Diamonds are a committed man’s best friend
Always more apt to follow her heart than society’s rules, Regina Engleka proposed to her boyfriend, Matt Hayman, last September with a ring she designed herself—a diamond set in a band of yellow and white gold studded with smaller diamonds.
“I wanted to give him some token of my love, and a ring just made sense,” says Engleka, 31, a bartender in Somerset, Pa. “He said I obviously wanted to marry him if I was the one buying the ring.”
Hayman, 37, insisted on buying Engleka an engagement ring of her own, even though she thought they should spend the money on something more practical, like a flat-screen television. He is wearing his engagement ring on his right hand until the couple’s wedding, in June, when it will be soldered to the wedding band and worn on his left hand.
Men in some European countries have worn engagement bands for years, but the trend is just starting to catch on in the U.S. More women want to mark their boyfriends as taken during the engagement period, and men want an equal piece of the prenuptial lovefest. As commitment ceremonies become more common and same-sex marriage is legalized in some states, gay men too must take part in the whole ring-exchange debate.
Some brides-to-be feel there is something sexist about a woman wearing a visible symbol of commitment for months before she takes her vows while her fiancé appears single until the day wedding bands are exchanged.
“Women are buying men rings to take them off the market,” says Heather Levine of online wedding authority the Knot.
When Lisa Edd’s boyfriend proposed to her in 2001 with an opal ring, she happily accepted—then took him shopping for an engagement ring of his own. The couple settled on a simple silver band, which he wore during the long-distance engagement while Edd was a thousand miles away at graduate school.
“Sometimes guys need a reminder more than girls do,” says Edd, 27, an editor in Boston. “Basically I gave him a ring to mark my territory before I left.”
The jewelry industry is catching on. In January, the British jeweler H. Samuel released a $130 male engagement ring, a titanium band embedded with a small diamond chip. In the U.S., couples tend to opt for custom rings or versatile bands that ultimately become wedding rings, and no major jeweler is marketing a men’s engagement ring as such.
Jewelers have worked long and hard to convince consumers that bling can buy love. To be sure, De Beers created the distinctly American idea of throwing down two months’ salary on a diamond ring in a 1947 campaign with the enduring words “A diamond is forever.” Now men need two rings too?
The trend is not being driven by jewelers’ marketing campaigns but by a cultural shift, experts say.
“Partnerships are beginning in the engagement process,” says Jolene Rae Harrington, creative director of Here Comes the Guide, a wedding-planning Web site. “More and more, it’s a two-way street.”
Some same-sex couples wear commitment rings on their left hands to signify equality with heterosexual couples, Harrington says. But as far as traditions go, they’re making them up as they go along.
Bill Long knew that he and his partner, Diego Velez, wouldn’t want to wear more than one ring on the same finger, but he still wanted to get down on one knee and present a ring.
“I read about what a traditional straight couple would do and tried to find a compromise with what would make sense for us,” says Long, 35, a tech-support engineer in Dallas. “I obviously didn’t expect him to wear a big, gaudy engagement ring.”
He ended up buying matching white-gold wedding bands and used one to propose to Velez, 37, in late 2007. Ever since, they have both worn the bands on their left ring fingers to symbolize their commitment because they cannot legally marry in Texas.
Some straight men don’t even realize they want an engagement ring until they go shopping for their girlfriends’ rings and feel left out, says April Shibumi of the Shibumi Gallery in Berkeley, Calif. A couple recently came into her store in the market for one ring and left with two.
“He said, ‘I want a ring, too,’” Shibumi says.
But don’t expect engagement-ring equality to eclipse the celebrated male ritual of getting down on one knee, diamond in hand.
“It seems to be a tradition both men and women don’t want to mess with,” Levine says.
Just like this time-honored tradition, buying a men’s engagement ring is a bit of a gamble. One must be prepared for the possibility of rejection.
Ken Gehrkens, a jewelry designer in Los Gatos, Calif., made a sterling silver ring for one woman who had been with her boyfriend for five years without talk of marriage and was ready to propose.
“He said no,” Gehrkens says. “Luckily the ring was sterling silver, not platinum.”