Weddings might be steeped in tradition, but increasingly there’s room to do your own thing. From dress code to decorum and every detail in between, Vogue’s Wedding Editor, Alex Macon, is here to consult the experts on your most pressing matrimonial worries and wonderings. DM us your questions on the Vogue Weddings Instagram.
I’m writing because my longtime live-in boyfriend is visiting his parents and just texted me pics of his grandmother’s ring. To be honest, it’s not what I expected, and I’m not sure it’s right for me. It could be pretty once reset, but I can’t tell for sure. It’s apparently 200 years old; she was his great great grandmother or maybe great grandmother; either way, it’s very sentimental. Is it okay for me to bring up potentially redesigning it, or should I try to steer my boyfriend away from it altogether? I don’t want to upset the family, but I also don’t want to wear a ring I don’t like. What should I do?
Sizing It Up in Cincinnati
It’s the age-old story: Boy meets girl or boy meets boy or girl meets girl. They fall in love, and when it comes time to propose, someone has a family ring. From there, more often then not, things can become complicated. Why? Because sharing an engagement ring can feel a lot like trying to share a bra—it’s personal, and one size doesn’t fit all.
“We had a bride who absolutely hated her family ring, and there was no pleasing her,” Rhett Outten, one of the owners of Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston, South Carolina, remembers. “She was pleasant, but just not going wear it. She was also petrified about potentially disappointing her future mother-in-law who had made a huge deal out of passing it down. My sister, exhausted from trying to help, finally said, ‘Maybe you should call this your ‘Frances ring’ and only wear it when you see Frances and pick out something you love that suits you!’ Frances was the matriarch’s name who had offered the ring. The couple lived out of town, so that’s what she did! She only wears that ring when her mother-in-law visits!”
The possibilities run the gamut, says Outten, whose family-owned and operated store has been around for over a century. “We live in Charleston where antiques reign supreme and old school charm is extreme!” she says. “Some of the old guard here have been holding on to thread bare linens and family silver for literally 300 years, so occasionally a ring is just too fragile to be worn every day.” But more often then not, Outten—who has seen it all when it comes to proposals—can figure out a way to make it work.
Sometimes it isn’t just the ring, but a compilation of stones that are being passed down. “People come in with the whole darn jewelry box full of itty bitty things to try and create an engagement ring!” she says. In those instances, a jeweler like Single Stone in Los Angeles can create a lovely cobblestone ring with all of the shapes and colors of the small diamonds being brought together in a cluster setting, which can create a huge impact.
Other times, mothers-in-law to-be are almost a little too excited to bring in the family ring for their son, so they can finally upgrade to a large modern stone now that they’re passing on an old gem. “We had a situation where the ring was given and the bride adored it, but the groom’s sister was devastated because she loved that ring and thought it should be hers!” Outten remembers. “After some drama, we were able to duplicate it exactly and now the sister-in-laws have matching rings!”
“In another situation, a groom-to-be came in to the store with a large stone that his grandmother had had locked away in a safety deposit box only to test it and realize it wasn’t real!” Outten says. “He was petrified to tell her, and when he finally did she said, ‘Your father’s side of the family were all crooks and liars, and I’m not surprised!”
Best case scenario: The proposer reaches out to a trusted jeweler ahead of popping the question. “Usually when asking with a family ring, the proposer will want us to check the ring beforehand,” Outten says. “We ask the same questions we might ask when selling a new engagement ring: ‘Do you have an idea of what she wants?’ ‘Does she wear white or yellow gold?’ ‘Does she have a Pinterest page?’ ‘Let’s look at it and get some ideas!’”
And Sizing, know you’re not alone in worrying the family heirloom won’t fit. Maybe it’s because of reality TV, or Instagram, many of today’s brides are looking for a ring that’s bigger than the designs of yesteryear. “Often the family stone is simply too small for today’s bride, and we incorporate it into a three across design—using the inherited diamond as a side stone,” Outten says. “Sometimes we even engrave a small symbol on the inside to note which stone it is. Or we surround it with a row or two of diamonds to give it a bigger look.” Lately, Outten has also seen a few marquise or oval stones passed down. “Think yellow gold solitaire setting from the 80s, often worn with a jacket,” she says. Turning these so that they’re east-west oriented and circling them in a modern way with extra diamonds is her solve.
“If the recipient is unhappy, the couple will often come in together, and we work through it,” Outten explains. “But we ultimately have to work with the bride’s taste and needs. The proposer wants her to be happy and most of the time is willing to be part of the process in getting it right.” Still, Outten advises treading carefully. “The family member that has offered the ring being used is usually the person who needs to be handled with kid gloves!”
The bottom line is there are a few solutions—and as long as what’s being offered is done with love and good faith, and you actually want to get married, say ‘yes’ and then carefully suggest you collaborate with a jeweler to make it your own. “Our job is to be positive and helpful,” Outten notes. “We play the role of fixer and try to offer immediate ideas that will bring a resolution to the problem. Sometimes it’s as easy as showing a bride-to-be what a treasure she has. Sometimes it’s starting over. Sometimes it’s just adding bands that are creative and can fix the aesthetic!” There is almost always an answer all parties will be happy with, and more often than not, if you work with someone you trust, you’ll be able to uncover that diamond in the rough.
Originally Appeared on Vogue