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I love weddings, and I admire traditions. But one thing a former teacher (and fellow DJ) said to me stuck with me.
The most extravagant weddings, and those with the best etiquette, don’t always make for a happy marriage. But figuring out what etiquette to follow for something like an engagement ring, and what to break, can be tricky.
Engagement ring etiquette exists for a reason. Many of these rules are followed as a sign of respect. Yet in 2022, boundaries are being broken and rules discarded. The reason? Life isn’t as simple as a set of rules. Some of these engagement ring rules for etiquette may not be financially sustainable, or practical for the couple.
To help make sense of all of this, I’m breaking down the most common engagement ring rules. From buying and selecting a ring to how to wear it on the wedding day, here’s my advice on what rules to keep and how to break rules respectfully.
Bottom Line Up Front Summary: There are many rules of etiquette for buying and wearing engagement rings, but many of these rules can be broken. Don’t feel pressured to spend 2 to 3 months of your salary. Diamond quality matters more than carat weight. Both men’s engagement rings and non-diamond engagement rings are excellent options for certain couples. If a partner doesn’t like a ring, they should be considerate and open to compromise. In cases of divorce, the recipient usually keeps the engagement ring. In cases of break-ups before a wedding, the giver usually has the ring returned to them. If you’re breaking an engagement ring etiquette rule, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
“Rules” of Buying an Engagement Ring
Probably the most stressful part about an engagement ring is selecting the ring in the first place. You’ve probably heard about shelling out three months of your salary, a certain carat weight you need, and a handful of other rules.
Anecdotally, I know people who’ve fallen all over the spectrum. One friend spent at least three months of his salary, if not more. My father picked out my mother’s engagement ring with his sister’s help. A friend of mine showed her boyfriend what engagement ring she’d like. Here’s the scoop on conventional rules- and how to break them thoughtfully.
Rule: Spend 2-3 Months of Your Salary
The old rule is two to three months of your salary. For someone making $50,000 a year, that’s roughly up to $12,000. The average price of an engagement ring is just under half of that. Many have realized that this rule is not only outdated but also places them in a place of financial hardship. You also have to budget, at the very least, for a potential wedding and honeymoon. This rule was created by jewelers in the first place.
How to Break It
Set a budget that makes sense for you. Focus on a style your partner will like and don’t pressure yourself to spend a certain amount. A better idea is to have a firm budget that you can’t exceed. If you’re at a loss, try this Engagement Ring Cost Calculator from Estate Diamond Jewelry. You can enter your annual salary, lifestyle, travel, and level of existing debt. But at the end of the day: how much you spend is up to you.
Rule: The Greater the Carat, the Better
If you do have the budget, you’re probably eyeing a large carat size. Most advice will tell you that your engagement ring needs to be above a carat– with many citing 1.5 carats as great size. Notice, already, that this is far below 2 carats. That’s because a carat weight below 2 carats is both more affordable and more practical. But the biggest mistake here is focusing too much on carat and too little on other quality factors.
How to Break It
The average carat for an engagement ring is just over 1 carat. But averages aside, I highly recommend studying the 4 C’s of Buying Diamonds. When you’re buying a diamond, color and clarity are the two most important factors. It’s better to buy a colorless or nearly colorless diamond with few inclusions vs a lower-quality diamond that’s larger. My mother has a gorgeous engagement ring under 1 carat. Beauty does not have a specific size or price point. So set your budget and throw out those buying rules that don’t suit you.
Rule: Engagement Rings need to be a Surprise
This rule is the least problematic- and a matter of personal preference. The surprise proposal with a surprise ring is traditional. It’s romantic to many. For many couples, this makes sense. But modern couples, especially those who are especially choosey, are slowly changing this standard.
How/ If to Break It
According to 2021 data reported by Brides, around 60 percent of couples now shop for an engagement ring together. Not only is it okay to do so– it’s now the majority of couples. The benefits of selecting the ring together are that you know the ring size for sure, and there’s not much of a chance your partner won’t like their ring. But that doesn’t have to cut out the romance. You can take them shopping with you and not tell them why. You could propose and then say you want to select the ring with them.
At the same time, this isn’t for everyone. You shouldn’t feel pressured to break this rule, either. Decide what’s best for you and what suits your partner’s personality. If you’re both more traditional, go with the surprise. If you’ve always made every decision together, shop together. It’s up to you.
Rule: Engagement Rings are only for Women
You don’t need me to tell you that this rule is outdated. From same-sex couples to men who prefer to have an engagement ring, this rule needs to be tossed out. While it’s still the norm for heterosexual couples to have just one engagement ring, any couple can break this rule if it makes sense for them and their relationship.
How to Break It
Get to know your partner. If you aren’t sure, have a frank conversation about it. There are more sophisticated and durable engagement ring options than ever. To get you started, check out this Guide to the Best Men’s Engagement Rings. This guide will take you through setting a budget and different ring styles. You should also read about the 3 Best Types of Metals for Men’s Rings.
Rule: Engagement Rings Have to be Diamonds
The first famous diamond engagement ring was likely exchanged between Archduke Maximillian of Austria and Mary Burgundy in 1477. But the tradition of diamond engagement rings took off much later, in the 1940s and 50s. Today, 85 to 90 percent of engagement rings are diamonds. Diamonds are valuable and are the hardest gemstone you can buy. But more couples are opting for alternatives. Those alternatives might be cheaper, more unique, or bought-out of environmental concerns (though lab-grown diamonds vs natural diamonds are a great option for lowering cost and environmental impact).
How/ If to Break It
If you’re on a tight budget, a diamond ring alternative usually saves you money– except for rare gemstones, like rubies. In some cases, it may reflect your partner’s personality more. But there are better alternatives than others. The best direct alternative is a Forever One Moissanite Ring. Moissanite can be colorless and is quite durable. The larger the carat, the more noticeable the difference is. Learn more about Diamonds vs Moissanite Here.
If you want a gemstone engagement ring, take care of what you select. I recommend a gemstone with a Mohs hardness rating of 8 or better. The best include sapphires, rubies, topaz, spinel, emeralds, aquamarine, and morganite.
“Rules” of Wearing an Engagement Rings
Did you know that there are different stages of wearing an engagement ring? These rules don’t have to be followed. But even if you do want to follow them, it’s tricky to know what to do. Here’s how to wear an engagement ring for a ceremony– and why you shouldn’t always wear an engagement ring.
Rule: Engagement Rings Should be Worn Always
In theory, you’re supposed to wear your engagement ring all the time. After all, many views removing an engagement ring as a sign you’re breaking off or deviating from a relationship. But this is bad advice. There are several reasons why you should remove an engagement ring.
How/ When to Break It
An obvious reason is that some medical procedures require you to remove all jewelry. Most diamond engagement rings made with gold or platinum can be worn for daily life, but even those should be worn with caution (or taken off) or you’re cleaning with harsh agents or bleach. Most people don’t remove engagement rings for the gym, but if you’re regularly lifting free weights, you might want to leave them at home. Finally, anyone in an industry with heavy equipment or exposure to chemicals should consider leaving their engagement ring at home.
Rule: Wear Engagement Ring On Right Hand for the Wedding Ceremony
You probably know that engagement rings are traditionally worn on the left hand- but what about the wedding day? Most move their engagement ring to their right hand for the ceremony. This is because the wedding ring is placed on the other hand. After the ceremony, the engagement ring is placed on top of the wedding band. But you don’t have to follow this rule.
How to Break It
You have two options: leave your engagement ring where it is, or remove it for the ceremony. If you keep it where it is, the wedding ring and engagement ring will be stacked during the ceremony. Many find this more difficult- and it won’t photograph as well. You could remove your engagement ring for the ceremony– but make sure it’s in a safe place. You’d need to entrust it with someone reliable and trustworthy.
“Rules” of Returning Engagement Rings
No one likes to think about breaking up, divorcing, or even a partner simply not liking their engagement ring. And I understand that, but I also think knowing about this etiquette is important. To avoid extra conflict, here’s a glance at proper engagement ring etiquette when things don’t go quite according to plan.
Situation: Partner/ You don’t like the Engagement Ring
Sometimes the best intentions don’t go according to plan. Maybe you or your partner tried their best to find a great style- but it doesn’t seem like a match. It’s probably one of the biggest fears about engagement rings for both sides. So what do you do?
If you’re the one who doesn’t like the engagement ring, the traditional etiquette is to act as you like it. Terrible as this sounds, it sometimes can work. Many find that the look of an engagement ring grows on them over time. Another thing: even if the engagement ring isn’t the very style you would have selected, you may find that you come to love it. Try to be flexible and open. However, there are some times you should tell your partner. If the ring is impractical or you discover a metal allergy, you need to be honest. And if you just can’t bring yourself to like the ring, being honest is sometimes better.
If you’ve weighed out your options and decided that it isn’t the right engagement ring for you, there are better and worse ways to break the news. If you only don’t love the engagement ring because you want a larger diamond, it’s poor etiquette to demand this.
If you’d love it slightly modified, this could be a good option. Approach this gently with your partner. Sometimes rings can be exchanged, but keep in mind that custom and engraved rings cannot be.
Situation: Break Ups & Divorces
In the worst-case scenario, there may be a breakup before the wedding, or a divorce years later. The situation of who gets the engagement ring may seem a little murky, and it’s a matter stacked with both emotional and financial weight.
This is tricky because laws vary by state. Many legal experts claim that, for something to be considered a gift, there must be three factors: intent, giving, and acceptance. If you go by this line of thinking, an engagement break-up before the wedding means that the giver should have their ring returned to them.
Divorce is different. By that time, the giver has fully accepted and married. In many states, the recipient keeps the engagement ring in a divorce. In essence, these tricky situations are less about etiquette and more about your state’s laws. However, common etiquette is to return an engagement ring for a break-up, but keep it in a divorce.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What should you not do after getting engaged?
Answer: You can celebrate your engagement however you’d like. But I have seen couples make mistakes. The first mistake is to immediately worry about everything that needs to be done. I’m all for planning– it takes up to 6 to 8 months to order a wedding dress. But give yourself at least a few days or a week to enjoy. Another mistake is tied to that: making quick decisions immediately after becoming engaged. When you’re in a state of heightened stress or emotion, positive or negative, it’s hard to make the best decision possible. So take a deep breath before selecting a dress, your bridal party, or your venue. If you give yourself time to calm down, chances are your planning will go more smoothly.
Question: What is the first thing to do after getting engaged?
Answer: In contrast, the first thing to do after getting engaged is to enjoy the moment. Share the news with close friends or family. You can schedule an engagement shoot, but that’s not a must. If the ring doesn’t fit, get it resized. Then relax.
Question: Does getting engaged mean anything legally?
Answer: Getting engaged is not legally binding. While getting engaged serves as a statement of commitment to one another, there isn’t any legality attached to it. Even in the case of emergencies, those who are engaged aren’t usually allowed to make medical decisions for each other.
Final Thoughts & Ring Sizing
There are many etiquette rules for engagement rings, but not all of them fit every couple. Knowing how to break rules politely is key. If you don’t know your partner’s ring size but want to surprise them with an engagement ring, ask a family member. Better yet, try to find a ring they own. If neither is plausible, you can estimate: that the average ring size (for females) is 6 or 7. You could gauge it with someone near their size by using a ring sizer. If you are estimating, ask ahead of time if a ring can be resized, and by how much.
Final Recommendations: Custom Engagement Rings from Brilliant Earth
If you know your partner well and want to gift a truly exceptional engagement ring, my top recommendation is Brilliant Earth. All Brilliant Earth rings are ethically sourced, conflict-free, and even environmentally sustainable. Their exquisite craftsmanship and selection make it easily one of my favorite jewelers. You can custom make your diamond or gemstone engagement rings. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, the company has an excellent reputation for both its quality and customer service. You can even submit a sketch of your dream design! Design Your Ring Here.