Apparently it's not official till there's a ring on the finger. Help out a jewelry noob?
November 5, 2010 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Let's say I had about $300 to spend on an engagement right. I know, big spender, right? Now let's say I wanted something other than a diamond if at all possible. She likes blues, greens, and reds. She's also got a very sensitive nickel allergy.

So given that set of criteria, where would you look? Pawn shops? Online brokers? A diamond is...ok, but I'd honestly prefer lab grown or antique. Obviously, small is fine, and simple is better.

That figure is...slightly adjustable...but with a little one on the way and several major home renovations in progress, it would be unwise do spend any more.
posted by TomMelee to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I put in your search parameters at Etsy... Here's what's for sale in the vintage section and here's what's for sale in the handmade area!
posted by patronuscharms at 8:14 AM on November 5, 2010

My friend received a beautiful engagement ring that is engraved but has no stones. She loves it. I'm not sure what you can get with stones for $300... maybe a pearl? I'd avoid 'fake' stones unless they were lab-grown diamonds, but that's just me. I think the danger is in choosing a 'cheap' ring. Just because it's inexpensive, doesn't mean it has to be 'cheap.' Basically, anything that smacks of a diamond ring knockoff would be a turn off for me. But an alternative ring, a thoughtful ring, a meaningful ring, would be very special.
posted by n'muakolo at 8:15 AM on November 5, 2010

My wife's engagement ring cost $85 (well, $85.50).
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:18 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yah. Make it pure Gold, no stone. Diamonds are such a scam and terribly overpriced. They can be created artificially for a fraction of the cost. But you want a "real" one, thanks to DeBeer, don't you?
By the way, in Europe you only get a Gold ring anyway. You wear it on the left cite to show your engagement. When you marry then you switch it to the right side.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:20 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I got myself a sapphire "single lady" ring at an estate sale. 1 carat of sapphire and 1/2 carat of small diamonds. Cost: $450

My best friend just got engaged, and was presented with a really pretty and unique 1 carat sapphire. Cost: appx. $400.

I also found this one, which is really beautiful and only slightly over your budget.
posted by functionequalsform at 8:21 AM on November 5, 2010

We have a friend who does awesome custom jewelry. He has an etsy store. You should contact him and tell him your ideas and he can/will make you something amazing.
posted by morganannie at 8:32 AM on November 5, 2010

Once you take diamonds out of the equation, the prices for rings drop dramatically. I think taking them out of the "engagement ring" category helps too.

Mine is a white gold and amethyst ring we bought from JC Penny. At the time (16 years ago or so) it was about $100. If Etsy had existed then, I probably would have wanted one of those, though!
posted by JoanArkham at 8:34 AM on November 5, 2010

I specifically did not want a diamond, and I love my aquamarine "engagement" ring. It was purchased at a chain jewelry store. By not limiting himself to diamonds, my now husband was able to find something that really suits my taste and his budget. I spent a few weeks browsing for a wedding band that would fit, since the ring was not part of an engagement set, but was able to find something that looks like it was made for the ring.
posted by deadcrow at 8:34 AM on November 5, 2010

Best answer: Palladium is a very good metal for those with sensitive skin. I doubt you would find it in vintage jewelry, but you might price it new. I believe it is cheaper than gold, silver, or platinum.
posted by Gilbert at 8:36 AM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so far. These links are a goldmine.

functionequalsform, can you vouch for that antiquejewelrymall site?
posted by TomMelee at 8:45 AM on November 5, 2010

No, I can certainly not. Just a cursory look-around. I'll look harder for you in a sec!

(Congrats, btw!)
posted by functionequalsform at 8:46 AM on November 5, 2010

Best answer: I bought my engagement ring on Etsy. It's a half-carat green sapphire tension-set in a titanium band. It cost $240. I love it very much.

Usually you should look for a fairly hard stone for an engagement ring, because it's going to be worn every day. If the stone has a hardness of less than 7 on the Mohs scale, it is likely to get scratched or otherwise damaged in everyday wear. Luckily, there are a lot of fairly hard stones with this hardness rating...

Personally, I quite like lab-grown stones, particularly rubies. They're ridiculously inexpensive, optically flawless and beautifully colored, and you don't have to worry about appalling slave-labor conditions in the mines. But a lot of people don't care for lab-created stones (they find them "fake" even though the molecular structure and properties are identical), so that might not be an option for you.

If you're going all-natural, I would look for some of the less-popular colored stones. A lot of them are very beautiful and sparkly, but they don't cost as much because they aren't as well known. I like spinels, as well as some of the more unusually-colored sapphires. Both of these stones are very hard (hard enough to tension-set in titanium, even, which is a must for me because I have many severe metal allergies), and come in almost any color you can think of. You might even be able to buy your own stone that you like and have someone from Etsy put it in a setting for you. Just be careful when you're buying loose stones -- check for lab "enhancements" as well as whether or not the stone was created in a lab.
posted by kataclysm at 8:54 AM on November 5, 2010

p.s. My ring cost $240, but I forgot to mention that it was part of a bridal set so it came with a wedding band thrown in.
posted by kataclysm at 8:55 AM on November 5, 2010

You could certainly get a beautiful sterling silver and gemstone ring on Etsy for less than $300. If she has a nickel allergy, sterling silver would be preferable to white gold, obviously. Perhaps there's a jeweler in the house who could weigh in on whether sterling silver will hold up well enough for an engagement ring?

Do you know if she prefers a white, gray, yellow, or rose metal?
posted by ohsnapdragon at 9:07 AM on November 5, 2010

If she has a nickel allergy, sterling silver would be preferable to white gold

Sterling silver is only 92.5% pure, and often the filler in the other 7.5% is nickel. I wouldn't chance it.

Titanium, niobium, or 24k gold (which is probably too soft and expensive for your needs anyway).
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:24 AM on November 5, 2010

DO NOT GET A GOLD RING. Nickel is used in gold rings to toughen it up. If you get her a gold ring, she will not be able to wear it. Really really really really really really do not do it.
posted by Stynxno at 9:35 AM on November 5, 2010

My ring was $260 and I found it at an antique tradeshow. See if you can find any coming up in your city.

The ring was made out of white gold with a citrine (kind of like topaz) stone. There were lots of others there that fit my similarly low budget, but you might run into trouble with the allergy thing. Also sizes- I fluked into buying the right size, but you definitely want to know an estimate before you start looking.

Don't buy opals, they're too soft. Good luck!
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 9:53 AM on November 5, 2010

Best answer: Turtle Love Committee has beautiful, unusual rings in your price range. Look at the general ring section as well as the engagement rings.
posted by TrarNoir at 10:18 AM on November 5, 2010

My engagement ring was purchased at an antique store. It's 14K gold, it has a 1/3 carat ruby -- no diamonds -- and it was $130. It's from 1937 and I love it. It sounds like gold is probably out for your lady because of the nickel allergy, but I would look into antique platinum stuff. Honestly after having shopped for a couple of engagement rings (my own, and a couple of clueless guy friends'), I would never, ever, ever buy new jewelry unless I was doing it custom, because you get so much more for so much less when you go vintage.
posted by KathrynT at 10:22 AM on November 5, 2010

Best answer: It's not quite true that sterling silver's "7.5 percent" contains nickel. It can, but other alloys are also very common (argentium sterling silver, for one.) If you ask your jeweler, especially in a context like Etsy, they should be able to easily tell you what exactly is in the metal.

You can also have a white gold ring plated with rhodium which can sometimes alleviate the allergy. If she is really sensitive it may not be enough, though.

Going with palladium or platinum would be the safest bet, but of course they are more expensive and harder to find used. Platinum is also really heavy, so it can be difficult to get used to if you're not a jewelry person.

This palladium ring can be made with many different gemstones, including sapphires, emeralds, and rubies, and should be well within your budget.

This argentinium sterling silver ring is shown with a beautiful blue topaz and is available with several other gemstones. That Etsy seller has many others that might work as well.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 10:40 AM on November 5, 2010

My husband got me this ring, which I love as it doesn't have anything sticking out to snag on and is an awesome setting. Plus, is titanium, which is just awesome.
posted by chiefthe at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2010

Try They have cheap rings that are not cheap on looks. They have gold AND titanium rings with more then just diamonds in them. My wifes engadgement ring is from this website. cost me about $130 and she gets compliments on it all the time.
posted by majortom1981 at 12:09 PM on November 5, 2010

Nthing etsy but especially 3Rexes. She will work with you with custom stones or metals as needed.
posted by getawaysticks at 12:14 PM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: Wow these responses are all super duper awesome. I've spent the day rewiring my second floor, trying to get it done before little man gets here. I've definitely got some secret surfing to do.

BTW, ya'll are great. I expected some judginess about the price range, and I'm glad there hasn't been any. Thanks again.
posted by TomMelee at 12:23 PM on November 5, 2010

Stynxno is not correct in warning you away from gold. Nickel is only commonly used in white gold. Yellow and rose gold do not contain nickel, they are alloys of gold, copper, and silver. Sometimes if the metal is cast (as opposed to being hand fabricated from sheet or wire) they may add zinc or silicon but not nickel (informative chart here).

And, if you did want the look of white gold, there is palladium white gold which uses palladium in place of the nickel. If you're having something custom made, as other people have pointed out, your jeweler should definitely be able to tell you exactly what the alloy is made from.
posted by heliotrope at 12:33 PM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: Not really making a final decision here, but if you were a girl (maybe you are!) and you liked classy, attractive, make people say "ooh let me see that!" things but you really didn't like FLASHY things, would you say you liked:

This three stone one
This one stone one, and maybe a necklace and earrings or something to match it.
This one, which is maybe my favorite but definitely not traditional as an engagement ring. (and possibly a central diamond flanked by...something...else.)
posted by TomMelee at 12:56 PM on November 5, 2010

Unless your fiancee has specifically said otherwise, and/or she is a very laidback, rough-and-tumble kind of person, I would assume she wants some kind of larger gemstone on her engagement ring. I would go with one of your first two links or similiar.

The great thing about the second one is that, at that price, if she really wanted something different you wouldn't be set back too much. It is also very classic, so unless she is really into being unique, she probably won't hate it. It is my favorite, and from what you describe of her tastes I think we're pretty similiar. But my engagement ring looks a lot like that so of course I'm biased.

One more thing - white topaz, because it is clear, may be mistaken by some (ignorant, annoying) people as a cheap diamond substitute instead of a beautiful gem in its own right. She may not care, (I don't) but if she is more sensitive or socially conscious, it may be better to go with a colored gemstone to avoid the diamond association all together. You could probably message that seller and ask if she could put in a sapphire instead.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 1:10 PM on November 5, 2010

I would go with ring 2. I am a girl!
posted by WeekendJen at 1:31 PM on November 5, 2010

Mrs. zooropa votes for ring 2!
posted by zooropa at 1:49 PM on November 5, 2010

I like #3 of your links. I also like the stuff that this etsy seller has!
posted by three bear minimum at 2:03 PM on November 5, 2010

My ring is very similar to ring 2, though with a thinner band and then a same-sized plain band for the wedding ring that fits snugly under the stone. I love it, and I get tons of compliments. This is my ring, in fact.

I highly recommend working with a jeweler (from Etsy or elsewhere) whose style you like to get something custom made for you. Sarah made us beautiful rings and made sure that we stayed within our stated budget.

I have a nickel allergy, though not a very sensitive one. Do not get a sterling silver ring for her. .999 silver would be fine. Yellow gold should be fine, and so should some white golds. Your best bet would be to tell whatever jeweler you choose about her allergies so that they can advise you what materials will be safe and in your price range.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 4:32 PM on November 5, 2010

I vote for #1, but I think #2 looks more like an engagement ring. (I'm a girl, and I love pretty artisan made jewelry but not at all flashy or traditional jewelry.) I think she's going to love whatever you get her!!
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 4:37 PM on November 5, 2010

I'm a bit late here, but friends of mine went on a weekend trip when they got engaged, and bought cheap ($10) rings from some street seller to mark the occasion. The rings are just a reminder of the weekend, and kind of a joke, but I think it's kind of sweet. You could do a weekend away for that $300 and something to remember it by.
posted by lollusc at 6:36 PM on November 5, 2010

I would choose ring #3, personally. It's simple, feminine and elegant.

Ring #2 is a bit too 'rough' for my taste. (These words sound harsh, but I'm trying to describe the contrast with the elegance of ring #3. Not trying to be dismissive of other people's choice and taste!)
I feel the stone isn't in proportion to the band, so it makes the ring a bit unbalanced and thus 'rough' on the eye.

Ring #1 doesn't have the 'roughness' of ring #2, but the contrast between the stones and band is still there, albeit in another way than with ring #2. The stones appear to be just sitting on the band, there's no smooth transition.

I must admit, generally, I tend towards the finer and more elegant rings.
Second, being European, my attitude towards how an engagement ring can/should look probably differs greatly from the traditional/stereotyped American view.

Do you know which style of ring she usually wears? A thin or broad band? A modern style or something more vintage?
posted by lioness at 7:03 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Turtle Love Committee has beautiful, unusual rings in your price range. Look at the general ring section as well as the engagement rings.

OffbeatBride is featuring a 15% discount for Turtle Love in November!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:22 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Like your bride-to-be (congrats!), I am nickel intolerant and I wanted a semi-precious stone, specifically a garnet (to match my wedding dress).

I shopped at Etsy, but because I was getting a non-traditional ring, and I wear no other jewelry, I wanted one with polish, if not a "wow" factor. (This in no way means to disrespect the lovely rings you've selected in this thread or the fine crafty folk on Etsy.)

It was just that many many of the rings I saw on Etsy were nice, but sort of roughly hewn in a way. I am unkempt enough as it is. I wanted a ring that was singular and quirky, but also exquisite.

So I sought out "right hand" rings, or cocktail rings.

My gorgeous engagement ring, which I still wear (since March 20th) and still love, is a sterling silver ring with a single garnet between white topaz stones and 14 carat gold accents that form savage peaks and sweet curves.

Set us back $80 at Sears.

Have fun searching!
posted by Jezebella at 12:09 AM on November 7, 2010

We got my engagement ring at an antique shop. I don't know any history but it's most likely late 30's, early 40's. I love it! Ring plus sizing/cleaning was about $350.
posted by radioamy at 6:36 AM on November 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!

We're ordering something from this seller:
And I ordered her this for christmas, cuz I thought it was cute:
Love Birds and Baby Necklace

Thanks again MeFi, you win. (I think I'm going amethyst...but...we'll see.)
posted by TomMelee at 7:46 AM on November 8, 2010

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