The new rules of engagement rings

From how much to spend to proposing with an IOU, welcome to the new rules of engagement
From how much to spend to proposing with an IOU, welcome to the new rules of engagement  Credit: Getty

Every New Year comes one of the most popular moments for contemplating the big, meaningful questions in life – namely, will you marry me?

Between December and February, it’s open season for engagements (with Valentine’s Day being a last-chance cutoff for those wanting a summer wedding). According to one marital survey of 10,000 British people, 40 per cent of single men popped the question over Christmas, with a further 47 per cent planning to take a moment between then and February 14. 

But for those expecting a traditional proposal with a round-cut solitaire white gold diamond ring, the odds are stacked against you. The rules for choosing, offering and then wearing an engagement ring have never been more complex. 

Traditionally, engagement code dictates wearers are restricted to the left hand, fourth finger – so chosen because Ancient Romans believed a vein (the vena amoris, or “vein of love”) ran through this finger leading directly to the heart. 

Pippa Middleton last year with her engagement ring firmly in place Credit: REX

Tell that to Serena Williams. Newly engaged to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, she was recently spotted wearing her white gold band on both her left and, shock horror, her right hand during training. Three days ago, TV series Sherlock reminded us that widows frequently switch their ring to a different finger in the wake of their partner’s death.

Mariah Carey also tore up the rule book by continuing to wear her £8 million 35-carat rock for weeks after she split from her billionaire fiance James Packer.

“Holding” bands are increasingly popular with would-be grooms who feel they cannot dare buy the full engagement ring without their partner’s approval (Marks & Spencer sells one for £19.99) and so-called midi rings, worn just below the knuckle in between the two finger joints, are fast gaining traction in the US.  However, actress Mila Kunis went one better: rather than wear the Tiffany engagement ring given to her by her husband Ashton Kutcher, she bought another one herself – for $90 (£73), from craft website Etsy.  

I’ve heard of some going down on one knee with a box containing a necklace, earrings or bracelet – even an IOU.Daisy Amodio

Emelie Tyler, managing director or Purely Diamonds, a family jewelers based in London’s Hatton Garden, says that money is longer key when it comes to an engagement ring – and rather than spending the traditional three month’s salary on their sparkler, many brides are happy with as little as a week’s-worth. 

“People no longer spend traditional amounts. They are typically paying much less, between £1,000 and £1,500. Our cheapest rings are £200, and we sell a lot of those. For those looking to cut costs, we have a range made from palladium, a cheaper version of platinum.” 

She puts down the reason for scrimping on the engagement ring to inflated wedding costs – the average British wedding is now £25,000 – and couples placing a greater importance on getting a foot on the property ladder: “A lot of girls will say to the guys they don’t want them to spend a huge amount of money, because they know how much harder it is to buy a home.”

Wimbledon champion Serena Williams wearing her engagement band on her right hand Credit:  Dean Purcell 

Women are the driving force behind the subtle changes to wedding traditions. Whereas a would-be bride previously cooed over whatever she was given, nowadays she knows what she wants.

“And insists on getting it,” adds Daisy Amodio, founder of The Proposers, a service that plans bespoke engagements. She has orchestrated more than 1,000 proposals in the last four years including flash mobs in Times Square and propositions in the Swiss Alps. 

“Those men who are too nervous to buy an engagement ring will just buy the diamond, then go with their partner to choose the bespoke setting together. I’ve heard of some going down on one knee with a box containing a necklace, earrings or bracelet – even an IOU.”

For those with cash, high settings – such as Pippa Middleton’s three-carat art deco-style ring, estimated to cost £250,000 – are fast becoming more popular, driven no doubt by social media-inspired engagement selfies, where big is best.

Pippa Middleton's engagement ring Credit: REX

Designed to allow as much light into the ring as possible, with the stone held up “prouder and higher” for optimum exposure, according to Tyler, they are owned by celebrities such as Hilary Swank, Amal Clooney and the late Grace Kelly. “It is down to personal preference, but a high setting is definitely more showy – and increases the chance the stone will be knocked about,” says Tyler. 

Having gone to so much effort (or not) to choose the perfect semi-precious orb, it’s important to capture the moment it’s presented.

For that, enter RingCam, a tiny HD camera hidden in a ring box designed by a US company to record your loved-ones reaction to play back to everyone in the family. Clearly, it’s a wild west out there so, in the immortal words of John Travolta in Grease, probably best to remember: “The rules are, there ain’t no rules.”

Diamond ring with a six prong silver setting Credit: Tetra Images

Five engagement ring trends for 2017

The 'Pippa Middleton’

Asscher-cut stones have surged in popularity since Pippa’s fiancé, James Matthews, proposed with a three-carat gem in an Art Deco style in July last year. 

Shifts in shapes

From actress Margot Robbie’s upside-down pear to supermodel Shanina Shaik’s stripped-back hexagon, stars are putting their own little twists on classic cushions, for a more personal approach.

Full stacks 

Boho brides are shunning the big baubles, instead asking for a pre-arranged stack of smaller rings, often in mismatched metals, for their engagement. Waiting until the big day to receive your next piece of jewellery could become a thing of the past.

The non-engagement ring

Favourite fashion jewellers including Polly Wales and Delfina Delettrez are increasingly being called on to create pieces so unique, they don’t even look like engagement rings

Alternative stones

Peach-tinted Morganite saw a 62 per cent popularity increase on Pinterest last year, while sapphires are predicted to surge this year, as part of an Edwardian style resurgence.

By Caroline Leaper