Monday, October 5, 2009

Two vegans, two years, one wedding - The Saga, part 5.
May I have the ring, please?

This is the fifth installment of an as of yet unknown quantity of posts about Melissa Bastian's wedding nonsense, to be posted on the first Monday of each month.

Engagement. The guy asks the girl, and there's only one way to do it. He gets down on one knee, opens up a box that holds a ridiculously huge diamond ring, and "pops the question."

Right? Wrong! And thank goodness. Maybe for some couples this is the ideal scene, and if it works for them, fabulous. But for many of us this might as well be straight out of science fiction. (Guy and girl? One knee? Diamond?!!) Where did this little piece of drama get whipped up from anyway?

Timeless tradition like your mama (and the television and all the magazine industry) says? 'Fraid not. While the exchange of rings may be multicultural as a symbol of friendship, love, and yes, engagement, the diamond engagement ring thing is actually the product of advertising. I know you'll be just shocked to hear it, but the campaign was trying to sell - *gasp!* - diamonds! Yes, that's right. The DeBeers "Diamonds are Forever" ad campaign, which started in 1938, is the only reason that we so staunchly believe that diamond = engagement.

Yup, 1938. Tradition? That's not even a hundred years! But it's long enough that pretty much anyone who actually got married before it started has probably passed on, and as a species we have awfully short memories. While I enjoy the idea and symbolism of exchanging rings with the one you love, I distinctly do *not* appreciate the whole diamond engagement ring shtick. First of all, in case you're not aware, the diamond industry is absolutely rife with human rights and ecological atrocities. I'm not going to go into depth here, but seriously, look it up. (To scratch the surface, I'm just going to give you two words: child soldiers.) It is possible to source "conflict-free" diamonds, but in general only independent artisans tend to do so. (Like some of the fine craftspeople on Etsy, for example.)

There are also some real socioeconomic implications here. For example: what, only people who can afford a diamond solitaire are worthy of the rite of marriage? Talk about your elitist nonsense. This concept is only heightened by yet another ad campaign, also started by good old DeBeers (don't you love these guys?), stating that an engagement ring should cost two months' worth of the asker's salary. To which I say, are you effing kidding me?! Artist Lee Gainer recently explored this absurdity in her eponymous series, which depicts what types of rings this might mean to hopefuls of various employments.

Besides these major shortcomings, there's just something very exclusionary about the whole diamond ring thing - even beyond monetary considerations. It assumes so many things. Such as that 1) the asker is always a man, 2) he is always asking a woman, and 3) she's always a woman who will just swoon at the thought of wearing a giant diamond. If that's what you want, this system works just fine for you. But what if it isn't?

I'd say that there are plenty of us who want something different. I'd say it's well past time to forge new ground. (And of course, many people already have.)

I have to say, if Jonathan had even suggested spending two months of his salary on a piece of freaking jewelry, I would have asked him if he had gone completely out of his mind. Of course, he never would have. He's too practical for that, and knows me better than to think I would want it. Yeah, I did want a nice sparkly engagement ring. I admit it, and I'm not ashamed. But we have some serious ethics when it comes to what we consume, so deciding how to go about choosing an engagement ring was no small task.

Our first thought was to go vintage. Great! No new materials used, nothing being wasted, no risk of purchasing a conflict diamond or other unethically obtained gemstones, right? I wish. Vintage rings are really, really popular these days, and unfortunately when a market becomes popular it often also becomes tainted. First off, you have to be terribly careful to make sure you're getting a ring that's actually old and not one that's just a remake of an old design. Second, sometimes it's an old setting with a new stone - and then you're into conflict diamond territory. Third, even among jewelers who sell genuine vintage and antique pieces, they generally also sell new things. So while you may not personally be buying a gem of dubious origin, you're still supporting a business that is working in that market. Basically, it's a mine field, and in short time our vintage plan was scrapped.

Fortunately, we came upon GreenKarat. Based out of Texas, this company deals only in lab-created stones and recycled precious metals. Purchasing from them, we knew that we wouldn't be supporting anything that we were ethically opposed to. Plus, their rings are gorgeous! My ring does have two diamonds in it, plus one sapphire. But since all the stones are lab-created, not only are they worry-free but they're also cool colors! The diamonds are light blue and the sapphire is only slightly darker. The stones are set in recycled white gold, so no mining there either. We're happy with our choice, and I love my ring.

Photo Credit: J. Matthew Turner

Somehow, though, through this whole process I never realized how many great engagement ring choices are right under my nose on Etsy! I guess when we first started talking about getting engaged I hadn't become a full-fledged Etsy addict yet. But poppets. I've been checking it out lately, and man are there some fantastic options! Let's explore, shall we?

{Note: for the sake of simplicity I have sometimes used male pronouns for the giver of a ring and female pronouns for the receiver in the following section. But let me make utterly clear that I wholeheartedly support the right of all couples regardless of orientation to celebrate their love with the bond of marriage (legally if they so choose, darnit!), and also have the utmost respect for the bolder-than-me ladies who propose to their men. Celebrate your love, peoples! And send pictures! Wedding pictures always make me cry, in a good way.}

So. OK, I get it. You're a classic kind of couple, and you like the look of a white diamond. But you also have ethical concerns about diamond mining, and don't want to break the bank before you even start planning the wedding! So how about this shining, elegant ring from Silverwoods? Featuring a sparkling white sapphire in a lightly hammered sterling silver setting, this solitaire is sure to please and will never become boring.

Did the two of you fall in love during your endless summer nights together, lying on the beach perhaps or strolling through fields of grass, and staring up at the moon? Let her know you'll never forget those precious times by proposing with The Jewelry Pitt's Rainbow Moonstone Ring. Moonstone is such an awesome stone, and one believed to impart protection. What better to give to the one you love best?

So maybe you like the idea of a solitaire, but want something a little bolder? Maybe you share a mutual love for the color blue. Either way, this giant "London Blue" topaz will probably do the trick. The seller, One Garnet Girl, makes sure to mention that the photos of the ring haven't been edited for color - that's all the rock. Which is probably why she has named this ring "Rock Love". Appropriate name? As a girl with a minor in geology, I vote yes. (Geology rocks!)

Want to tell mom you're getting hitched but don't know how to break the news? If you've got this on your finger, it's pretty likely that she's going to take notice. And so will everyone else! This stone is actually a lab-created sapphire in a little-seen orange-amber color called Padparadscaha. Thank you, Doug Peterson Jewelers, for showing up with such a showy number. So saturated! So saucy! This ring is definitely a showstopper, and is sparked off nicely by being set in gold. And anyway, why be shy? You're getting married honey! You're in love! Flaunt that thing, and be happy!

Well, maybe a huge flashy stone just isn't your thing at all. Maybe you want something subtle, but intricate and elaborate. Something that reflects all of the beautiful delicacies of the relationship you share with your partner. No problem, says I. Etsy and I have you covered too. How perfect is this Lilac Branch ring from Sarah Hood Jewelry? The word stunning comes to mind. Difficult to wear alongside a wedding band, maybe, but then who's to say that it can't be your wedding band? Nobody, that's who.

Looking for a ring with a central feature that isn't a stone? If you want something extraordinary and delicate and fascinating, you can't beat the metal crochet work of Hilary Koster. I don't know about you, but I've never seen anything like it! A piece from this shop could be a particularly good choice if your partner is one of the many who have recently realized that activities like knitting, crochet work, and needlepoint are actually pretty rad. She'll know you've been paying attention. (You'll know he's been paying attention!)

What about something that looks like a stone, but isn't one? There are a couple of Etsy shops making really amazing rock-like pieces that I simply can't get over. My two big favorites are Macha Jewelry out of London making sort of rough cut numbers in her "Rockwell" line, and the ultra-polished "Modern Rock" line coming out of Metalicious. These are very similar concepts with very, very different executions, and I personally think both takes are brilliant. An acquaintance of mine recently received one of the Macha Rocwells, actually - along with a proposal from the love of her life, awww - and believe me when I tell you that she is more than happy with her partner's choice of ring. (Naturally she would have been thrilled to be proposed to by him regardless of whether he'd offered her a piece of tin foil instead. But hey, who doesn't enjoy a pretty ring attached to a wonderful sentiment?)

Here is a truly interesting number for someone like me who is obsessed with symmetry and line. Unique in the truest sense of the word, the seller tells us that she has never made and will never make another one! As she puts it, "It's a little bit geeky and a little bit retro and is completely unisex." Fabulous! It's a tiny size 5 at the moment, but if you need it bigger (or smaller, for someone with very tiny hands?) she's willing to size it free of charge. And you can feel particularly good about purchasing from Apache Moon, as she donates 100% of every sale to animal rescue and sanctuary. Talk about good karma - the perfect way to start off the lifetime bond with the one you love.

Let's get beyond the idea that an engagement ring even needs to have a central stone or focus piece. Why not a solid band to represent your solid bond? (Sorry, these things just come to me. I can't help it.) How about this stunning and unique piece from Gretchen von Eberstein? If your lover is a creative artsy type or just has a inclination toward interesting shapes, how can she not love this ring - and you (even more) for giving her something so special?

I'm in love with a shop, and it's called singleB: beautiful. She makes what's beautiful! Her rings are just, I dunno, spiffy. Like, for instance, check out these Twin Stars Bands. How cool are these? (Bonus: if you're anywhere near of my generation, you're probably thinking about those goofy cartoon icons right now. Hee.) Propose to each other why don't ya? Then use the rings as your wedding bands. Who says you need two different rings anyway? His and hers? His and his? Hers and hers? Pretty much regardless of the setup, it just works. Star crossed lovers? Hardly. More like a match made in heaven.

The aptly named Union Ring by Naturaleza makes a bold statement. You love each other. You're dedicated to each other. And now you're getting married. Yes. Yes. Yes. Clean and sleek, this ring can be ordered in any ring size and is hand carved "from the rich black coyol seed" and then inlaid with silver. A seed from which a great tree can grow? Go ahead. Make the analogy. You know you want to. This seller is quite dedicated to sustainability and environmentalism - just like you and your partner, right?

Believe it or not, even with these dozen gorgeous choices I've only just begun to scratch the surface of all the great engagement ring alternatives that Etsy has to offer. Go have a look for yourself! Enjoy! Remember that this is about you and your partner - NOT about what DeBeers or your mom or your office mates or even your best friends think an engagement ring "should" be. Find something that you love, something that reflects the values you hold as a couple. Once you let go of the notions which were forced upon you without you even noticing, finding the right symbol of your love isn't actually as hard as you think.

Don't want to go it alone? Lots of couples pick out rings together these days. Why not use this adorable Pink Rose ring from Starrlight Jewelery to pop The Question, and then look for the ring together? I promise that when a proposal of a lifetime together is made with sincerity, no one will be disappointed.

Until next Monday,

Melissa Bastian


Anonymous said...

I have a lab created ruby and I just love it.

melissa bastian. said...

Such a cool concept to create stones in laboratories, right? It can be a more ethical and more affordable choice, and the stones are beautiful! I look at my ring all day long. (I really do. If you catch me doing it I look like a big ol' goober.)

Vegan Burnout said...

I love my greenKarat engagement ring. The Mr. picked it out, then had me guess which one he'd picked because he was worried I wouldn't like it! I guessed correctly. :) Beth Cyr (she's on Etsy) made our wedding bands from recycled gold. Totally the way to go.

Anonymous said...

Very nice article.
When Dh popped the question, he did, indeed, give me a simple little adjustable ring. He didn't know my ring size and wanted me to be able to wear it until we could pick something better. My wedding ring ended up being an sterling silver ring with a lab created opal set between two Celtic trinity knots.

Metalicious said...

Wow, there are a lot of fantastic alternatives! Thanks for including my Modern Rocks in there. Great article!

michele said...

Very nice choices to choose from, like the ring from Metalicious, Congrats on your engagment!!!

melissa bastian. said...

Thanks Michele - and way to show some love for your teammate! ;)

Thanks for your comments everyone! So glad you enjoyed the post - it was a tough one to write.

TheAwesomestPossum said...

what a great post, melissa--gorgeous picks! also, the pic of you and jonathan is crazy adorable. :)

al oof said...

i asked my partner to marry me with a pin i made at an etsylabs class! there are no stones, i just made it out of silver, but it's a shape that has meaning to us. i'd thought of having something made, but then i saw the class and it was perfect.

i made him a pin because he doesn't wear jewelry. he has eczema and wouldn't really wear a ring. i haven't felt so gendered in a long time, actually, because of being a woman asking a boy to marry me with a pin! people are always asking 'can i see the ring' and i am caught off guard somehow every time. i'm like, oh, we don't have a ring, silly!

um, yeah, so that's my story.

Beadsme said...

Loving all the rings.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather receive the first pressing on vinyl of all of my favorite albums than receive an engagement ring. But, those are some pretty cool options for those who feel it nice/necessary to wear an engagement ring.

melissa bastian. said...

Thanks Sampossum!

Al oof - L O V E your story. That is so cool! Ring shming, who needs it - y'all have something that means exactly what you need it to, and it came from the heart. And you made it no less! What could be better?

Anonymous - I hope you find / have a partner who knows you well enough to propose with such an amazing gift! The question is... do you have a turntable worthy of it?! ;)

cccraftstudio said...

great choices! I love those modern rocks from Metalicious!

Anonymous said...

What a great post, I'm also getting hitched in the near future and we need more vegan bridezilla's to be to psot this sort of stuff-good job!x

OV Gillies said...

Great article & selection!

LG said...

Thanks for mentioning my Two Months Salary series... the book is almost done! :)

melissa bastian. said...

Wow amazing artist Lee Gainer - thanks for reading my article! I really admire your work and would have loved to write more about the engagement ring series, but there has to be some kind of length limit on these posts of mine...

Thanks again for stopping by!