional wedding ring, but the vast majority of women (I know at least) want a traditional diamond wedding ring.

I won't get into a debate about whether that's right or wrong, but I don't think you can underplay the cultural significance of having a traditional diamond wedding ring.
posted by whoaali at 3:58 PM on August 28, 2009

whoaali: wedding bands don't generally have diamonds in them. It's engagement rings that often have diamonds.

I have my mother-in-law's wedding ring, which contains 7 diamonds. Were it not for the availability of an heirloom ring, I would have wanted peridot (my birthstone) or some other semi-precious stone. I wanted a ring because my husband lives in another country, and the ring is my connection to him.

My sister has an engagement tattoo.

Most women I know are not that jazzed about diamonds.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:31 PM on August 28, 2009

Oh: also: don't get her a diamond. She already told you she didn't want one. There are many more beautiful stones out there. Get her something beautiful.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:32 PM on August 28, 2009

Sorry yes I meant diamond engagement ring, not wedding ring.
posted by whoaali at 4:33 PM on August 28, 2009

One or two others would probably be open to the idea of a non traditional wedding ring, but the vast majority of women (I know at least) want a traditional diamond wedding ring.

Can we at least take people at their word when they say they're not part of that "vast majority of women" who want a diamond engagement ring? If we've learned nothing else from feminism, can the one thing we do take away be that we should listen to our significant others and respect their stated preferences because, as people, they deserve that respect?

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:57 PM on August 28, 2009 [10 favorites]

A ring that's worn every day is pretty much the worst case for wear or other damage. A good hard stone like sapphire or ruby is a plus. Soft stones with a lot of flaws/inclusions like emerald or opal are more risky. You can also take this into account in the setting. Some settings are more protective of the stone than others. The traditional stick-it-way-out-there-in-your-face engagement ring settings are obviously not great for soft stones.

My wife loves green, and I looked around and settled on tsavorite (green garnet) for her ring. We went to a small custom jeweler and she talked to them to come up with the ring design. A clean/minimal design with the stone set flush to minimize wear/damage. We were both very happy with the result.
posted by madmethods at 5:46 PM on August 28, 2009

I don't understand the idea of saying "Women want such-and-such" when there are women here saying they don't want such-and-such.

"The women I know want such-and-such, unlike some women here" might be a reasonable response, but if there's one thing that frosts my cupcake (and there are millions), it's men telling me "what women want" as though neither I nor my female friends and family are women.

Why do that? If the OP's girlfriend says "I don't want a diamond," it's probably because she doesn't want a diamond, like many of the women here, not because she's some idiot who doesn't know her own mind.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:08 PM on August 28, 2009 [6 favorites]

Got my wife a nice diamond engagement ring (now lost).

Even if she hadn't lost it, how I wish I had gotten us a trip around the world instead!

Memories are more valuable than stuff.
posted by zachawry at 6:09 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I really like my Moissanite ring, which is beautiful and very traditional-looking, and I like specifically that it isn't a diamond (for similar reasons to your girlfriend's.) The only thing that might feel awkward about it is the fact that to the casual observer it does look like a diamond. That might feel, sometimes, like you're wearing a "fake" diamond. But So What? is my feeling. If for some reason it comes up I'm more than happy to disabuse 'em of the notion.

Since there's no rush, I'd say look around a while until you find something that feels really right. Maybe it'll be an antique diamond ring, maybe a Moissanite ring, maybe an enormous pink cubic zirconia cocktail ring, maybe something else entirely. I know an engagement ring isn't a life-or-death necessity but I really like having one and I think tokens of affection are sweet. So if you and your girlfriend want it, go for it--and to hell with what anyone else thinks.
posted by Neofelis at 6:23 PM on August 28, 2009

Memories are more valuable than stuff.

This was what I loved about using a family heirloom instead of buying a new ring--we took the money we would have spent on a ring and went to Scotland instead.

I do think memories are valuable, but I also personally think there's value in having a physical token to symbolize the decision/event of your engagement. I love wearing my engagement and wedding rings. A pretty $100 non-diamond ring from Sundance or some similarly nice-but-affordable shop plus a trip or some other memorable experience could work nicely (if your lady is anything like me, which I have no idea if she is).
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:39 PM on August 28, 2009

I was one of those women who said she didn't want a diamond, and I was absolutely thrilled with the (blue) sapphire he picked out! I also thought it was romantic that he picked it out without my input -- he suggested taking it back if I wanted something else, but knowing that he picked it himself made it special to me. (The fact that it was a big sapphire in an ornate vintage-y setting didn't hurt either.)
posted by transona5 at 7:24 PM on August 28, 2009

Can we at least take people at their word when they say they're not part of that "vast majority of women" who want a diamond engagement ring? If we've learned nothing else from feminism, can the one thing we do take away be that we should listen to our significant others and respect their stated preferences because, as people, they deserve that respect?

Did I at any point say not to?
posted by whoaali at 7:28 PM on August 28, 2009

When I was engaged (we split before marriage, FWIW), my ex-fiance and I designed our engagement rings together and had them made by a local jeweler. It was a lovely romantic collaborative thing.

(And count me among the legion of women who'd be appalled to receive a diamond, and likely wouldn't wear it.)
posted by mollymayhem at 7:44 PM on August 28, 2009

I'm going to have to support Zambrano on this one, while there are no doubt women who don't want a diamond engagement ring, of my many, many female, liberal, progressive friends I can think of one that did not want a traditional wedding ring.

That's nice. Meanwhile, this thread is about a woman who doesn't want a traditional wedding ring.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on August 28, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oh man, now that I think about it, going to Scotland would be pretty swell. And those Moissanite rings look so blingy! Argh, why did this question have to appear right after the Not-Quite-Mr. Diagonalize has left for two weeks? This thread is ripe with ideas!

anonymous, I do not envy your situation. Your pain is my pain.
posted by Diagonalize at 8:58 PM on August 28, 2009

It's actually a bit hard to tell what the woman in this situation wants based on the phrasing of the question: "She has said in the past that she thinks diamonds are fairly stupid from a financial / blood diamond aspect." I, too, have said that I think diamonds are stupid because they're expensive and I really don't like the idea of blood diamonds and of people being exploited/hurt/maimed/killed so that I could wear a pretty rock on my finger. That said, I wouldn't be angry or upset or want to exchange the ring if I were to receive a diamond engagement ring. But I think that I'd rather have the Moissanite and a great trip to Europe - it's the best of both worlds. It would not bother me at all to wear a ring that looks like a diamond but isn't; in fact, it would be a lot better for the reasons described above.

I'd steer clear of her birthstone (unless she really likes it or something) and would get something that looks similar to a diamond. Birthstones are kind of gaudy in my opinion - Moissanite goes with everything, but it's tough to wear a green dress with a red ring. At least that's been my experience; I have an emerald ring and I dislike wearing it because it feels showy to me in a way that a diamond - or diamond look-alike - isn't. This is probably a weird personal thing because diamonds are pretty showy themselves.

You could always ask her how she feels (and I sort of think you should, based on the way you've phrased the question). If you do this, don't beat around the bush and try to deduce her general feelings about diamonds, diamond-look-alikes, birthstones, and the like. Just be upfront, because she'll be able to be completely honest about her opinion if she knows that it's a real question with concrete consequences. You can still surprise her with the way you propose, or the timing, or something, if you feel like you want the element of surprise to be present in the proposal.
posted by k8lin at 9:05 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

IN light of the good point k8lin makes, I apologize for my snippy comment above. Perhaps the gf's comment was not conclusive. So I now recommend asking outright. I've talked about what I'd value in a ring enough that if I received a traditional diamond I'd actually be a little bit disturbed that my SO wasn't listening to me and didn't get what I said. But it is hard to tell whether this was an off-the-cuff comment about what is definitely a crappy industry, or a reflection of a deeply help preference. So talk to her
posted by Miko at 9:32 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, I read about a guy who thought diamonds were a stupid, overpriced, overhyped purchase. He wanted to propose to his girlfriend, so he took his budget for the ring and bought her a piece of undeveloped land in the place they wanted to retire, with the idea that they would vacation there over the course of their marriage and build it up together. He got her a gold ring with a little charm in the shape of the state on it. I always thought that would be an awesome engagement gift (his girlfriend, sadly, did not agree).

I like the idea of spending the money on something meaningful that you can share (land, a trip around the world, a new deck, what-have-you) and getting some symbol to go with it, like the charm ring.
posted by carmen at 6:18 AM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, oh! Beautiful, earth/people-friendly rings here at Turtle Love Committee! I love their stuff.
posted by pised at 8:00 AM on August 29, 2009

Update on the tsavorite. \\

The fellow who first discovered it was murdered this past week in another example of the ugly side of gems.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:28 AM on August 29, 2009

You will probably disappoint her if it's not a diamond. Women love diamonds. Period.

Dude. I'm a woman. I think expensive shiny things are stupid. Once upon a time, I repeatedly stated that I think expensive shiny things are stupid. When I ended up with an expensive shiny thing anyway, I wasn't pleasantly surprised, I was annoyed that he didn't listen.

Of course, that's ancient history and now I have a fancy engagement ring somewhere in a drawer collecting dust and I haven't talked to him in a long damn time. Should I ever end up engaged again, I do not want a ring. Although that's unlikely, because should I end up married, it will probably involve spontaneous elopement rather than any sort of betrothal, then a big tacky exuberant keg party with all our friends and, I dunno, water balloon fights or something!! because wedding froufrou stuff: also Decidedly Not for Me. Females like me actually exist, BTW.

My best friend's husband gave her a mandolin instead of an engagement ring and she was really happy.

Anonymous probably needs to actually talk to his girlfriend, but that kind of statement about "all women" is not correct.
posted by little e at 7:40 AM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it's a fairly big deal that she's told you that she thinks diamonds are stupid. As you can see from this thread, women are expected to expect and gush over diamond rings. That she has identified herself as not being one of those women takes a lot of guts from her, i.e., spitting in the face of social and family pressure.

I myself have told my partner that I would laugh at him if he were ever to buy me a diamond ring just to drill the point home. I have even repeated it in front of his diamond buying/wearing relatives so that he doesn't feel the familial pressure that you're feeling.
posted by KathyK at 6:44 AM on August 31, 2009

As some have already mentioned, lab-created (a.k.a. lab-grown, synthetic or cultured) diamonds are certainly an option for the "non-blood" angle. Lab-created diamonds are real diamonds, just made in a machine rather than dug out of the ground. They come primarily in yellow and blue, with limited availability in white/colorless. The whites are very rare over 1/2 carat and cost about the same as a mined white diamond. The fancy yellows and blues are significantly less expensive than their mined counterparts. The cheap whites you see online (under $1000/carat) are all simulants (fake). There are only a few companies that grow real lab diamonds: D.NEA, Gemesis, Chatham and Apollo

Aside from a diamond, I would recommend a sapphire, ruby, emerald or other gemstone. With all of them, the color can become a great conversation starter on your beliefs (non-blood, eco, etc.).
posted by EEFranklin at 6:57 AM on August 31, 2009

If your fiance is OK with not getting a diamond, then don't get one! It's a waste of money. The sentiment behind it was dreamt up by advertising copy writers in the early 20th century. It's all a big illusion.
posted by TruthAboutDiamonds at 2:35 PM on September 7, 2009

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