Streamlined way to pick an engagement ring?
November 5, 2013 11:00 AM   Subscribe

We're trying to get engaged -- hooray! What advice do you have about how to streamline this whole ring thing as much as possible?

Our lives could not be busier, and we're building a house, so we have no money. If possible, we'd like to announce the engagement to family over Thanksgiving (since we're not going home for Xmas). 

So. We need an engagement ring. Quickly. A ring... that I'll wear, like, every day, forever? How do busy people do this?? 

Much as I wish I could just buy anything and not care too much about finding the perfect thing, it's kind of hard to do that when there are so many choices and when we would like it to feel right. And if we went to Engagement Rings R Us, we'd probably end up spending $1500-$2000, when we want to spend like $300 - $900, so I'm not even quite sure where to shop.

We've been looking at Etsy shops, and gaining some hope that we might find something we like in our price range. But it seems hard to narrow down the choices without trying them on, and the rings are often made to order so the process takes a month or more, and you can't return it.

We live in the Bay Area so we could go to various local artisans' shops, but it would probably take a lot of travel (and maybe a miracle) to find the intersection of our tastes and our low price range.

Our aesthetics lean toward the slightly more handmade-looking (is that the right way to describe that look?) and the modern / industrial. We're not that into diamonds and would be happy to find something used, vintage, lab-grown, or non-diamond (but still durable and fairly clear or pale, e.g., no rubies).

Anyway. I realize it may not be possible to find something we like by Thanksgiving. But what advice do you have about how to streamline this as much as possible?
posted by slidell to Shopping (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Take your time, and if you feel like you MUST have a ring at thanksgiving, just get a comically large fake plastic one... at least, that's what I'd do.

You don't want to look down at your hand in 40 years and think "man I wish we'd taken an extra month to really find the right thing!"
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:12 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Some of the considerations are probably going to take some time:

Have you tried on any rings to get a feel for the size/shape/type of materials you're into? White gold/yellow gold/sterling silver? Consider what your hands do all day: do you carry a lot of things? Have long hair? Are you used to wearing rings? Do you want the stone to be the same stone forever? (Morganite and opals for example are much softer and can get very banged up.) Moissanite is becoming an increasingly popular option; there are many YouTube videos of different stones and what they look like, or you could phone local stores to see if they have any pieces in stock. Are you likely to want to wear just a wedding band, or engagement ring and band? Do you want them to fit together?

Another option might be contacting local Etsy sellers to see what they do have in stock; if a ring can be resized, it usually doesn't take that long. Here's one from a San Francisco jeweler and another one and possibly this one as well. If they can't help you, they might be able to point you in the right direction.

The extremely quick option: local vintage jewelry stores and pawn shops. (Maybe not for a forever ring.)

And hey: you don't have to have an engagement ring. You can decide to get married and then do so without any rings at all, if you'd rather just get one band or get an engagement-style ring later. You could just get a stand in from Target too. Congrats: Mazel tov!
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:17 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yep. Stand in for now. Real one after the crazy is over. Congrats!!
posted by michellenoel at 11:25 AM on November 5, 2013

We we so busted at the time that we couldn't get an engagement ring. Been together 15 years, I never feel regret about it.

300-900 can buy a lot of things; it can also go into an investment or savings account (Maybe put it towards your house. Or a really nice vacation for your honeymoon/anniversary.)

Do you really need one? Are you feeling pressured to get one because it's the thing that done, but you don't really have time anyway and don't care that much?

If that's not the case and this is something you Must Do, then you are going to have to take some time to haunt some vintage jewelry shops and try them on; you can get quick and generic or meaningful and time-consuming, unless you are super lucky. It might help if you decide that the pre-Thanksgiving ring is a "placeholder" until you have time to really shop for The Ring, so then a funky-but-not perfect ring will work for you, for now.
posted by emjaybee at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2013

It's not clear from your question: do you actually want a ring? Do you actually want a ring with a stone? Or are you looking for one because you feel like you're supposed to have one?

My ring is a $40 sterling silver puzzle ring chosen after an afternoon or two of looking online and one very stressful high-pressure trip to the local Rings R Us (we were penniless students). I totally disagree with showbiz_liz; I love it *because* it's my ring, and I'm pretty sure I would love it now whatever it had been then. At the time we discussed getting something fancier later, but I've been happy with it for 12 years and don't think I'll be trading up any sooner than I would my husband.

So my advice would be to spend a little time at a local nice jeweler's to see if they can work with your price point, and if not, find an online seller that can promise a ring in 3 weeks. It doesn't need to be a big deal.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:39 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just get a stand-in for now. You don't need to go crazy with Operation Project Find Ring.

You don't need a ring to announce an engagement.
posted by barnone at 11:42 AM on November 5, 2013

My engagement ring cost $99 and my (now) husband basically handed it to me and said this, all in one sentence: "BlahLaLa will you please marry me I know you probably want to pick out a ring yourself so this is just a placeholder until we can go shopping together." I said yes, but was he ever wrong. This $99 ring has been on my hand for more than twenty years and means more to me than any expensive trinket ever could.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:42 AM on November 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm a newlywed and I very much cared about my engagement ring and felt it was important.
So I get you but my advice may be unexpected.

Don't bother getting one right now. Seriously. Burning money you don't have on a ring that isn't quite what you want just because you are supposed to have an engagement ring right when they propose... not a good plan. You'll probably regret it later. So save that 300-900$ and just hold on. Maybe put that towards making your wedding band something extra special. Maybe you only need the one ring. Maybe your wedding band can be both. Seriously.

As for a placeholder for thanksgiving, just don't worry about it. People will ask to see the ring, but just reply that you and your fiance agreed that it was better to save the money and just get a really special wedding band later but OHMYGOD you're engaged and excited and aren't you so happy for me?!?! And like barnone said, you don't need a ring to announce your engagement.

and for what it is worth, I have a friend who was proposed to with a kayak and she was about as excited as any one person could be. I re-proposed to my husband with an engagement BBQ. It is okay to go off the beaten path with this one. Do what matters to YOU and your FIANCE!

Also, mega huge congrats to you and your fiance!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:46 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

My stand-in engagement ring was a $1 neon plastic ring with "TOTES REAL OFISHIL" engraved on it. I wore it every day until I got the real real ring. I think both our families thought it was silly, but I didn't care and they were happy for us anyway. If you explain that you're still looking for the right ring but you didn't want that to get in the way of the good news, they'll be fine.

As for fitting, you can find out your ring size from any jeweler. It took me thirty seconds at the jewelry store in the mall, and the salesperson was super nice to me even though I didn't buy anything.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:51 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just recently had an engagement party. I didn't have a ring. No one cared, but if I thought they would have I would have work a giant candy ring (I could have used the sugar, frankly). We are buying a house so a big expensive flashy ring is definitely not something I cared about. However, my finance had said he felt bad that he didn't get a ring and didn't want to regret it. So I spent an hour online (Pinterest!) and found a few I liked and didn't feel sick at the price of and sent him some links. He picked this one and I love it and now we can move on to more important to us things (like mortgage rates!). So yeah, maybe just set a time and budget limit and be done with it?
posted by marylynn at 11:56 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want a ring to show off, just go to a pawn shop and look for something sparkly in your price range that you love. Don't spend a lot (up to $200, say). Look for a 14K stamp inside, if it's white or yellow gold. Then take it to a jeweler and have it resized and inspected (an appraisal will cost more). My personal rule is that if something is stamped 10K, the stone won't probably be that great in quality (i.e., something from HSN), but 14K, it has a better chance. The pawn shops around here won't really guarantee stones, except they do have diamond testers, but you said you don't want diamonds. So the downfall is that it could be a fake stone, but usually people don't set glass into 14K bands. Don't quote me on that, just something a jeweler told me once.

Then later on you can investigate something else if you want and use this ring as a cocktail ring on your other hand. Or just get a band to go with it, or just keep wearing it as is. I've gotten some pretty decent rings this way, and a few fantasy rings (i.e., with weird shapes that can't be cut into natural stones), but I like them all. Pawn shops are usually cheaper than vintage stores.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:02 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: While I completely agree that you don't need a ring, I get the impression that you want one.

So with your goal of getting one quick, cheap and perfect, you might have to give up one of those three goals. But maybe not!

Here are a couple of tips:
-Try a bunch on before buying anything online - what you like on your finger may be different than what you like in pics
-Check ou high-quality vintage/estate jewelry places - you'll get the most for your money 'used' because some people only want new (and there are really cool vintage pieces out there)
-I have a strong sense that you'd love Bario-Neal rings - and I know several people who got theirs there and adore them
-Look through eastsidebride's various posts on non-traditional rings - she has excellent taste
posted by leitmotif at 12:49 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am loving these answers! I got nervous about posting such a close-to-the-heart question, but all these stories and answers have been so great. Thank you!

It's not clear from your question: do you actually want a ring? Do you actually want a ring with a stone?

I do eventually want a ring because I like the idea of having a visible symbol that I have this special person in my life and that we've made this commitment. I wrote a bunch of sappy and philosophical stuff here, but ... this is the internet, so I'll just keep it at that. :)

I'm enjoying all these stories and thinking that we will go with a stand-in ring (or more likely, nothing) for Thanksgiving. I'd love to hear more suggestions and stories about how to find lower-cost rings, especially via in-person shopping. I'll mark those as "best answers" above, but honestly, the stories and encouragements have greatly helped as well. Thank you!
posted by slidell at 12:50 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: I was in kind of the same boat and wasn't at all invested in an engagement ring, but I do come from an intensely judge-y and traditional family (oh my god the snobbery, I could tell stories). I could take the tack of "screw 'em" but for the fact that it also meant something to my husband as well, and he was fully prepared to go diamond shopping.

I picked out a simple, modern design moissanite ring that is basically indistinguishable from a traditional engagement solitaire, and (bonus) it was on sale for half price in my specific size when I got it. I liked the design, it was very affordable for us, my husband (who does lean a bit traditional) was happy and it avoided all sorts of annoying conversations with my Snobby McSnobberson relatives (which, I realize everyone's different in their "fuckem" quotient but this did have a good deal of intangible value to me for my own mental health and serenity during the crazy-wedding-plans phase).

But seriously, like everyone else is saying, do what feels right FOR YOU. A nice engagement ring is a luxury buy of a pretty object and that has intrinsic / intangible value of its own, and no one should tell you otherwise. And, just as well, a $12 sterling ring off of Etsy or Amazon can have as much, or even greater significance than something fancier that you'll regret or resent paying money for that you could spend elsewhere for better purpose. Only you can know in your own mind what you really want.

For myself I saved the approximately $6K that buying an equivalent natural diamond to my pretty, sparkly moissanite would have cost, put some towards a kitchen remodel and some towards the wedding reception catering, et cetera.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:00 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Will MeFi mail you.
posted by Jahaza at 1:07 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: If you want to go the stand-in route, I would take a look at everything on Berricle to see if something catches your eye. I ordered a set from there when a temporary (seriouslythisbetterbe) weight gain made wearing my wedding rings impossible and I was very happy with what I got. They offer 25% off your first order if you join their mailing list and they ship fast and are excellent about returns. It was one of the more satisfactory $45 I ever spent.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:46 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If I were you, I would just go to Shady Lane in Palo Alto and pick something out! I love that place. (We got something custom-made from Pave in Rockridge, but -- although I love it -- I now wish we had saved the money.)
posted by wintersweet at 2:00 PM on November 5, 2013

I can make you a 3D model of a ring if you send me a drawing with pretty precise measurements if you want, then you can send the model to shapeways and have them 3D print it in pretty much any material you want (silver included) for VERY cheap!
posted by Riton at 2:01 PM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

We were pretty broke when we got engaged, and I wanted something really unique. We spent an afternoon going to antique shops and looking at different options. The ring I picked is really pretty, understated but unusual, and was less than $300.
posted by radioamy at 2:17 PM on November 5, 2013

Oh the other thing that helps take the anxiety out of picking a ring is realizing that it doesn't have to be something you wear "the rest of your life." Maybe in 10 or 20 or 30 years you want to get something different, and that's okay. Heck, you could decide when you pick out a wedding ring that you want the engagement ring to be a right-hand ring. Or that you hate it and don't want to wear it at all. It's helpful to remember it's not a tattoo :)
posted by radioamy at 2:28 PM on November 5, 2013

Excuse me for jumping directly to product rather than process: On of my students was engaged, and had a lovely, ultra-thin thread of silver. It was within their means, (and when you are engaged, you are often young so means are small), and it was very, very stylish. I wish I could have had it. The actual wedding ring was the same, but with a small diamond attached, so it was easy to wear both together at work.
Obviously, this is not so much about value as about commitment, style and common sense, which I found very beautiful. I also found it beautiful that when they were old, their choice of rings would both express their style, their economy and a sort of politics of love, rather than riches.
posted by mumimor at 2:48 PM on November 5, 2013

Yes, definitely the stand in ring. My husband proposed to me with a CZ ring, and I wore it for a while until we finally got around to buying my sapphire ring together. I think he proposed in November and we bought the new ring in March, so we took our time, which was nice.
posted by echo0720 at 5:11 PM on November 5, 2013

Best answer: Let me try to address one specific part of your question: the stone.

Skipping man-made rocks, crystals and CZs--other people can tell you about those-- there are a number of options of clear(ish) stones you can consider. Depending on how hard you are on your jewellery and how much you intend to wear the ring, some choices will be better than others.

Sapphires come in white/clear. They're nine on the hardness scale. Usually they don't have the brilliance or flash of diamonds, but they're an alternative.

White topaz is another natural stone that can stand in for a diamond. Hardness of 8, so relatively durable. And cheap. My favourite discount gemstone supplier has a one carat, round AAA going for $2.16. Buy the stone, pop that into a setting you like, and you'll likely come in well under your budget. (Actually, I checked for a similarly sized round white sapphire, and they only had 0.3 carat ones, but that may be big enough for you, especially in a tension setting like your second example. It was $18.)

There are other choices of clear stones with tinges of colour.

Blue: Aquamarine. There are lots of very pale aquas that might work for you. (8 hardness)
Green: Prasiolite (Green Amethyst). Again, there are some very pales stones. (Slightly softer, 7)
Pink: Kunzite (6.5, and more expensive than some of the other options), Morganite (7.5, and also comes in a peach colour you may prefer).
Yellow/Gold: Citrine. These will likely have more colour than you prefer, but you might be able to find some pale ones if you try. (7)

(Keep in mind that with coloured stones, more intense and deeper colour usually means a higher grade stone, but that works in your favour. Paler stones should be cheaper.)

If you really want to keep the costs down and you decide to buy the loose stone, the next step is to go into any decent (not necessarily fancy, high-end) jeweller's. The ones that have been in your hometown for 40 or 60 years might be a good place to start. Ask to see the catalogue of ring mountings. Pick one one out that works with the stone you've purchased. The jeweller orders the mounting, and you just pay him to pop in the stone. That way you get to pick the material (18K gold, platinum, silver) and the colour (yellow, white, rose, dark patina, etc.)

Aside from "tension setting" the other term you may find helpful is bezel-set. It seems like most of your first examples fall into that category.

A slightly more expensive option would be to hand the stone off to a jeweller to custom-design the ring. Depending on what you pay for the stone, and depending on how much you like the jeweller's style and work, you might still be able to do this and keep to your budget.

Oh, and congratulations on the engagement.
posted by sardonyx at 7:31 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi, my ring comes from the Internet and I love it. It's made by Satomi Kawakita and it's from Catbird. My fiance says he had a great experience ordering from them and it suits my teeny tiny ratpaw hand perfectly. Personally? I really love wearing an engagement ring. It's not too expensive and it means a lot to both of us.

Good luck!
posted by nerdfish at 12:57 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again, everyone! Riton, I'll keep that in mind if I get a clear vision of what I want. You all have given me a lot of options, and a lot of reassurance that we can find ways to spend less and that whatever we decide to do will work out fine. Thank you.
posted by slidell at 10:45 PM on November 6, 2013

I am a big advocate of lab-created stones, because you get a beautiful, high-quality stone for much less money, and also SCIENCE.

My engagement ring was a big gorgeous lab-created sapphire. We bought it from Jared and I think it was under $300. You can get lab-created sapphires in a wide range of colors and they are very durable. Same for lab-created rubies.

I also have a pair of moissanite earrings that are absolutely beautiful. They have tons of flash and sparkle. When I have had them cleaned at the jeweler they are usually mistaken for a pair of their extra-fine super sparkly diamond earrings. I think they were around $150 for the pair.
posted by oblique red at 2:04 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

PS: The site I linked to before is having a 30% off sale for Veteran's Day. I saw this and thought of your post! (They sell bands for later as well.)
posted by DarlingBri at 4:01 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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