Engagement rings have long been a symbolic and central part of our society, a tradition at the heart of relationships for hundreds of years.
For many years, however, this pre-marital standard was arguably seen as a mark of ownership, claiming the woman as the man’s belonging until the wedding day. These days, of course, engagement rings are not a symbol of ownership, but rather a symbol of promise, love and tradition.
But our attitude to tradition is changing, and there has been a tangible shift in recent years. Gender roles are evolving, and with them, so are the ways in which more and more people are challenging the norms of marital conventions.
So it comes as even less of a surprise to learn that Poundland has just launched its own engagement rings for men, with a new collection featuring four simple bands. The collection arrives just in time for Bachelor’s Day, which is held every Leap Year on 29 February. The Irish feast day traditionally allowed women to initiate dances and propose to men.
But all gimmicks aside, designers have seen a crucial change in the jewellery market, whereby men are increasingly the recipients of engagement rings. Whether their partner pops the question, or couples decide to jointly commission rings as a symbol of their love and commitment, engagement rings for men seem to have found their place in the industry.
Designer Michelle Oh is just one designer who has seen a rise in commissions. Oh often receives requests from a newly engaged couple to create a ring for the man as a “reciprocal token and gesture of equality post-proposal”, and claims that as such, those pieces become the “man’s symbol for the engagement itself”.
“Of course there is also an entire new market for engagement rings where same sex couples are concerned”, she adds.
Indeed, following the UK’s legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013, the market for men’s engagement rings blew wide open. Demand for male engagement rings has been slowly rising since, and Oh says that ever since the same sex marriage act she has noticed more requests for men’s engagement rings.
“But we have also noticed a general shift in expectation and ideology surrounding the myth of marriage, and who gets to ask the big question”, adds Oh. “Plenty of couples these days get engaged without a ring and then come in to see me for a consultation to have a bespoke one made together, which I think is a lovely collaborative way to mark the occasion”.
Oh also believes that, in general, “we are becoming more equal in how we view our roles in a relationship” and this is coming through in trends for engagement and wedding rings.
Whilst ideas of traditions and gender norms are undoubtedly changing in our society, popular culture could also play its part in this rising trend. Michael Bublé was spotted with an adorned ring finger in the lead up to his marriage with Luisana Lopilato, whilst Ed Sheeran made waves when he first appeared with an engagement ring at the 2019 Brit awards.
When asked by ITV about the ring, Sheeran simply said: “I never saw why men didn’t wear engagement rings, it’s the same commitment either way. Cherry [Sheeran’s fiancée] made it for me herself out of silver clay and I really like it.”
Upon observation, Sheeran’s ring appears understated and masculine in design. Oh says the designs behind male engagement rings often focus on the “quality of finishing” and “meaning behind the design” as opposed to the use of particular gemstones.
She adds: “Bands featuring hand engraved patterns, or hidden details such as inscriptions to the inside of the ring or even a hidden stone set to the inner ring, are all popular themes whenever we’ve been asked to create an engagement ring for men. We can do a lot with a band without having to create a design that feels too ornate or fussy.”
Taylor and Heart designer Kate Earlam has also seen a rise in commissions for the trend, though her designs “tend to have a geometric design with angular cut diamonds such as; emeralds, asscher and princess”. Designer Lilia Nash, meanwhile, said designs such as black diamond frosted bands were typically commissioned by women for their partners.
When asked if they believe that men’s engagement rings will become more widespread in the jewellery industry, designers tend to agree that it would. “As traditions on weddings are evolving, from surnames to venues, we foresee men’s engagement rings certainly becoming more widespread” says Earlam. “Though it won’t happen overnight,” adds Michelle.
The engagement ring is so richly steeped in tradition, after all. “People like tradition because it is often part of what makes the ceremony of marriage feel more authentic and absolute” says Oh, “but equally, I think with time and shifting attitudes we may see new traditions form.”