We did it.
My boyfriend and I — we put down a deposit for our executive condominium flat in Singapore under the fiancé/fiancée scheme, which means we are to be wed when receiving the keys.
That got me thinking: does this mean we are officially engaged? If getting this flat together in accordance with Singapore law requires us to get married — and we did talk through the commitment aspect (I’m spontaneous but not that spontaneous), then what is the point of having a diamond ring?
Synonymous with official declarations of wedding engagements, that I realised people would ask if my boyfriend has gotten one yet and proposed. I too immediately questioned if I wanted or should get one.
Diamond rings soared in popularity thanks to a De Beers advertising campaign in 1947, which coined the famous phrase, “a diamond is forever.” It shaped public perception that diamonds last for life and more. Hollywood stars — the best known influencers of their day — were given diamond rings to wear, reinforcing the idea that it symbolizes indestructible love.
My boyfriend would say that he wants to get one for me. It’d be nice. But I’m not sure it means as much to me as getting nice furniture, as the memory of a holiday or as having a financial safety net. I’m also the irresponsible child who lost an earring over the weekend and can’t for the life of me find the Tiffany & Co key-shaped necklace I got for my 21st birthday (sorry mum and dad).
In the spirit of gender equality, I once toyed with the idea of getting his and her engagement gifts: a trip to South America for him and whatever he wants to get for me. But after putting down such a hefty deposit, I didn’t feel inclined to splurge more.
It’s a perspective 30-year-old educator Yanni and her husband shared when they chose to put the money into their new home and renovation, which they found to be more practical and meaningful. “We see jewellery as ornamental if that makes sense and don’t even wear our wedding bands that much,” she says. He did however propose — using their wedding bands.
It’s true that engagement rings are symbolic, so it boils down to what they mean to you. Universally known to represent devotion and commitment, it’s apparent that couples are also asking themselves what is most meaningful to them and better suits their lifestyle.
31-year-old Leena found the point of getting an engagement ring moot, knowing that she doesn’t usually wear jewellery and that she and her husband would already have wedding bands. Instead, they opted for engagement watches. “My husband is into watches and when he suggested getting a pair of engagement watches instead, it made sense to us that he could get a watch he wanted and they made timeless gifts,” she explains.
Watches do make for timeless investment pieces and are elegant yet functional. Global fashion shopping platform Lyst has revealed in its Wedding 2021 Report that there has been a 42 per cent rise in searches for ‘couple watches’ ‘engagement watches’ and ‘wedding watches’. Luxury watches also earn brownie points for being able to withstand the test of time – being passed down from one generation to the next as a family heirloom.
The watches Leena and her husband bought have a classic, minimalist design inspired by Bauhaus aesthetics. With silver hands against a champagne dial, it also has decentralised sub-seconds with an orange hand. “A big reason why we went for this brand in particular was the in-house mechanical movement, and the fact that they had mechanical watches in 33mm, which suits smaller wrists like mine,” says Leena.
Watches are also pretty romantic for representing the gift of time, which is a great luxury.
For 29-year-old Andria who works in the oil and gas industry, she and her husband went down the traditional path in getting a gold and silver engagement ring to symbolize their union — the twin elements a nod to their eastern and western cultural backgrounds. But where they strayed from convention was tattooing their wedding bands.
“My husband works in the medical field, which means long hours in the operating theatre and not being able to wear rings on a daily basis. So we decided quickly on tattooing wedding bands,” says Andria. “Design-wise, we didn’t want anything which could be easily deciphered by strangers. So we decided on each other’s initials in Morse code.” Its permanence meant a lot to the couple for wedding bands symbolize a lifetime commitment.
“It’s a plus that they will never go missing and we can never remove them, whether accidentally or intentionally. Unless one is willing to go through the pain again,” she jokes.
American songwriter, actor, playwright and filmmaker Lin-Manuel Miranda also celebrated his lifelong commitment to his wife Vanessa by getting a tattoo on his ring finger on their seventh anniversary.
Wanting a degree of ambiguity to strangers and more meaning for the wearer is a sentiment echoed by 32-year-old, Melody who works in marketing and says she doesn’t like how diamond rings are too obvious in signalling your marital status to the world. Currently single, she’d prefer a ruby gemstone given the choice some day. She also doesn’t believe a diamond ring is worth its retail value.
“Beyond the price tag of a ring, we see that couples now care a great deal about weaving meaning into their engagement ring and telling a story with it, so they’re much more open to alternatives. In fact, many proactively seek out unique gemstones because they prefer to have something more unique and specific to them over a traditional round diamond ring for example.” says Amanda Ang, founder of August Bespoke, who sheds light on why sapphires and morganites have become increasingly popular in the last couple of years.
“Sapphires are very durable gemstones with a Moh’s hardness of nine so they do not scratch easily, and they come in all the colours of the rainbow, which makes them very versatile and able to add a great deal of character to unique ring designs,” explains Amanda. Morganites on the other hand are known as the gem of love and compassion – said to connect us to our heart chakra. Popular among anyone who likes a soft, feminine look, their pastel hues ranging from peach to pink.
Clarence Yee, co-founder of GIOIA Fine Jewellery has also noticed that some clients find diamonds to be too mainstream and what most of their friends are getting. If the engagement ring is going to be an heirloom piece of jewellery for generations to come, it’s easy to see why you’d want something that feels more true and unique to you.
Amanda says she reckons diamonds still make up about 70 per cent of the engagement ring demand but within that segment, customers aren’t just going for the traditional round brilliant diamond cut, as Emerald cuts, Ovals and Cushions are picking up in popularity. Increasingly more couples are going through the design process together too – not just to avoid “getting it wrong” but to share the experience in creating something special together.
Ultimately, if engagements are to symbolise the start of creating something special together, how you want to commemorate the occasion is up to you.
Engagements are to be a joyous occasion. For some couples, to do without an engagement ring feels like no loss, as there are other more meaningful ways to commemorate the start of a life together. An influencing factor could be whether one values experiences or physical gifts, and what they make of personal interests and social convention.
To one, there could be sentimental value in receiving a gummy bear ring or one handmade out of recycled wire. To others, a family heirloom could take the shape of a Rolex watch or designer artwork. For some, there could very well still be a place in their hearts for a classic ring. And there are those among us working towards an anniversary upgrade – something bigger and sparkly perhaps. You do you.