Buying an engagement ring is a special experience! There are so many things to think about and decide on, and a small jeweller is in a perfect place to be able to help you make these decisions and think things through. An engagement ring is a piece of jewellery unique to your relationship and you want it to be the perfect item for your partner. Engagement ring styles range from the classic solitaire, three-stone or halo settings through to the unique coloured stone settings, and getting engaged is your chance to show your partner how much you have thought about their own unique style.
What Kinds of Engagement Rings Are There?
Engagement rings range widely in style and price. You can spend tens of thousands of dollars on diamonds and gold, or a few hundred on silver and beautiful coloured stones. Your choices are wide-ranging, and what you choose needs to suit your partner’s style and lifestyle.
Metals Used in Engagement Rings NZ
Most people choose 18ct gold for their engagement ring. 18ct yellow gold is 75% pure gold, has a rich yellow colour, and is easily malleable into beautiful designs. It is very durable and less brittle than 9ct yellow gold and will hold up well to the everyday wear that most engagement rings see. 18ct white gold is also 75% pure gold, but it is alloyed with platinum or palladium as well as copper and silver, giving it a pale colour which is often enhanced with rhodium plating. 18ct white gold is just as durable as 18ct yellow gold, but it needs replating with rhodium every 2-3 years to keep its beautiful white colour. 18ct rose gold is again 75% pure gold, this time with a higher proportion of copper, usually 20%, in its alloy.
Another common metal people choose for engagement rings is platinum. Platinum is a precious metal that is more prone to scratching than 18ct gold, but it is more rigid, so it makes very secure settings for precious stones such as diamonds. It is also denser, and therefore heavier, than 18ct gold. Its surface can be mirror-polished to a brilliant white finish, unlike white gold, which needs rhodium plating to achieve that brilliant whiteness and needs re-plating every 2-3 years.
A less popular choice in engagement rings is sterling silver, which is 92.5% pure silver alloyed with copper. It is not a good choice for rings not worn regularly, as it is prone to tarnishing, but if a sterling silver ring gets daily wear it will not tarnish as much. Sterling silver is a good choice if you are budget-conscious, but it is less durable than 9ct or 18ct gold or platinum.
Other materials sometimes used for engagement rings include stainless steel, titanium, carbon fibre, tungsten carbide, and even soft silicon. Rings made of these materials are usually given to people who work with their hands a lot and want something more durable than precious metals.
Stones Used in Engagement Rings NZ
The classic stone for an engagement ring is the diamond. The most common cut is the round brilliant, although ovals, princess (square) cut, and emerald cut are also quite popular. Sometimes they are presented as single solitaires, sometimes they are accented with shoulder diamonds or halos, or sometimes channel or shot set into the precious metal.
One reason that diamonds are so popular in engagement rings is that they are very hard and durable. They rate at a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, which makes them the most scratch-resistant stone on Earth. This makes them uniquely suitable to jewellery making, and especially to jewellery that gets every day wear like engagement rings.
Other stones that are popular for engagement rings are the hardwearing ruby and sapphire. These stones are both varieties of the mineral corundum, which is naturally colourless but takes on the beautiful red hues of ruby with the inclusion of chromium, or the blues of typical sapphires with the inclusion of titanium and iron. Sapphires also come in other colours such as pink, purple, yellow, orange, green, and even the fancy ‘parti’ or colour changing sapphire.
Corundums (rubies and sapphires) are the third hardest mineral on Earth (after diamond and moissanite) and score a 9 on the Mohs hardness scale. This makes them a good choice for engagement rings, and the wide variety of colours found in sapphires means that there is a corundum for almost every taste.
At an 8 on the Mohs scale, topaz is a somewhat suitable choice for engagement rings, particularly if it is set carefully in a bezel or rubover setting where it is less likely to be damaged. Most other precious and semi-precious stones are not suitable for the everyday wear of engagement rings, as the are too soft and easily scratched or shattered.
The History of Engagement Rings
The first known diamond engagement ring was commissioned by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477, to give to his betrothed, Mary of Burgundy. This started a trend in the noble courts of Europe, and the gifting of diamonds to loved ones became more common.
In the 1930s, the cost of diamonds collapsed due the Great Depression and the De Beers Company, who control most of South Africa’s diamond production, realised that diamond engagement rings were going out of fashion with younger people. De Beers began an advertising campaign in 1939 emphasising the “4 Cs” of diamonds - cut, colour, clarity, and carat. In 1947, they introduced the slogan “a diamond is forever”, and with savvy marketing, managed to all but persuade consumers that a diamond engagement ring was indispensable.
While historically engagement rings were given to women by men, and were not expected to be returned if the engagement was broken off, in more recent times there has been a trend of men getting engagement rings complementary to their partner’s.
Traditionally, engagement rings in NZ are worn on the left hand, with the wedding band added to the left ring finger later. This means that, when choosing an engagement band, the design of the wedding band should be kept in mind so that the two can match together well.
Choosing an Engagement Ring NZ
When it comes to choosing an engagement ring in NZ, you have three main approaches. You can go online and order something you like, you can go into a jeweller and buy something off the shelf, or you can get something made to order from a jeweller that specialises in custom engagement rings. Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages.
Buying an engagement ring online has the advantage of good pricing, but the reason for this cheaper pricing is often because the ring is unethically made using underpaid labour, or made of materials or techniques that are not as high-quality as you would find in jewellery stores in New Zealand. A good option if you find something you like online but do not want to take the risk of receiving a sub-par item is to take some images of the item you like to a manufacturing jeweller and ask them if they can make something similar or inspired by the design you have found.
Buying something off the shelf from a New Zealand jeweller has the advantage of being sure of what you are buying, and the pricing is usually quite reasonable.
Getting something made to order is often the most expensive option, but the greatest advantage of this method is that you work with the manufacturing jeweller to create exactly the ring you have in mind. Your jeweller will sketch out the design, work with you to make sure it’s what you want, and then create it. Handmade rings like this are usually of the very highest quality.