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Wedding Bands and Engagement Rings: Non-Traditional Choices

I have a friend who loathes her engagement ring. She has unbelievable style, and so does her husband-to-be. They’re both ridiculous over-packers and flea market geniuses, able to make air-brushed t-shirts and “art teacher sweaters” look right somehow. So when her one and only proposed with a very proper ring, there was only one word to say.

Huh?

The ring rang wrong. It was beautiful, but not her, too conservative and delicate. Many months after saying “yes,” she still looks at her left hand and says “no.”

Life is not a Zales commercial. Proposals aren’t always perfectly orchestrated in front of a fountain or a fireplace. Buying a ring is stressful. And it’s easy to forget that even when you’re doing something as conventional as getting hitched, you can go about it in an entirely unconventional way. A good place to start is to choose a ring that feels like yours and yours alone, just like that guy you’re going to wake up next to for the next fifty years.

Here’s one way to avoid engagement ring trauma: once it’s been established that you’re on your way toward getting hitched, it’s all right to drop a hint about what you like. (Complimenting a friend’s ring you like in front of him: Subtle. Sending him a link to tiffany.com: Subtle like a sledgehammer.) If your guy is the type who breaks out into a sweat when he even thinks about choosing a ring, let him know in your own way that a placeholder would be OK until you find “the one” together.

As far as more conventional rings go, I get why barracudas and brides are attracted to shiny things. They’re precious, sparkly, and rare. But a rock the size of a cordless mouse doesn’t make sense for a lot of people. A traditional solitaire can feel audacious and impractical if you wear it every day in every day situations, like, in the dog park—where a girl’s best friend is definitely not five-carat bling. Here are a few suggestions for bucking the boring bridal trend:

Shop in the men’s department: If your life is more active, look for a less dainty ring. A plain, thick, or thin gold or platinum band that a man might wear makes a simple, classic statement, sort of like a men’s watch. Skip an engagement ring altogether and go straight for the band. Have it engraved (inside or out) with a favorite lyric, saying, symbol, or line from a poem. Or choose one that’s a mix of metals, such as rose, yellow and white gold, for a versatile ring that goes with all of your jewelry.

Choose a stone that no one died for: Blood Diamond, anyone? Regardless of your politics, who would want to put a ring on their finger that caused a miner to lose a hand? Diamond trading can be an ugly business. So if you’re looking for another way to “act locally,” make it clear that you’d want a less precious stone such as a sapphire, a citrine, or even gleaming moonstone. Or choose a pavé diamond ring, one that’s made of several smaller stones, that aren’t quite as precious.

Design your own: Scan a local arts and crafts show for a jewelry maker whose designs you like and ask if they do custom work (they may upgrade from silver to more precious metals and gemstones, if that’s what you’re looking for). Or contact a local art school to see if their jewelry-making department could refer someone. Jewelers are usually eager for the chance to show off their training and creative side. Rip a photograph out of a magazine or draw a simple sketch with details about your price limit, the color of the metal (white gold, rose gold, yellow gold, or platinum), the size and position of the stone if you want one, and the finish you’re after (polished to a shine, brushed to a dull glow, or hand-hammered). Be prepared for some variation, though, since no two visions, or marriages for that matter, are exactly alike.

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