Find wedding rings you actually love: Insider advice that jewelry stores may not want you to know

Guest post by Melissa Miksch
Photo by Melissa Miksch
Photo by Melissa Miksch

Unless you're going ring-less, your wedding rings are going to be something you wear for a very long time — it may be on your hand all day, every day. So shouldn't your ring get at least as much thought and care in shopping as your wedding outfits?

I used to work at a jewelry store, and I could tell you some interesting stories. The worst part, though, was seeing someone come in to buy a ring when they had no idea what their partner would want, and then dropping several thousand dollars on a guess. If you are a non-traditionalist, you can be even harder to shop for!

So, here are my tips for getting what you want, and at the best price.

Rings by Todd Reed Inc
Rings by Todd Reed Inc

Don't be afraid to try on a lot of styles

You aren't stuck buying the trillion cut diamond if you don't like it, but you'll never really know if you don't see it on your finger. My husband thought he wanted a fairly plain band. He wound up with a 1/3ct. solitaire in a very industrial looking vice-like setting.

Actually try it on!

I got engaged during my time at the jewelry store. I lived with our stock eight hours a day, which means I tried on every ring in our store more than once. In all, there were a total of THREE rings I actually liked on my hand. Something may look great in the catalog or on a model's hand, but you won't know how it looks on you until you put it on. I was crushed when the gorgeous halo style ring just seemed “meh” when I put it on.

Consider your lifestyle

If you're a nurse, you probably don't want something that will poke through gloves. If you are in an industrial job, tungsten might sound awesome until you realize that you can't cut it off if you break your finger and it swells up. Seriously, nobody wants to lose a finger.

Haggle

Seriously, jewelry stores are like car lots. I had no idea, and thought that sticker price was end of story. Unless you are buying something on an advertised deal, you can usually negotiate a better price. You may even be able to decode their price tags — there's usually some kind of code on the back to let the salesperson know what the bottom line is.

Rings by Gemvara
Rings by Gemvara

Shop mid-month

Most jewelers work on commission. Early month may mean there's no pressure to make a sale, so less haggling will happen. Late month may get you a screaming deal, or may mean that someone desperate to meet their goal is going to gouge you, so it's a gamble.

Go to special design sales


Many stores have events a few times a year when they bring in a lot of extra stock that they don't normally carry. These can be a great time to design a ring that is uniquely you — especially if you want a more traditional bridal setting but want colored stones, or fun accents.

Don't feel like you have to buy “the set”

If you don't like the band that comes with an engagement ring, you can usually find something else that will work. If you don't, consider having your wedding band customized. I did, and it cost about the same as it would have to buy one we had in stock.

Rings by Wexford Jewelry
Rings by Wexford Jewelry

If you're planning a surprise proposal, you can go for a solitaire or a non-engagement-ring

If you get a solitaire, you can have the stone put into a mounting that you let your partner help pick out later. Alternately, you could propose with a ring pop and an invitation to go ring shopping, or ask with a bright gemstone ring in their favorite color. If you really feel that you need “the ring,” please make sure you bring in a currently-fitting ring (so that the jeweler can make sure the new ring will fit properly), and that you have a good idea of what they like. Bonus points for taking them shopping beforehand but making the actual proposal a surprise.

The bottom line: don't just settle, because your ring is something you'll probably look at every day. Make sure you love it!


jewelry: Todd Reed Inc
jewelry: Gemvara
jewelry: Wexford Jewelry
photography: Melissa Miksch

Comments on Find wedding rings you actually love: Insider advice that jewelry stores may not want you to know

  1. I HEARTILY second the last point. Make sure that it is a ring your intended wears on their ring finger, which may seem obvious but I own a lot of rings. Boy Blue took my engagement ring (which his mother generously provided from her own collection) and had it sized with a ring from my jewelry box — the ring that I wear on my thumb! Suddenly I had a gorgeous ring and I had to wait 72 agonizing hours to wear it because it was sized improperly!

    • Try eight weeks because its over chinese new year and it was too big to resize so it has to be remade. Ive been engaged two months and havent been able to wear my ring so I feel your pain!

    • I have a small ring from when I was a kid that today only fits my pinky finger. Apparently my guy took it into the store, told the jewelers which finger it fit, and they extrapolated the size for my engagement ring from that.

      It fit perfectly from day one.

    • (WARNING: European sizing)

      I have child-sized everything but my hips. The salesman gave FH a sizing clip to take it down a size or two just in case, but it was still at least a K.
      I’m a H or an I.
      The Ring is just silver and cubic zirconia (found out my correct size while shopping to humor FH as “it’s only a temporary one!” – and I’m writing this two years later). I still had to wait a few weeks to get it back.

      My most important factors while looking were setting height and price. Both because I’m a klutz and would scrape the bejaysis out of myself or someone else with a higher stone, and The Ring is covered in scuffs and dings which would incur a helluva lot more guilt if it were platinum or gold and precious stone.

      I’d love a band in steel or other hardwearing metal, or a non-polished finish. Unfortunately they don’t go down to my size with a reasonable price tag attached…

  2. My sweetie proposed with an orange sapphire solitaire and I love it. I had no idea and I couldn’t have picked out a ring I liked better myself.

  3. I have heard that due to the popularity of tungsten rings, many EMS are now carrying pliers/grips designed to shatter the ring. You lose your ring, but you keep your finger!

    • This is true about titanium rings, too! And some places have warranties where you can exchange broken rings for new ones if this happens to you.

      • Second this.
        My dad’s an aerospace machinist, so he basically cuts aircraft-grade titanium all day. He says most tools that will cut steel will also cut aircraft-grade titanium.

        I’ve read that in some cases, you may need to have the ring cut in two places so the ring can be removed rather than bent-and-removed (like they would for silver or gold). Dad confirms this, that titanium doesn’t bend as well as softer metals. But it does cut. It’s not like whatever Thor’s hammer is made out of. Your finger will be fine.

        After talking with my dad and an ER friend-of-a-friend, my husband and I ended up buying titanium rings with confidence. I erred on the side of caution and got basic-grade titanium, which is slightly softer than aircraft-grade. We’ll take them off when dealing with machinery (like fixing a car), but that’s general ring safety no matter the material.

        • My dad’s a stainless steel welder by trade. He wore his (gold) wedding ring for about a week until he heard about someone in a competitor’s factory who had lost an arm because their ring got caught in a machine. 30 years on, he’s still ringless and with all his fingers.

      • Yeah, my boyfriend’s father works at a family business in an auto shop (as does my boyfriend) and he’s had at least 2 tungsten steel rings made for him with an unbreakable guarantee at the place he got it. Funnily enough he managed to destroy both of them in his line of work – and I think the store would have kept replacing them for him if he hadn’t decided that it wasn’t worth it.

        Unbreakable doesn’t always mean unbreakable, but a good store will understand and have a policy like this.

        Having said this, there’s still no way I’d ask my boyfriend to wear a wedding ring when we get engaged/married. I don’t want to count on them being able to be broken – I’ve heard horror stories of things being caught in machines or whatnot and fingers/hands being lost in the process.

        It’s definitely something to consider.

    • My brother in law is a firefighter/EMT. What he did is get a ceramic ring from a craft fair so it can just be smashed with anything to break it off his finger. Thought it was a pretty great solution to “I want to wear a ring” and “I want to keep my fingers”

  4. This post makes shopping for a ring in person sound really good, but I’m looking for an ethical ring (I’m flexible as to metal and stone). Is it possible to combine both?

    • Totally possible, but of course that completely depends on your particular region. If you live in a town with only big-box jewelers, it might be harder… but I’m betting even they could direct you toward ethical choices. Vintage rings are also a more ethical option available even in smaller markets.

      • Vintage is a great way to go! And some of the chain stores have special lines of jewelry that are certified conflict free, etc. If you can’t find one in person, I would suggest still trying on lots of styles to figure out what ones you like, and what sizes and shapes look good so that you can then take that information to an online jeweler.

        • The other way to go is lab-created. My emerald/diamond ring is all geologically fake, but you would never know!

    • Actually, even some big box stores are ethical about their diamonds, I can’t speak for all, but Kay has a conflict free policy as seen here http://www.kay.com/ContentView?catalogId=10001&langId=-1&storeId=10101&cmsId=consumer-information. Also, if you’re worried, try a certified stone, those usually come with documentation that can be traced to the source including all the info about the diamond itself as well as who cut it and I believe where it came from.

      • Their gold statement is pretty good but their diamond one is basically a really long “we follow the Kimberley Process” statement and that’s absolutely no longer a guarantee of ethical diamond sourcing. The Kimberley Process’s definition for a conflict diamond specifically relates to diamonds that fund the civil side of a war. It does not cover the abominable conduct of the governments who run mines (specifically Zimbabwe). Also, it’s super easy for uncut diamonds from a conflict country to be certified as KP diamonds by being smuggled into a KP country and mixed in with the rough diamonds there.

        We just got engaged so I’ve been doing a thoroughly obnoxious amount of research.

    • Yep, but I agree with the other posters it can be hard, depending where you live.
      You can get fairtrade/fairmined gold now, but only some jewellers carry it. Recycled silver seems pretty easy to find, and if you have a ring that’s vintage/from family some places can melt it down and re-cast it. Not sure re: platinum/palladium/tungsten.
      Re: stones, lab made, or ethical ones, or vintage ones re-set… there’s lots of options.
      I got my ring made bespoke by a small UK-based jeweller who is near me.
      Plus, if you go with a small, ethical jeweller, you’re also supporting a small local business/craftsperson, rather than a huge chain.

  5. My partner proposed by ducktaping a proposal sign to our baby…. No ring 🙂 and I had our wedding bands (simple rose gold bands) made while visiting Europe. Easy peasy (now I have all the time in the World to pick an engagement ring, or not – up to me 😉 ) but I like this article very much!!! Thank you!

  6. Thanks for posting. I had no idea you could haggle and that month timing mattered.

    My mom gave me her wedding ring and we’re going to re-set the diamonds and trade the gold band for one that is my style. Is there any specific etiquette for something like this? Any pitfalls? Would it be better to sell the gold and pay for the new band in cash?

    • My wedding band was made from my grandmother’s ring, by a local goldsmith who melted down the gold and re-set the diamond in a band design I’d selected. My impression is that it’s always cheaper to skip additional people/steps… look for a goldsmith who can work with the ring you’ve got to melt it down and and recraft the setting!

      • Ariel is right. Find someone who can just melt the gold down and restyle it, or who is willing to give you a trade in. You’re likely to get a better deal without a middle man.

  7. My band was an heirloom piece, inherited from my grandmother, so I knew I wanted an engagement ring to match. I HIGHLY suggest going and trying rings on, especially if you want to match an existing piece. Things I never would have though about, like the rise of the setting vs my band, how they feel together, will never become apparent from looking online or in a magazine. We also had quotes made for custom pieces from a few stores. While the final ring was a bit of a surprise (I knew what the “finalists” were, so to speak), his actual proposal was a total surprise! To me, that was more meaningful than not knowing what the ring looked like before hand.

    • This is exactly what FH and I did. We went looking at rings together casually when we found ourselves in a mall or a shopping center. We were able to find several rings that we both were drooling over, and then he made the decision without me there and did a surprise proposal (on the mountain where we scattered my grandpa’s ashes so he could be there for it).
      I know what we had it narrowed down to, but it was ultimately still a surprise, and I think the extra time spent with my FH made me appreciate what he picked out in the long run!

    • Agreed! My now-fiance and I went to several stores (box stores and local jewelers) and I picked out anywhere from 1-3 at each place that I really liked the style of and that he liked as well. When he was ready to buy, he went in knowing what I liked, what size I was, how big or small worked (don’t want it drown out or weighing down), and what materials I preferred (I needed platinum due to skin allergies). It worked out for both of us because he got his surprise proposal and I got a ring I loved.

  8. I definitely recommend trying on rings so you know what you like. I would have expected to go with a larger ring because I have long, if slender, hands. But in the end, the .5 carat solitaire ended up being perfect. Had I not tried on rings I would have thought I wanted a much larger stone.

    In the same vein, I always knew that I wanted a simple solitaire ring surrounded by a pretty wrap or guard, until I went in to try them on. I had a placeholder band, so there was no rush, but when I tried on most of the guards and wraps I felt like they were to involved for what I wanted. Thanks to trial and error, I was able to find what I liked before we spent any money on it.

    Even if you and your partner want a completely surprise proposal, I would recommend trying on rings on your own or with friends so that you (or they) can pass on information about what you like. I feel very fortunate that my partner had no interest in learning about rings just to buy one for me so I was in charge of picking mine out. However, if this isn’t the case, do your homework. Know what you actually like on your finger and pass that along so that you come away wearing something that you love.

  9. About haggling…as a jeweller, I would like to suggest that this advice would apply best to a chain type jewellery store moreso than a mom-and-pop type place where the work is made in-house, and the employees do not work on commission.

    We need to make a fair living too, so trying to bargain might be hit or miss depending on how receptive the jeweller in question is. Some are totally cool with it, some are fine with you asking but will tell you no, some consider it to be a devaluation of their skills and might say no with a bit more…vigor.

    • Funny, I was going to say that haggling isn’t likely to work that well at a chain store! I know someone who works at a Zales, and they can usually bump the price down 10%, but that’s about all they can do without risking their job. It all goes into a chain-wide computer system, and it flags discounts more than a certain percent.

      So I guess ultimately, big business or small business, it’s going to depend on the place (and possibly also the country? I’m speaking from a US perspective). Either way, my advice would be to not be a jerk about it. Be upfront about your budget, and if something is lovely but not affordable for you at its current price, say so! Chances are, if the salesperson in question can make it affordable for you, they will try to do so. Don’t say, “Oh come on, I know you can do better than that!” They probably can’t.

    • Miranda – that’s definitely a good point. I think that there just has to be respect. There’s nothing wrong with asking if a better price is an option, but you have to be ready to accept that it isn’t. 🙂

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