Through the decades, time-honored wedding traditions have fallen by the wayside, and so to have the many expectations and rituals surrounding the engagement.
And that starts with the ring.
In Western cultures, the engagement ring represents a formal agreement to future marriage. Traditionally it’s placed on the ring finger of here left hand, because at one time it was believed that this finger contained a vein (the vena amoris) that led to the heart.
While this is a time-honored process that kicks off an exciting time in the lives of couples, it’s also becoming a potentially sensitive time given the cost surrounding this major milestone.
It’s long been accepted that men follow the Three Months Gross Salary Rule. This rule stipulates that if a man makes, say, $80,000 a year, he should spend $20,000 on an engagement ring.
Another crazy rule is for the man to buy a quality ring whose size is equivalent to the age of the woman. For example, if the man proposes to a 32 year old woman, he should buy a 3.2 carat diamond engagement ring.
As priorities shift, those rules have fallen out of favor. More and more women do not want or expect their fiancé to spend that much money on a ring. In 2012, the average cost of an engagement ring in United States as reported by the diamond industry was $4,000, much lower than the three-month rule but still a hefty sum.
Today couples are making it a personal decision based on the importance of that ring to the fiancée. Diamonds and a traditional gold or silver band are no longer de rigueur, either. There are several affordable alternatives to pricey gold, platinum or silver. Some couples are using stainless steel, which is very inexpensive. It looks to any novice exactly the same as silver but it doesn’t tarnish and it lasts virtually forever. Plus, you don’t have to have clean it constantly. Mixed metal rings are also gaining favor, since the combination of gold and silver is more versatile and will likely match whatever other jewelry or watches you wear.
Remember a large diamond solitaire may look impressive in the store, but it may not be practical for daily wear, especially if the wearer is active. Plus, a grouping of smaller diamonds is usually cheaper than one big rock.
The popularity of diamond engagement rings grew after the diamond cartel De Beers began a marketing campaign after the Great Depression. One of the first elements of this campaign was to educate the public about the 4 Cs (cut, carats, color, and clarity). Then they introduced the slogan “a diamond is forever.” Ultimately, the De Beers campaign sought to persuade the consumer that an engagement ring is indispensable, and that a diamond is the only acceptable stone for an engagement ring.
Today, more and more couples know better.