Antique ring?
March 22, 2004 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Jewelry advice. I would like to propose marriage with an antique ring. Is this acceptable? Details inside.

I have two options: an older, heavier ring from the 1910's (my paternal great-grandmother's) and a lighter one from the 1930's that belonged to my paternal grandmother.

What I'm wondering is if this is an acceptable practice. My family is very conscious of its history and I would feel very good about keeping another hierloom in circulation for its intended purpose. My generation is pretty sparse (and wicked lame), so it's up to me to carry on traditions. I'm sentimental enough that I don't want these pieces of history to be kept in a lock box. However, if the most likely response is "Eew! Dead woman's ring!" I will buy a new one. Any thoughts? Woman friends that I've asked have been positive about it, but I'm still nervous.

(If it matters: the rings were involved in very happy, successful marriages and my girlfriend appreciates the family antiques that are all over myparents' house.)
posted by Mayor Curley to Human Relations (33 answers total)
The only thing that *really* matters is whether your girlfriend would like an antique ring or not. It's perfectly acceptable as a general custom, but if she doesn't want an antique, then it's not ok in your particular case. I'm a little surprised that you don't know her preferences on the matter already, but this would be a *superb* time to sort of steer some conversations in a direction that might answer the question for you.

Good luck! I hope whichever way you go, you're both ecstatically happy. :)
posted by boomchicka at 12:01 PM on March 22, 2004

It's definitely OK. I did the same thing last summer. And having met your future wife she seems like the type to really appreciate the history and meaning behind the object itself.
posted by anathema at 12:03 PM on March 22, 2004

"Family Heirloom" is the term you're searching for here. Unless your wife-to-be has a specific setting in mind, or wants to be involved in selecting the ring, giving heirloom jewelry is definitely appropriate. Also, depending on how you feel about the piece of jewelry - as a piece or as a jewel - you might offer to have the stone reset to her tastes.

Personally, I'd rather have an old diamond than a new one. I don't imagine the procurement of diamonds was much less bloody in days of old, but at least that diamond is already out there. I wouldn't feel comfortable having modern day blood on my hands by putting yet another diamond into circulation. (Ultimately, I'd prefer not to have any diamond at all.)
posted by jacquilynne at 12:07 PM on March 22, 2004

Mayor Curley, dear friend - I hope you won't take this the wrong way, as it may be strictly limited to Portuguese, French and Italian women. But, in my experience (plus two friend I phoned, both women) the ring would have to be brand new. No matter how antique or valuable, it would be considered used and jinxed.

Perhaps you could let a brand new diamond ring become antique on its own?

I hesitated before posting this, as I know cultures vary, but the idea that a ring has been used before (and, worse, become available on the market) is horrific and off-putting to women of a Latin persuasion.

Just saying - i.e., don't do it! ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:12 PM on March 22, 2004

Sounds like a winner, then, particularly if you speak explicitly at the time about how the ring was already part of one happy, successful marriage and is an important family heirloom. Maybe make it an option that she could accept this one as her wedding ring, or else you could pick out one together for that purpose; that saves face for both of you in case she's had visions of some other style of ring dancing in her head. In case of such a decision, make it clear that the ring is still hers to keep, and you'll have one happy woman on your hands.

Anyhow, engagement seems like such a happy event that it'd take an odd woman, IMHO, to quibble about the ring. When it was my sweetheart's turn to propose (in a nutshell: on a single backpacking trip, we both proposed, within a few hours of each other), he was armed with an extremely simple ring--two loose circles of silver and gold "knotted" together. He told me at some point that day that the ring was intended to be a sort of placeholder, and that we could go out together and pick out something else, that I'd be sure to like, with a diamond if I wanted it, maybe part of an official wedding set, etc., etc.

I told him to forget that noise. It was the ring he'd picked out, I loved it, and that was the end of the matter. I'd have probably been fine with shellacked tinfoil.
posted by clever sheep at 12:16 PM on March 22, 2004

After a little Googling I can't find anything to support Miguel's position as applied to the US.
posted by anathema at 12:21 PM on March 22, 2004

we both proposed, within a few hours of each other

How does that work, exactly?
posted by anathema at 12:22 PM on March 22, 2004

My now-husband gave me a family heirloom diamond ring as an engagement ring, it's lovely, and it's so much more meaningful because it's old and has some history (make sure you have a ready-to-go pocket history of the ring you give if it's an old one). Since he didn't propose WITH the ring, he asked me about what my preferences were afterward (did I want it re-set, did I want an entirely new one, etc), and then had it sized for me when I said I loved it as it was. What I'd do is propose first and discuss rings afterward, but then, I'm not really into tradition all that much. I don't agree with Miguel at all about this, but I'm not a Latin woman - I love that my ring is old and has a story behind it. I do think that most women prefer to have some input on their engagement rings, as unromantic as it may sound, if you're going to be wearing something for (ostensibly) the rest of your life, you'd better be sure you like it - so I don't see any real harm in discussing it (or even, if it's obvious to both of you that your relationship is headed that way, have a "hypothetical" discussion about a "friend"). What clever sheep said about a "placeholder" is a good idea if you don't want to discuss it ahead of time, and the comment about it being a happy event is also true - most sweeties care more about the fact that you asked than about whether or not you got the hardware exactly right at the time.
posted by biscotti at 12:41 PM on March 22, 2004

start with two people determined to propose, and each selects a particular extended backpacking trip to do it. he smuggles in a ring and a miniature bottle of champagne. she smuggles in a ring and a fancy paper proposal.

get 'em a few days into the trip and settled in at a particularly breathtaking backcountry campsite. but add to the scenario a ranger who drops by and warns that the next few days are forecasted to resemble monsoon season. that evening, cue concerned girlfriend (visions of soggy paper dancing in her head) to hand over ring and proposal by a mountainside lake. cue boyfriend to get 4/5 of the way through happy acceptance, lots of hugs and "i love yous" and mush, but then with great obviousness ask if official acceptance must be immediate or if, say, a twelve-hour delay would kibosh the deal. girlfriend is not an idiot, and so both agree to officially ignore proposal and go play a few rounds of Scrabble. a very comfortable evening in official limbo ensues.

the next morning [sunny, of all the luck!!!], both retrace steps back along the trail, en route to next campsite. at first scenic stop by waterfall, boyfriend proposes. cue second round of "i love you"s, hugs, and mush. engagement is now "official", and boyfriend gets to lament ever after how he was cheated out of proposing first, 'cuz of that damn ESPN video crew filming a backcountry-safety special that was hogging that same waterfall on the hike into our campsite.

...long, but you asked!
posted by clever sheep at 12:41 PM on March 22, 2004

As an American woman, I would love a family heirloom ring. My ring is new, but the diamond in it was in his parents' ring, and that makes it incredibly special to me.

The "used and jinxed" thing does not ring true to me, but different strokes.
posted by GaelFC at 12:46 PM on March 22, 2004

Got it. Good story too!
posted by anathema at 12:52 PM on March 22, 2004

Offer her the choice of the two rings or a new one. She'll be wearing the ring the rest of her life, so it's important that she really likes it.

General note - the only thing about heirloom rings is it has to come from the giver's family. I have several friends who wear their own grandmother's rings, and although of course I never said anything, I always thought, "Don't you mind that your spouse never gave you a ring?"
posted by orange swan at 12:55 PM on March 22, 2004

Would you be upset if she had the stone taken out and put in a new setting, Mayor? Is it all or nothing with the ring, as is? Or does it really not matter? (i'm with by jacquilynne on this mostly--old stones are wonderful, but old settings aren't always. And you don't want her to feel guilty or that she's breaking a family tradition or anything.)
posted by amberglow at 12:58 PM on March 22, 2004

From a purely "emily post" etiquette level, what you are proposing is absolutely acceptable. Since you have two rings to choose from, I would let her choose which one; one may feel too heavy, or too light to be comfy...and be open to the fact that she many not like either and would prefer something else.

I, personally, would prefer a ring that's imbued with the spirit and happiness of previous generations...which is why my wedding ring has a stone that's older than this country. ;)
posted by dejah420 at 1:19 PM on March 22, 2004


Antique wedding rings are wonderful. As noted above, you could offer to have it reset (if that's acceptable to you) or get another ring in addition (and use one for wedding ring, one for engagement), but I think proposing with a ring that's been in your family for years, in a happy marriage to boot, is a foolproof proposition (no pun intended). Definitely propose with the ring - it shows thought and effort and it's a physical manifestation of your intent.

Miguel, being somewhat short on history over here, Americans will take their traditions and heirlooms where they can!
posted by widdershins at 1:30 PM on March 22, 2004

Since you don't know if the lady has a preference as to rings, here's what I suggest: Get things romantic and mushy. Propose. Get accepted. Then, offer the ring, explaining that you wanted to give her something very special, but wasn't sure what to get. Explain the wonderful heirloom quality. Then, ever so tactfully, admit that you were of two minds about giving her this ring, because you thought she might perhaps want to pick out something of her own. At this point, she will either say she does or she doesn't. Either way, hopefully you've gotten the question out of the way without destroying the romance. :)

Personally, I think the idea of using old family jewelry is just wonderful.
posted by JanetLand at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2004

As an American woman, I would be thrilled to be on the receiving end of a proposal that involved an heirloom ring. The fact that you have two to choose from is even better! While any old used ring would set off the "ick" factor that Miguel brought up, one that has been in the family for a while would be very special ... a reminder that you are becoming a part of that family and carrying it into the future.

I would do the proposing first, having both rings handy, and then present them to her with an explanation that they are family heirlooms, and that if she wished she could choose one of them (perhaps tell her about the history of each) ... or a new one could be bought to her suiting (or even a resetting of the stones). That way, if she's thrilled as I would be about the idea of an heirloom, she can have her pick, or if she'd rather have something new of her own (a future heirloom), she won't feel pressured into using the one you offer at the proposal.
posted by Orb at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2004

Orb's idea is nice.

Sorry I don't have anything further to add... just my congrats and wishes for a lifetime of happiness whatever ring you go with :)
posted by jerseygirl at 3:17 PM on March 22, 2004

Giving your future wife a well-aged engagement ring: Good.
Giving your future wife some well-aged crab meat: Bad.

Ask MetaFilter: Your Guidebook to Life
posted by Danelope at 3:21 PM on March 22, 2004

Here is what we are doing:
She already has my grandmother's engagement ring.
We are having a dear friend who is an amazing jewelry designer and fabricator design wedding rings for both of us. These will be designed to evoke the style of the heirloom ring. In the end she will wear the old engagement ring, the new wedding ring and the matching heirloom wedding ring. I will wear the new ring.
posted by anathema at 3:49 PM on March 22, 2004

My 2 cents: give one of the rings. Not only appropriate but very meaningful (and this from a guy who gave no ring to his fiancée -- still happily wed after 8 years though).

Do not offer a choice however. This is an expression of love -- similar to a gift -- it is no time to be wishy-washy. My wife would be appalled.
posted by Dick Paris at 3:58 PM on March 22, 2004

As a recently-engaged woman (Ooooooo, I love saying that) I want to add my thoughts and assure you that I (can't presume to speak for others) would adore the idea of a family heirloom. However.....

What happens if

I won't say it, because everyone is sure to throw tomatoes at me, but strictly hypothetically speaking (hypothetical in that nearly every wedding I have attended in the last 10 years has ended in divorce) what happens if things don't work out quite the way you are hoping?

Are these rings expendable? Are they of such sentimental value that they should be saved for your daughter(s)?

I know, I know. She is The One. Otherwise you wouldn't be asking her to spend the rest of her life with you. But it is always a good idea to consider the consequences of handing over Real Estate, Family Heirlooms, and large sums of cash.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:13 PM on March 22, 2004

Mayor Curley, one of the things you can do, which in my opinion is perfectly acceptible is to give her the antique ring, and if she doesn't like it, then you can have a good jeweller break it and use it to create a new ring out of it for her. The material essentially will carry the history with them, only the style will be updated.
posted by riffola at 4:24 PM on March 22, 2004

Everyone's been fantastically helpful! Thanks so much! I'm going to mull all these suggestions over while the rings are being cleaned.

In regards to Gravy's suggestion:
That was mentioned by me when I asked my father for the rings. He said that the immediate good feelings from the gesture would well outweigh any worry he would have about the future. As for my hypothetical daughters, they'll never want for heirloom jewelry!
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:20 PM on March 22, 2004

SLoG: as far as I'm concerned, the ring stays with whoever offered it to the other partner if the marriage breaks down, so the sentimental value thereof is immaterial. It's well past tacky to keep your engagement ring if you get divorced, it's not a gift, and should be returned to the giver.
posted by biscotti at 6:40 PM on March 22, 2004

1. Family heirlooms are a lovely idea. If she gets offended that the ring is not spanking new, you'd best be sending her back, not the ring.

2. If you do buy new, buy Canadian - mined in the Northwest Territories by Inuit at fair wages; each stone cut at the mine, engraved with a serial number, and certified by the territorial government.

(thanks, AskMe!)
posted by PrinceValium at 8:22 PM on March 22, 2004

It's well past tacky to keep your engagement ring if you get divorced, it's not a gift, and should be returned to the giver.

This is not true. An engagement ring betokens a pledge to get married. If the marriage takes place, the ring belongs to the woman forever. The only circumstances under which she is obliged to give it back is if she breaks the engagement - if he breaks the engagement, she gets to keep it.
posted by orange swan at 9:56 PM on March 22, 2004

Women vary. Once upon a time, my father bought my mom an antique diamond ring. It was beautiful. But alas, my mother is a materialistic bitch. Next thing you know, her engagement and wedding rings, and the antique ring, are gone, and instead she gets a new ring using all the diamonds. All she gave a care about was the status of how many carets on her finger.
posted by Goofyy at 12:09 AM on March 23, 2004

I proposed to my wife with a second-hand (not quite old enough to be an antique, as such) engagement ring which I bought because it was the most beautiful I had seen in the course of a couple of months' shopping around. It helped that, whilst it was at the uttermost limit of what I could afford at the time, to buy a brand-new ring with the same size of a rock would have fallen well beyond my means. It has never bothered her that the ring had at least one previous wearer.
posted by misteraitch at 12:25 AM on March 23, 2004

We had an old family ring (her side) reset. It was her idea. Looks great!
posted by carter at 5:47 AM on March 23, 2004

The last time I was at Cash Converters (basically a pawnshop chain, in case they don't have any where you are), I had to laugh at the trays upon trays of diamond solitaire rings. So many engagement rings, each one with its own story...

Women do differ, but like misteraitch's wife, I'd go for the gorgeous secondhand ring over an average new one in a second.
posted by orange swan at 7:38 AM on March 23, 2004

So many engagement rings, each one with its own story...

And then people's links to their past are in a pawn shop. It's a bit sad. Wow, I'm glad that I'm doing this. I hope that my girlfriend isn't a junkie...
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:17 AM on March 23, 2004

I hope that my girlfriend isn't a junkie...
That is perhaps one of those things you should find out before you propose ;-)
posted by dg at 2:31 PM on March 23, 2004

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