The Rise of the Man-gagement Ring



People are wondering: Why should only women get engagement jewelry?

It’s not surprising that D&H Sustainable Jewelers does a bang-up business in male engagement rings; the San Francisco store caters to what owner Shawn Higgins calls “a very liberally minded clientele.” But what struck him is demand not just from same-sex couples, but from straight ones as well.

“We are in a very metrosexual area of the United States,” he says. “A lot of times, the guys say, ‘Don’t I get something?’ They want people to know they’re engaged.”

Indeed, when people talk about male engagement rings, the discussion centers not on traditional industry buzzwords like beauty or rarity, but on a word not often heard in jewelry circles: equality. The thinking goes: In this modern age, with both genders in the workforce, why should only one get a ring?

Solid logic—but reason doesn’t always rule when you’re talking about love and marriage. By most measures, the male engagement ring trend has not yet taken off. (It may be stretching it to even dub it a trend.) A 2011 XO Group survey found that only 5 percent of men currently wear an engagement ring.

Still, that’s higher than the industry would expect—and another survey points to a far larger potential market: 17 percent of men said they’d be willing to wear what the survey called a “man-gagement ring,” according to The Knot and Men’s Health. (Man-gagement is one of those invented gender-specific compound words like bromance and murse—aka the male purse.)

A handful of jewelers also have noticed growing interest. Santa Barbara, Calif., private jeweler Calla Gold says many engaged women see it as a way to brand their man as off the market. “There are certain careers where guys are more likely to get hit on,” she explains. “Waiter, ski instructor, bartender—any field where there are a lot of young women around. And with engagements lasting longer, women say, ‘Why should women wear their engagement ring and yet the man walks around with naked fingers?’?”

She adds that those couples usually use the ring as both engagement and marriage band—so the man essentially gets his wedding ring early.

Glen Ballard, owner of Ballard & Ballard in Fountain Valley, Calif., says he has sold a few male engagement rings, generally when the woman proposes. But once the man accepts, he adds, “we see him in here [to buy the woman’s ring] real quick.”

Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images
After David Otunga proposed to her on her birthday, Jennifer Hudson proposed right back—on his birthday. His gift: a custom Neil Lane platinum and diamond band.

Another private jeweler, Fort Mills, S.C.–based Sheila Guritz, bought an engagement ring for her husband when she proposed to him 10 years ago. (He was “taking too long,” she says.) She finds that when she mentions the idea to clients, they are receptive in “seven out of 10” cases.

“I don’t know if they get inspired [by my story], or they just think it’s a good idea,” she says. “It’s not for everyone, but I think there is a niche for it.” Plus, there’s the growing number of same-sex marriages, now legal in six states and the District of Columbia. Notes Gold: “When I mention the concept of a man-gagement ring to my male gay couples, they really like it.”

Even celebrities have jumped on this not-quite-bandwagon. Designer Marc Jacobs reportedly bought one before his same-sex marriage in April 2010. In January, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson boasted about giving a ring to her fiancé, David Otunga. “He would complain that he didn’t have an engagement ring,” she said on CBS’ The Talk. “[He’d say], ‘You have a ring. How they gonna know I’m taken?’?” When singer Michael Bublé received pre-wedding bling from his Argentine fiancée, he proudly showed it off to the press. In Argentina, the man “also wears the engagement ring,” he told London’s Daily Mail in August 2010. “That’s what she tells me anyway.”

Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Singer Michael Bublé isn’t afraid to show off his man-gagement ring.

It’s true that in some areas of Latin America, Scandinavia, and Spain, the sexes often swap engagement tokens. But lately the tradition has taken hold in other countries. H.Samuel—the United Kingdom’s largest jeweler—has been stocking a male engagement band, Tioro, since 2009.

Spokeswoman Faye Lovenbury says the chain decided to introduce the product after a survey showed that two-thirds of customers think that a woman proposing to a man is a good idea. She says the category has been “strong, steady, and constant,” with sales up 10 percent over 2011.

Yet in the United States, the industry has never considered the idea much more than a curiosity. Even on the Internet, male engagement rings can be tough to find: Ross-Simons has a page devoted to them but doesn’t do much business in them, says vice president of marketing Larry Davis; Cartier has a small selection. Among major jewelers, that’s about it. 

Perhaps the industry fears running into a wall of skepticism. Some ­consumers already see female engagement rings as a forced purchase. Nearly every article and online discussion of man-gagement rings includes some variation of this comment, seen on About.com: “This is just a ploy from the jewelry industry to encourage women to buy more jewelry.”

Ironically, at least in the United States, jewelers have barely touched the concept. (The closest anyone can remember is the “engagement watch,” meant to be passed down to the firstborn son. Some trade veterans, like Robert Hough, sales manager for Scarsdale, N.Y.–based D’Errico Jewelry, say this used to be somewhat common, but mostly died out by the 1980s.)

A precedent does exist where the industry convinced men to adopt a new kind of jewelry. According to Vicki Howard, a marriage historian and author of Brides, Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition, most men didn’t wear wedding rings prior to World War II. After the war, however, a majority of men started sporting them.

What changed? The defunct Jewelry Industry Publicity Board advertised the trend, and celebrities began adopting it (which trade efforts highlighted). For instance, when Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall wed, the press pointed out their “dual ring” ceremony. 

Howard thinks this worked because attitudes shifted. After the war, she says, “there was more acceptance of men and women being in an equal type of relationship. Yes, the jewelry industry invents these trends. But the consumer has to be receptive. It has to fit the norms of the time.”

And in fact, past attempts to tout male engagement rings failed for just that reason. Researching her book, Howard looked at old issues of JCK’s predecessor—the Jewelers Circular—and found the industry trying to popularize the idea of male engagement rings in the 1920s.

“The ads used words like he-man and had names like the Stag to fight the idea that rings are for women,” she says. “But the culture didn’t support the unstated equality [in] a mutual exchange in engagement rings.”

Of course, the idea fits far more today—even if consumers or ­jewelers have yet to fully embrace it. “It’s still a small percentage compared to female engagement rings,” says Ballard. “But I think it will become more common. It’s the attitude of, ‘Why not? I don’t have to go with tradition anymore.’ ”