In many cultures, the circle was considered to be the symbol of perfection, unity, and eternity. This gives us the basic symbolism of a ring that makes it especially suited to pledging one's love.

However, the earliest engagement rings were pure business. They doubled as wedding rings, serving to seal the act of sale which transferred ownership of a daughter from father to husband (hence the practice of giving away the bride). Such rings were usually of solid gold to prove the groom's worth.

The Romans supposedly believed that the third finger of the left hand had a special vein that ran directly to the heart. While having no basis in scientific anatomy, the romantic custom still stands. King Edward VI of England designated the third finger, left hand, as the official "ring finger" and in 1549 the Book of Common Prayer designated the left hand as the marriage hand.

The current archetypal engagement ring is the round Tiffany-cut diamond solitaire on a gold band. The actual Tiffany's 2000 model is square-cut--quite nifty.

Colored gemstone engagement rings are currently uncommon, although they are traditional among the royal families of Europe. However, the idea is regaining popularity. Non-traditional rings that don't necessarily cost a fortune are also becoming popular. Poesy rings, silver rings, and so on are still romantic and pretty, but also more original and meaningful. Rings inspired by various cultures and traditions, such as Claddagh rings or solid jade bands, are also a new trend for the nonconformist. And there is even the occasional engagement pendant or other non-ring piece. The two-months' salary price benchmark is believed to have been invented by De Beers to get people to spend excessively, when it's really the love that counts.
Remember folks, the commercial says that the "Diamond Council" reccomends that you spend two and a half months salary on a diamond engagement band...

This is the marketing equivilent of Ben & Jerry's telling you your ideal weight is 300 pounds.

However despite this purchasing a diamond engagement band is a tough ordeal for almost any man to go through. Besides being innudated with the "two or two and a half" month's salary "guideline". Most guys are just clueless when it comes to purchasing jewelry. Sure many men want to buy their prospective wife the biggest diamond they can afford. But in a diamond's case, bigger is not always better. The most important thing to keep in mind about purchasing a diamond engagement ring (or any other stone for that matter) is the tastes of the woman you're buying it for. Does she even like to wear jewelry at all?

One friend of mine purchased a ring for his non-jewelry wearing girlfriend merely to use as a symbol of proposal, after she accepted they went and returned the ring together and with the money she was able to buy something she really wanted. In the case of my girlfriend, well, she's small, a large diamond is going to look rather akward on her finger, and I know that she prefers jewelry which is more subtle. In this case I'll probably opt for a smaller, but higher quality diamond.

The choice of setting is just as important as the stone you choose. Once again you must check your loved one's preference. Some women prefer silver (in this case platinum is also a good setting, but up there on the expense-o-meter) over gold, some like thicker bands, some like thinner, wide or narrow, side stones or just the solitaire... the list goes on and on. The thing to keep in mind is that while it's your money that's being spent (usually, although I know many couples who decide to get married and split the cost of the engagement ring), she's the one who is going to be wearing this thing (hopefully) for the rest of her life.

Buying an engagement ring is a trying task for any man. I write from the perspective of a straight male, mind you; feel free to substitute pronouns as appropriate to suit your particular situation. For that matter, substitute whatever token you intend to get for "ring" if appropriate. Regardless, it's not an easy thing to do. One of the biggest problems people have is the simple "what if she doesn't like it?" question. However, even though there'll always be some nervousness, ring shopping need not be an ordeal. I'm here to let you on the big secret of ring shopping: don't do it alone.

I'm not, of course, advocating that you actually buy the ring in your soon-to-be-fiancee's presence. That would ruin the surprise of the moment, and that would be a Bad Thing, because the surprise is half the fun. Hell, let's be honest; it's most of the fun. However, it's a wise person who doesn't propose unless the answer is already a foregone conclusion, and therefore, what's the harm of looking together with her? You don't need to propose immediately afterward; indeed, depending on the situation, you might wait to propose until months later. Time and location can remain a surprise, as should the ring's design. The fact that she knew you were going to do it sooner or later will not dull the emotional impact.

The trick is this: you're not there to look at ring designs. You're there to look at features. In particular, what sorts of things she wants in a ring. Does she prefer gold or platinum, or some other metal (or even an entirely different sort of material)? If you're going for a diamond or other gem, what cut does she prefer? Once you know the cut, might you want to consider any vendor-specific variants (which often really do look better, but you'll pay dearly for that beauty)? Does she have a specific size range in mind? Are there certain setting types which she wants to do? Does she prefer one large stone or several smaller stones, or no stone at all? Look in as many stores as you can, because there is a absolutely huge variety, and given the meaning and symbolism behind this, you owe it to yourself and to her to look long and hard to make sure you get the best thing you possibly can. You will probably have to stretch the ring shopping over several dates, if you're really doing it right. This is supposed to be a fun and exhilarating time in a relationship, so milk it for all the fun you can.

Take good notes; you're going to need them. The idea is then, several weeks later, to secretly return to one of the stores. You might pick out one of the exact rings you looked at, or perhaps -as I did- you might pick out a different design, which combines the features she liked. When you're shopping, make sure the jewelers you talk to know this; many will become more cooperative in this situation, both because they know they're competing with other stores and because they think it's fun.

One last thing to note about the looking process: don't take it too seriously. Keep the mood light. Joke a little, as long as it's nothing mean-spirited. Go ahead and make her try on that six-carat monstrosity, just for fun (if you do this, bring a camera to capture her expression as she puts it on). Let her parade you around a bit; certainly let her tell most of the jewelers what you're there for (though you should do it for the first store; this may seem like a small, insignificant detail, but it's actually a major reinforcer). Have dinner together, before shopping or afterward. If you're not having fun, then you're doing something wrong. And yes, there will still be some nervousness involved; that's only normal. But that doesn't mean it can't be fun as well.

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