Gay Marriage, Straight Marriage: As the Institution Changes, So Does the Bling

A stack of rings from Tiffany & Co. One of each please! Photo: Tiffany & Co.

How many “rock shots” hit your Facebook feed each day? And how many Instagram pics do you think are hashtagged #shesaidyes? (The answer is 158,218.)  The name of the social media game is to stand out, so it follows that an increasing number of couples are eschewing traditional engagement ring ideals in favor of something more one-of-a-kind.

Couples (because let’s be real, how many guys are doing this themselves?) can choose from far more than a little blue box these days. Rings topped with colored gemstones, like sapphires or rubies, rose gold settings, and conflict-free or ethically mined options are the new norm. “Couples are looking to find stones as unique as their relationship,” said Melissa Joy Manning, a New York-based jewelry designer who specializes in using ethical, Green Certified Practices. “No two commitments are ever the same, so why should the stone be?”

Catbird, the Brooklyn-based jewelry store responsible for ushering in the midi-ring craze, recently opened their Wedding Annex, devoted solely to their bridal collections. “We have the reputation for being the place for the ‘non-traditional bride,’” Rachel Thames, Catbird’s General Manager said. Some of the brand’s best sellers include a rose-cut black diamond, surrounded by smaller white diamonds, set in a simple yellow-gold band. “We’re seeing a lot of requests for colored stones,” Thames said. Which would explain why the Lexie ring, a delicate emerald flanked by two small diamonds, is another one of the brand’s biggest hits.

One of Catbird’s most popular engagement rings.

Of course, a demographic change in partnerships has also driven designers to shake up their wedding game. With 70 percent of gay couples now residing in states that allow gay marriage, there’s a whole new market for bridal jewelry. Manning’s first foray into bridal was 10 years ago when she made commitment bands for her friends John and Craven, who weren’t able to wed in their home-state of California. “Incredibly honored, I created the heavy-weight, hammered bands we still feature today,” she said.  

Rony Tennenbaum, who has been in the jewelry business for over two decades, has spent the last seven years creating collections for LGBTQ couples. “There were never words such as ‘engagement’ or ‘marriage’ that were relevant to this community,” he said. “When you are talking about a man buying a ring for a man, or a woman for a woman, you are talking about new dynamics, and in turn new styles.”

Tennenbaum’s line is sophisticated and contemporary, offering everything from matching textured bands to rings that artfully incorporate the equality symbol, inlaid with diamonds, of course. For Tennenbaum, the progression of wedding styles speaks to the changes we are making as a society: the acceptance of individuality and personal choice.

Tiffany & Co.’s Will You campaign. 

Mainstream jewelry companies, like Tiffany & Co., aren’t getting left behind. Their Will You? campaign features a handsome gay couple strolling down a city block. “Although the path to love has taken new turns, the symbol of that commitment, a ring, is still important,” said a spokesperson for the storied brand. And so they offer a multitude of bridal styles, including diamond-encrusted stacking bands and a rose-gold wedding set “for those seeking a sophisticated alternative to traditional engagement rings and wedding bands.” The ad also features an image of a couple holding their child after what appears to be their wedding ceremony –talk about progress!

Tiffany’s namesake setting—a raised solitaire set high above the band—remains popular, but lower profile settings are also making a comeback. “The low profile suits the practical woman who doesn’t want a huge rock getting caught on her clothes,” said Jared Klusner, owner of Erstwhile Jewelry, a company specializing in antique and vintage rings.  

If the look of couples is changing, so too is the path to their proposal. “In our retail store, around 75 percent of the rings we sell are to couples shopping together,” Manning said. For Klusner, despite his clients’ propensity for vintage styles, the couples themselves are thoroughly modern. “Women are becoming much more involved in choosing their ring,” he said. “Couples seem more pragmatic about their purchases.”  

Manning put it best when she called tradition a “fluid concept.” The engagement ring is becoming a symbol of not just love and commitment, but a couple’s shared taste and personal philosophy and if that’s not progress, what is?