Lord of the Rings? The untold story of engagement ring hunting.

Toon Kerkhoff



I’m pretty sure that anyone who’s ever been out looking for an engagement ring knows it can be a lot of  fun. It’s your own personal secret with (hopefully!) a happy ending and smiles all around. It’s fun to hunt for something special, something that will show just how well you know, love and admire your “intended”. At the same time, there’s not much to be found about this stage in the marriage process either on the web or elsewhere in other marriage media. Wedding magazines don’t seem to pay much attention to it, and in movies people just seem to always have the perfect ring in their pockets as they propose.

I find it odd that few feel the need to share their experiences. After all, the engagement ring is an important part of getting married. Just imagine a similar lack of attention in the case of, let’s say, finding the right wedding dress? I believe part of the reason it is so difficult to find stories about getting an engagement ring, is that it’s not at all as straightforward as many people think, or at least it wasn’t for me. No matter how exciting the search for that one as yet unspecified but special ring, it required a lot of perseverance and meant dealing with A LOT of judgment, stereotyping and (not so hidden) assumptions about marriage, weddings, love and relationships.

A first difficulty I encountered was getting a ring I could reasonably afford in an industry eagerly awaiting a poor sap, hoping to impress their bride or groom to be. While it might sound paranoid and cynical, I did a little test in the beginning of my search. During my first visit to a jewellery shop (yes, I have been to many and seen several more than once) I pretended I was looking for a ring, not an engagement ring. The response was usually flat. That might be down to Dutch customer service (admittedly not the best in the world), but – as I am now convinced – was also because it meant a lower price for the product. However, as soon as I told salespeople on a second visit the real purpose of the ring, eyes sparkled, hidden drawers of rings were uncovered and – of course – prices went up. Unfortunately, with money being a little tight, I turned out not to be the kind of customer most jewellers wanted after all. The looks were quite often plain disapproving, as if to say: “Surely she’s worth more than that?!” Certain salespersons even went as far as attempting to try and guilt-trip me into committing to a ring I could not afford. To me it was proof of the entanglement of money and marriage: “love” with a hefty price tag and the exclusion of the “have-nots” from social events such as marriage.

A second issue was finding the right ring. Determining size was a nightmare. I often wondered if anyone ever really bought an engagement ring that fit immediately, as portrayed in movies? I snatched some of my girlfriend’s rings and took them to the shops to determine her size. In my ignorance, I forgot the fact that the size of the ring finger is only half of the story; the material the ring is made of also plays a part. So, there I was, with several rings that all fit my girlfriend’s finger but all of them a different size! In the end I chose a ring that was too big and had to have it tailored as soon as she had said “Yes!”, which took a few more weeks. This all would have been fine, however part of the romance of delivering the wonderful news of your impending marriage, is being able to show the long sought after ring to loved ones. This may come across as a little ostentatious, but it is also a symbolic statement for the couple, to indicate their commitment to the marriage as well at the proposer’s taste in jewellery.


Sapphire ring

Which brings me to the next problem: the kind of ring. In general I found salespeople quite condescending as they lectured me about gold, jewels, carats and stones. Several times I believe salespeople attempted to make me feel cheap, uncaring or ignorant, only to try and sell me something expensive they thought I did not understand. However, I knew what I wanted: a simple band with a colourful stone. When I investigated various stones (rubies, sapphires, emeralds, etc) it struck me how culturally predisposed many jewelers were. I was told by three independent jewellers for instance, that only “Asians” (it remained unspecified) buy red rubies as stones for their rings. Therefore most jewelers apparently do not stock them. Another jeweller referred to a section of his shop filled with brightly coloured rings and stones as his corner of “ethnic rings”. I still don’t know what he meant by “ethnic rings” but I left straight away.

A final issue concerned me not wanting blood diamonds or stones that had not been ethically produced. I visited around 12 different jewellers (5 in Amsterdam and roughly 7 in The Hague) and only one shop (where I bought my ring in the end) knew anything about this and had the right stones. The others were essentially ignorant of such matters. One woman told me I was the first to ever ask about ethically produced diamonds in roughly 30 years of running her shop. Either way, nobody stocked diamonds with a Kimberly certificate.

So, there you have it – the awkward truth about finding that all important ring prior to proposal. Finding your ring is a great experience, not just because it’s exciting to ask someone to marry you, but also because you will most likely be confronted with some pressing questions, dilemmas and difficulties. In the meantime, happy ring hunting!


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