Customizing an engagement ring?
November 15, 2007 8:39 AM   Subscribe

It's time for an engagement ring. I already have one, stone and all, but would like to customize it. What can I do for less than/around five hundred dollars?

In a few months, I will be proposing (finally!) to my longtime girlfriend. I have, through a fortunate series of events, come into ownership of a standard, (I think 3/4 carat) nice engagement ring--one I hope to customize. I'm working part-time right now, so my limit on spending is probably going to be $500; no credit to speak of.

Specifically, I would like to mount two (small, obviously) translucent opals on the ring. Should I eBay the stones, or are there particular kinds of opal best for ring mounting that a professional would already have? (Are opals suitable for this, and what shape cuts would be best for the side stones?) Can anyone help me narrow down whether this is a doable project within the budget, or offer up some other suggestions if it isn't? I plan on asking a professional, of course, but I would like to be prepared when I go.

Since I can't answer questions later anonymously: Yes, I know her ring size. The ring is yellow gold and she likes yellow gold. She prefers simple designs to gaudy ones, which is why I'm favoring subtle, clear opal to something more contrasting, but suggestions are definitely welcome.

...Bonus points for suggestions for a nice [read: low-cost] surprise proposal. This post is anonymous because she has been known to drop by Metafilter.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should find a jeweler in your area. Ideally someone whose work has been vouched for by someone else. They can usually do all sorts of crazy shit, and I think you can definitely do what you want for $500.

Any reason you want to add opals at all? If she likes simple designs, maybe just leave the ring as it is? Or if it's too crazy looking have a jeweler make it more classic/simple looking.
posted by chunking express at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2007

Are opals her birthstone, and is she superstitious? Because opals are supposed to be bad luck if they're not your birthstone.

My mother has several opals, and they do look nice set with diamonds (although it's usually seen as diamonds around the opals). Her smaller opals are still quite a bit larger than what you usually see as side-stones, and they are almost all in a rounded cabochon type cut, though some are flatter. I don't know that I've ever seen opals cut the way you would cut a diamond/emerald/etc, with facets. That might limit your possibilities. But IANAJeweler.
posted by padraigin at 8:52 AM on November 15, 2007

In general, it's best to avoid stones other than diamonds, sapphires, and rubies on an engagement ring if she will wear it daily. Stones without sufficient hardness will tend to get scratched and worn and won't last as well as you might like.

I would recommend asking a reputable jeweler for suggestions. I have a jeweler (who sells online) who I highly recommend: Lisa Krikawa ( She designed my wife's engagement ring and both of our bands. I would think she might be able to offer some good suggestions within your budget for small enhancements.
posted by JMOZ at 8:52 AM on November 15, 2007

Opals are a bad choice for an engagement ring.

They're extremely sensitive to changes in temperature and are very brittle. For a ring that will be worn every day, pick stones that aren't so likely to shatter.

Also, putting the (very-commonly held) superstitions about the bad luck of opals aside for a moment, it's seriously bad mojo to have the stones on your engagement ring shatter, since the ring is a symbol of your lifelong commitment, ya know?

For a somewhat unconventional choice that gets at the "look" you have conceived, consider moonstones. (Moonstones are nearly always cut as a cabochon to show off the cat's eye. Similarly opals are rarely faceted as cabochon or flat cuts show off the opalescence better.)

Traditionally a 'female' stone because of the moon association, moonstones were a popular engagement ring stone in the late 1800s. They're not a particularly expensive stone -- your jeweler can get nice moonstones for you easily.
posted by desuetude at 9:31 AM on November 15, 2007

I'm in agreement with JMOZ. I am a jeweler and gemologist and it really would be best to avoid opals on an engagement ring. Opals, while very beautiful and not terribly expensive, are also very fragile. They're prone to a thing called "crazing" which basically makes them look as if they have shattered. They also scratch easily and will become dull with daily wear on a ring.

Something that would probably be within your budget would be to set some diamond melee into the shoulders of the setting (on either side of the "head" where the large diamond is set). Melee are small brilliant cut diamonds of 10 points or less that are surprisingly inexpensive. They're readily available and if you set, say, three on either side of the main diamond will add a bit of flair without having to modify the ring too heavily. They should be bead-set flush with the metal of the existing setting. This should be very possible if your existing ring is a standard solitaire.

If you're set on opals, however, they are usually sold as round or oval cabochons since that is how they show their color best. Be sure to go to a reputable jeweler as there is a lot of synthetic opal on the market which is very hard to distinguish from the real thing unless you are trained to look for the differences under a microscope. Beware of words attached to the stone such as "genuine", as they tend to be red flags that non-"genuine" opal is to be found very close by! In choosing high-quality opal look for a lot of "fire" (flashes of color when you rotate the stone) and translucence (avoid milky-looking stones). Any jeweler worth their salt should bring in at least 3 pairs for you to choose from.

I would definitely recommend against ebay since there's so much synthetic opal out there and, really, you're not going to save all that much money over what a jeweler would charge you, since clear (white) opal is not particularly rare. Same goes for ebaying diamond melee.

Best of luck and let us know how it turns out! :)
posted by raintea at 9:34 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Why not just put an engraved inscription inside the ring, instead of adding the opals? Pick something personal and meaningful for you both, and your cost will be less than $500. You can spend some extra dough (if you want) on setting the scene for the actual proposal.

Oh, and congratulations! =)
posted by misha at 9:47 AM on November 15, 2007

I had a ring engraved with a nice rose pattern for $150. I then had accent rubies placed in the buds of the engraved flowers for not much more. Don't listen to anyone who says not to get the accent stones you want due to fragility or loss. Accent stones are $10 / pop. Just replace 'em every so often.

Ok, that said, I should also mention that various colored diamonds are really very affordable for accent stones, and might go better with the gold you've got.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 9:55 AM on November 15, 2007

nthing no opals on the ring. Not only are they more likely to break, but they also will increase maintenance costs on the ring down the road -- for instance, if the ring needs to be resized or have prongs retipped, the jeweler will have to unset and then reset the stones because they can't tolerate the heat of a torch, which means more labor. Ruby, diamond or sapphire are your best bets for side stones. Hard, heat-tolerant, and beautiful.
posted by middleclasstool at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2007

It's sweet of you to think of customizing the ring, but really, it's likely not necessary, anonymous. The ring itself says all you want or need to say. And if jewelers and gemologists on the green have said no opals, don't go the opal route.

As for ideas for proposals, I guess it depends on how you want it to play - showy or unobtrusive. My brother in law "primed" my sister by telling her that her Christmas present was big and yellow, then slipped the ring into an opened bill (and envelope) which he asked her to "look at" during dinner on Christmas Eve. By contrast, my best friend was proposed to on bended knee by her longtime boyfriend on the top of the Empire State Building during his band's trip to the United States.

If you're looking for a low-cost proposal, I'd be inclined to steer you in the direction of my brother-in-law's approach; hide the ring in something everyday, then ask your sweetie to go look in whatever it is you've hidden it in. Y'know, something like: "Sweetie, could you go into my toolbox and get me a hammer?" or "Hon, could you dig in the glovebox for me and find me the map?" And oh, surprise, a little velvet box that ought not to be there. :)
posted by LN at 11:02 AM on November 15, 2007

With respect to proposals, just do whatever you feel like. Proposals end with two people agreeing to get married. It's going to be memorable no matter what you do.
posted by chunking express at 11:27 AM on November 15, 2007

I am a jeweler by trade.

First I'm going to echo the sentiments of some of the others... avoid the opals. They simply are not going to take the rigors of everyday wear and tear.

Without actually seeing the ring itself, it's very difficult to say whether or anything can resonably be done to "customize" it that will be attractive and safe. Many times, a ring that has stones etc. added to them end up looking like a ring that has had something added to it rather than a nice finished piece of fine jewelry.

Here's some ideas, that may or may not be possible. It's important that you check with and rely on the jeweler who will be doing the actual work for their expert advice.

Often times, the head or crown holding the stone can be changed to something very striking. Many have unique designs and some even have small diamonds on them. If the ring has been gifted/inherited you'll want to be sure and have it inspected for any possible wear and tear as it is.

Patterns/carving/engraving can be added to the outside of many rings to give them a totally different look.

There are many different and intimate ways to make your proposal. Here's a forum where you might find some ideas you like to get you started.

Congratulations and good luck!
posted by ChainzOnline at 11:28 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nthing no opals.

Having said that, we did basically what you are looking to do and it worked out really well. We had one family heirloom diamond solitaire in a hideous 16 prong 1970s setting and I had it reset in a brand-new band flanked by two sapphires. I picked out the sidestones at the shop (they had a bunch to choose from.) The whole thing was not expensive, and I really love the end result.

So, I would suggest finding a local reputable jeweller and working with him or her to get what you want in your budget.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:59 AM on November 16, 2007

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