Engagement ring blog post cover image of Kim and Chris cheersing at a wine farm in Plettenberg Bay

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Happy Wife, Happy Life

It sounds stupid now, but it’s true: I put off proposing to Kim because I was unsure about how to find the perfect engagement ring for her.

I could have simply seen how much my friends spent on their engagement rings, what they got, and who they got it from, then done roughly the same.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I followed the advice of a random dude on a podcast:

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”

Jerzy Gregorek

I thought and researched long and hard about how to find the perfect engagement ring for Kim. How could I ensure Kim gets a unique ring that tells our story, keeps us together forever, looks great, and doesn’t cost too much?

This blog shares the 7 steps I took.

Hopefully, the hard choices will give me an easy life…

…and a happy wife.

Chris hugging Kim as she tries to break free
Kim’s a keeper, so I don’t want to ever lose her.

In This Guide…

  • Our unconventional engagement ring story.
  • 7 steps I took to find the perfect ring for the perfect woman.
  • 4 creative criteria we designed around.

Step 1:
Don’t Worry About How Much to Spend On An Engagement Ring Until the End

You set a budget when you’re buying a refrigerator or a car, not a wife.

And I’m not buying my wife, anyway. (Not really…)

So I’m not setting a budget.

Money matters a lot, but it’s the last step in how to find the perfect engagement ring, not the first.

Step 2:
Find the Perfect Partner and Propose

Chris giving Kim her cheap temporary engagement ring
I was sure about Kim but… not so sure about the engagement ring, so I proposed with a 10-cent placeholder.

You’re wasting your time thinking about how to find the perfect engagement ring if you aren’t 100% you’ve found the perfect partner first.

It’s not easy, of course. It took me 27 years to find Kim, then another 5 to be 100% sure I would never want to lose her and convince her to feel the same about me.

By the time I proposed, the only thing I still wasn’t sure about was the ring.

Proposals to You:

  • Surprise your spouse with when and how you propose, but NOT by proposing. Talk about marriage and be as close as you can be to 100% certain she’ll say yes before even thinking about how to find the perfect engagement ring.
  • Ask her dad before you ask her. You and he might think it’s an unnecessary tradition, but it can’t hurt.

Step 3:
Involve Your Future Spouse in Picking the Perfect Ring

Kim making the same pondering face as the lady in the street art behind her while living in Mexico City.
Kim is pretty picky about everything, so I for sure had to involve her in picking out her engagement ring.

Some of my friends designed their fiancees rings without any input from them.

I seriously admire their audacity and bravery, but I also seriously can’t understand why.

Here are the 3 questions I asked myself to decide if it would be wise to involve Kim in finding the perfect engagement ring:

1. Do I need a ring to increase the chances she says, “Yes”?

Hell no.

If Kim would have said “no” because I didn’t have a ring, that would have been my cue to download Tinder.

2. Could I possibly find a ring she’d like better than one she helps pick out?

I wouldn’t even dare buy socks for Kim, let alone something she’ll have to wear everyday forever.

My only chance would have been had I inherited an heirloom ring, but I didn’t.

3. What’s the rush?

Kim has to wear the damn thing the rest of her life, so what’s the big deal with taking a few months to work together and make sure we find the perfect engagement ring?

Whether it’s on top of a mountain, or in front of a subway station (like how I proposed) make your proposal unique.

Proposal to You:

  • Propose with something special other than a ring. For example, I secretly saved our text messages from the first time we met until the time we reunited two months later, picked out the highlights, and printed out a booklet out of them that we read through before I proposed.

Step 4:
Separate Tradition from Marketing

Chris looking at a De Beers diamond ad on his computer.
This ridiculous ad didn’t convince me to want a diamond of my own, but De Beers’ other ads have been much more successful.

Diamonds Are Forever A Relatively Recent Fad

Santa Claus is as real as the “tradition” of a diamond engagement ring.

Until the late 1930s, only 10% of engagement rings had diamonds. Then, in 1947, some marketing genius at De Beers came up with the famous “A diamond is forever” campaign. Seventy-odd years later, 80% of engagement rings had diamonds.

And marriages aren’t any happier because of it.

But the De Beers guys certainly are.

So as precious as Kim is to me, I wasn’t compelled to get a bunch of precious stones (diamonds or otherwise) to finance the next round of champagne for the De Beers guys.

Forget the Two Months’ Salary Stuff

The whole two months’ salary rule of thumb is another De Beers marketing coup. They created it out of thin air in the 1980s with an advertising campaign that went,

“Isn’t two months’ salary a small price to pay for something that lasts forever?”

To answer their question, no. It’s a huge price to pay.

If you put that two-months’ salary into the stock market instead of into De Beers’ pockets, you could reasonably expect it to have $35,000 thirty years from now. Make that $40k if you insure the ring.

Or $100,000 in fifty years.

Ask your grandma! Would she rather have gotten:

  • A ring that cost your grandpa the “small price to pay” of two month’s salary?

OR…

  • A ring that cost him a week or two’s salary AND have an extra $100k to spend today?

Respect the Ring

Engagement rings (of the diamond-less sort) go way back to the Roman or even Egyptian ages. They went on the left finger because that was thought to be the way to the heart.

And now, when you see a woman wearing a ring you know she’s married.

Unlike needlessly expensive diamonds, that’s a tradition I respect.

Oura ring while sleeping
The only ring I’ll wear is this sleep tracking one.

What About a Ring for Me?

While researching the history of engagement rings, I found something else that surprised me:

Men didn’t wear wedding bands until World War II. It only then became a trend as a way for the men abroad to think back to their loved ones back home.

Well, thankfully I don’t have to leave Kim to fight in a war. And I hate wearing jewelery (except when I sleep). So I’m not getting a ring.

But if you want to, by all means, do so. Just watch out for the wedding ring industry’s attempts to make “man-gagement” rings a thing.

A Gem of a Book:

I enjoyed reading The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire, Tom Zoellner’s journey into the depths of the diamond industry.

The people he meets and the stories he tells of how the allure of decorative stone has wreaked havoc on the Central African Republic, Japan, Russia, Canada, Belgium, Australia, South Africa, Angola, India, and Brazil gave me the understanding I needed to decide what to do about Kim’s engagement ring.

Diamonds aside, it’s also quite the travel book!

Proposals to You:

  • Don’t ditch diamonds altogether. Despite all my arguments above, we included a diamond in our engagement ring because Kim’s mom gave us a hand-me-down loose diamond. (Thanks, Manako!) If you inherit a diamond or other precious gem or find a beautiful one that’s second-hand (literally) it makes sense to consider it.
  • Be sensitive and patient. To tell your fiancee that you’re anti-diamond can hurt just as bad as telling a kid Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Some women have been dreaming about a diamond ring long before they dreamed about the man who will give it to them, so be careful with this conversation.
  • If your fiancee tries to force you to wear a ring as a sign of commitment, offer to get a tattoo instead. That’s what I did since I’d honestly rather a tattoo than a ring. Kim doesn’t want me to get a tattoo, so she dropped the idea of me getting a ring.

Step 5:
Figure Out What You Want

Kim sipping wine outside on a windy patio at De Grendel in Durbanville
If Kim was as picky as she is with wine, this whole thing would’ve been a breeze.

Once we’d successfully de-brainwashed ourselves of the need to get a brand new expensive diamond for her and a ring for me, we set about thinking about fundamentally what we wanted.

Here are the four needs we came up with:

(Your fundamental needs may differ from ours, but hopefully this will give you some ideas.)

1. It Has to Have the 4 Ds

Forget the 4 Cs of diamonds. Our engagement ring’s stone needed the have the 4 Ds:

  1. Day-in-day-out-wearable. It has to be practical so Kim can wear it whenever and wherever. Kim felt a low-set, clear stone met this criterion.
  2. Durable. It better last at as long as our marriage.
  3. Dazzling. Kim wants it to stand out from her other rings.
  4. Descriptive. The ring should tell a story, which is important enough to be a whole separate need…

2. It Has to Tell a Story

“I went on Pinterest, found some styles I liked, then Chris and I went to a few jewelers and Etsy to find something similar, and here it is!”

I don’t want Kim to tell that story if someone asks about her ring. It has to be meaningful.

We’re “special,” and we want our engagement ring to represent that.

3. It Has to Represent BOTH of Us

An engagement ring isn’t an excuse for Kim to get a fancy new piece of jewelry.

It’s a symbol of our relationship and it should represent both of us. So even though I won’t be wearing the thing I want to be just as happy with it as Kim.

Chris and Kim hanging from a bar on the beach in Tulum
Our engagement ring needs to keep us hanging out together forever.

4. It Has to Help Keep Us Together

According to a survey of over 3,000 married people in the US, the more you spend on a ring, the shorter your marriage is going to last.

So, since I want my marriage to Kim to last until death do us part, I guess that means it’s best to spend $0, right?

Maybe not.

But I do want to ring to be so special that when we go through hard times we can both look at it to be reminded of why we settled for each other, all the good times we’ve had, and all the amazing experiences that we will have in the future.

Proposal to You:

  • Don’t pay too much attention to our criteria. Think of your own. Dig deeper below surface needs and wants and to the core desires by asking a chain of, “Whys.”

Step 6:
Figure Out How to Get What You Want

Finding how to squeeze our four needs into a little ring requires some creativity.

And Google.

We scoured the net and reflected on our way of life, our tastes, and our future goals to come up with a unique ring design that met our needs.

✓ It Has to Have the 4 Ds

We discovered two alternatives to a natural diamond:

The Non-Diamond Alternative

Diamonds most obviously meet our 4 D criteria, but when I Google searched for “durable clear stones” I unearthed another option that I’d never heard of before:

Moissanite.

This man-made stone is as clear as a diamond, dazzles even more than a diamond, and will only break if Kim punches a wall of diamonds. Plus it’s more ethical, environmentally friendly, and way more economical.

We looked hard for meaningful cons of moissanite and couldn’t find much to persuade us against it. This thread has probably the most honest assessment. None of the marginal complaints—too brilliant, sometimes a slight yellow tinge, not a diamond—went against our 4 Ds, so moissanite seemed like a great fit for us.

The Hi-Tech Alternative

Reading The Heartless Stone stimulated my interest in lab-created diamonds, and the deeper I researched it online, the more interested I became.

They are diamonds, but without the baggage. And continued advances in their production technology is changing the industry. It’s cool to be a (very small) part of that.

Kim not liking her taste of one of the best Colombian aguardientes
We are big fans of blind taste tests, so why not incorporate that in our engagement ring?

✓ It Has to Represent BOTH of Us

One of our favorite things to do is conduct blind taste tests. We’ve blind taste-tested sushi, croissants, beer, wine, cheese, chocolate, ice cream, Bolognese sauce, and more.

They teach us to look beyond our biases to discover our true preferences, which is how we try to live and promote on this blog.

So we came up with a crazy idea:

Why not make our engagement ring a blind test?

Kim’s mom was handing her down a natural diamond. If we put natural diamond alternatives beside it, would anyone tell the difference?

We doubt it. And even if so, we like that the ring will remind us to continue testing everything in life instead of simply following the status quo.

✓ It Has to Help Keep Us Together

Kim and I have a lot we want to accomplish together such as get married, have a kid or two, find a home, have grandkids, overcome inevitable tragedies, enjoy career successes.

This ring is just the beginning, so why get a ring that’s finished product?

We’re leaving the band of the ring as a blank canvas that we will etch to celebrate every milestone we reach together.

Those etches will remind us of what we’ve been through together and the blank space will remind us of how much more we have to look forward to.

✓ It Has to Tell a Story

We like to think all these things we’re incorporating in the ring will tell a pretty cool story.

Honestly, even this blog post on how to find the perfect engagement ring is part of it.

Proposals to You:

  • Use general google searches to inspire your creativity. Google your criteria and read through all the results to uncover unexpected alternatives.
  • Other ideas for inspiration include to look at engagement ring traditions in other countries, to consider your ethnic heritage, to look far and wide at different materials (there’s a lot of cool stuff out there), and to think of what hobbies, passions, and beliefs brought you and keep you together.
  • Don’t rush it. Inspiration will come to you eventually.

Step 7:
Put Together the Perfect Engagement Ring

Kim’s been collecting potential engagement ring designs for longer than I’ve known her.

Find a Design

I left the design of the ring in Kim’s hands seeing as the ring would be on her hand. As long as it incorporated everything we wanted, I’d be fine with whatever she decided.

To find the ring design, Kim followed some accounts on Instagram, collected screenshots of vintage and low-set inspired rings she’d found online, and pieced together these ideas and inspiration until she had a clear idea of what she wanted.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZjDyEbnDde/

Find an Expert to Join Your Side

One 30-minute phone call saved me at least eight hours of research and saved Kim and me from making misguided decisions on our engagement ring that we might have later regretted.

That phone call was with Danielle Mainas from Little Bird Ring Consultants.

Unlike a jeweler, she had no incentive to upsell us on anything. And unlike to some random blogger or Reddit poster, she’s a legit expert. She’s worked in the industry for over 15 years and helped over 3,000 couples find their perfect engagement ring.

She loved our plan but didn’t mince words about what was wrong with it.

For example, she said to dump the moissanite idea. It looks great on its own, but next to a diamond the difference would be obvious. The stones are cut differently and diamonds have an affinity for dirt and oil that moissanite doesn’t. She strongly recommended considering a recycled or Canadian stone for our “blind taste test” instead.

Danielle also told me to not to waste time trying to buy all the parts separately. It wouldn’t save me money and I’d probably screw up and buy the wrong stones, anyway. Let the jeweler do it.

Once she picked apart our plan and rebuilt it, she gave an estimate of how much to expect to pay so we wouldn’t get overcharged and sent me on my merry, and very grateful, way.

Find a Jeweler

As I write this, we’re working on this. The logistics are complicated for us because we’re spending the summer in Valencia, Spain, moving to Morocco then Cape Town this fall, and want to use Kim’s mom’s diamond, which is back in Vancouver, Canada.

Good thing we’re not in a rush.

Find Cheaper Alternatives if Necessary

As promised, figuring out how much to spend is the last step of how to find the perfect engagement ring.

I’m 100% certain the ring we came up with will not only be more unique and meaningful but also significantly cheaper than what we would have ended up with had we started with a budget and worked backward from there.

But you may follow the same steps and still come up with a ring that you can’t afford. If so, think about your grandma and reassess with these questions:

  • Are there less expensive materials for the band and stone(s) that meet your needs?
  • Could an online jeweler make your ring for cheaper?
  • Does your ring need to start as a finished product or, like every marriage, can it develop over time?

Next Up…
The Wedding (Ugh)

Oh man.

Figuring out what we’re going to do about our wedding is a whole other can of worms that we’re just opening up now. We’ll cover that when we get to it.

Meanwhile, let us know your thoughts or questions in the comments below.

And if you enjoyed our unconventional blog post and would like to get one similarly unconventional ideas every month join us on our Unconventional Monthly:

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18 comments

  1. Well mister mister. Great read, excellent plan, and an exceptional choice in a life partner! Will have to check out that book recommendation.

  2. Hey Chris,

    Took me a week to respond…as I was so overwhelmed by your …everything!… the depth of love for Kim, such thoughtfulness, thoroughness, unique thinking and ideas, intelligence and the mental flexibility and strength. 4D is brilliant, and thanks for considering my little rock for a part of the “story” in the ring! (but you don’t have to, really!!) Mom

  3. Hey Chris (and Kim),

    (sorry for the long comment)

    I found your blog when I started preparing for our 1-year sabbatical RTW trip with my wife – since then I’ve been repeatedly coming back as I’m going through the different topics and phases of planning (insurance, packing list, etc.). I wanna say you guys rock and your blog is like a real treasure chest in the endless sea of often useless and sponsored blogs/posts. I hope you can continue producing really high quality and useful content.

    The approaches you take and conclusions you come to are often similar to how me and my wife approach the same topics – probably that’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog so much!

    Regarding this post: though we’ve been married for a few years and I’m currently not in search of a wedding ring it was still entertaining to read your “quest” and recommendations. The diamond question does come up once in a while with my wife and you just gave me a new point of view – thanks for that, too 🙂

    Just fyi, I have been against rings (or any jewelry) on me, so I have been without a ring for about 2 years into our marriage (for the wedding I borrowed my brother’s – that was fun:) ). Then on one of our vacations we randomly walked into a store and found a ring we both liked and thought was fitting my personality at the same time – not exactly your 4D approach but it was for me after all, not her 😉 I still had my doubts but a few weeks into wearing it I realized that little piece of metal became a piece of the bond we have between us. I only forgot to put it on outside the apartment a couple of times since and I always felt really uncomfortable as if something was missing. Similarly to how I don’t think a band for him is a must, I never thought of marriage as a must as I didn’t think it can add anything to an already stable and honest relationship. I couldn’t have been more wrong… All that’s just a long way of saying “never say never”, you never know when you become a ring-bearer 🙂

    Good luck for your travels and getting the ring made!

    Levi

    1. Hey Levi! First off, if you guys find yourselves in the same neck of the woods as us during your RTW sabbatical, please let us know so we can hang out. We started this blog to connect with similarly-independent-minded people like you, after all.

      On the ring, another friend of mine said something very similar to you about not initially wanting to wear one but appreciating it once he eventually got it. I see the point, but still hope Kim doesn’t read this comment and use it to force me to get one. “Never say never”, like you and Beiber say, so I’ll stick with “not now.”

      Thanks for dropping by with this gem of a comment and hopefully see you around.

  4. This article should be titled “How to justify being a cheapass”. Sorry bro, but nobody buys that BS about your reasons to not buy a diamond. Regardless of how it became a tradition, it’s still a tradition. And secretly your girl resents the fact that you want to cheap out on the ring, even on your own ring. No, being “against rings” means nothing… It’s not a thing and it’s meaningless. It just says “I’m cheap” or “I’m probably going to cheat on you”. I give you kudos at least for incorporating a family stone, but fake diamonds get you a fake marriage. And non-diamonds just say “I don’t care enough about you to spend any money on you”. It’s one thing if you legitimately cannot afford a nice ring, but if it were that bad she’d already know your financial situation and understand. You wouldn’t need to try to justify spending only $500 on a ring with some BS excuses that nobody believes. That’s just a marriage built on lies. Even the poorest guys can still manage more than $500 on a ring. It’s called saving your money and taking loans if need be. It’s a 1 time expense for your entire life, so maybe being cheap isn’t the smartest idea. I had a budget in mind when is gearing up to propose to my fiance (and yes budgets are very important… with everything in life), but i spent so much time…4-5 months trying to find the perfect stone, that my budget ended up even higher cause I’d been saving the entire time. So i invested that extra money into an even nicer stone. And guess what? It’s been 15 months since i proposed (getting married next month) and she still won’t shut up about how much she loves the ring. That’s when you know you did it right. I’m also completely against involving the fiance in picking the ring. It should always be a surprise. You take so much away from the whole process of proposing by involving her. You just need to do your research by talking with her friends and family about styles… Trust me she’s already talked to them about it many times. It’s not going to be easy, but you shouldn’t be looking for the easy way out for something like this.

    1. Congrats on your engagement J and for making your fiancee so happy. Do you think she would be even happier if you’d got her an even more expensive ring?

      1. That’s just an argument for the cheapass. Just because I’m willing to spend money on something important and symbolic of my love for my fiance, doesn’t make my fiance a gold digger by default. Although i make a little more than her at the moment, she caps out significantly higher in her industry than i do in mine. So your assertion that she only cares about the price of the ring is just plain ignorant. I spend time and money on the things i care about. For the diamond, it wasn’t about the price but rather the quality. I did about 4-5 months of research, educating myself on the optics of the stone and searching for a stone meeting the criteria i set for myself. She appreciates the amount of effort i put into it, not the price tag.

  5. This is exactly the new way to buy an engagement ring. I worked with Edelweiss Jewelry that is a one stop shop for custom online engagement rings. They perfectly sketch out design that corn from your inspiration and then provide digital renderings of the ring before you purchase it. It was so easy to do and the craftsmanship is nicer than Tiffany’s. Seriously, my wife gets comments all the time and is the favorite in their group. We also get to tell the story of how we designed it and what personalizations we built into it. A one stop shop for your perfect ring. https://www.edelweissjewelry.com/

    1. Hey John. You don’t happen to work for this company, do you? I’ll let it pass this time since I’m part Swiss and Edelweiss is a Swiss symbol. And congrats on finding the perfect engagement ring in either case!

  6. So nice to see a common sense, well thought out approach to one of the most important decisions someone may make in their lifetime. The old adage “It’s the thought that counts” should be the rule of the day, NOT how much money you spent. To each their own, for sure; but keep in mind that, much like the Drug Cartel, the Diamond Cartel exists to keep prices at the highest level possible, while restricting competition. As you mentioned, it’s only been over the last 70 years or so, thanks to De Beers, that the “Diamond Craze” has taken hold and, from what I’ve seen over the last 10 years or so, it’s on the downswing, with many deciding to go with alternate stones & metals, as well as buying used rings – Those gotten through Estate Sales can be a real find. What’s important is what makes you both happy and what you can afford. Best wishes….

    1. Thanks Mike. “It’s the thought that counts” is exactly it. On your point on the downswing, it’s interesting to point out that, according to A Heartless Stone, the Japanese diamond industry fell off a cliff just as quickly as it rose up top due to cultural changes. Perhaps the same will eventually happen, maybe not as precipitously, in the West?

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