How Much Should I Spend on an Engagement Ring

How Much Should I Spend on an Engagement Ring

Written by Harriet Kelsall on 14 November 2014

Setting a price tag based on how much you love your partner might seem rather tacky.

However, you are also about to purchase something that will be a permanent symbol of the most important relationship of your life, so you do want to make this one of the most beautiful gifts you’ve ever presented to your special someone. 

Also, even if your partner isn’t that financially motivated, you don’t want to spend an amount that might make her feel uncomfortable with comparisons or personal security.  Or maybe you don’t want her dad to think you haven’t spent enough! There are lots of reasons that people like to know what others usually spend on engagement rings.

According to a survey in Autumn 2014 by Brides Magazine, the average UK spend on an engagement ring is just under £2500.  Is that the really the right kind of amount to spend?

At my company - Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery - we find that most of our customers spend between £3000-£12,000 on their bespoke engagement rings, we also make many beautiful bespoke rings for happy customers for more like £1000 and for well over £12,000 too.  So the amount that people spend can really vary.  So how did they decide what is right for them?

You've probably heard quite a few opinions on how much somebody should spend on their engagement ring.  Some people say 'it doesn't matter - it's the symbol of commitment that counts', some say 'one month's salary', others say 'two months salary' or 'three months salary' or 'as much as you can afford' .  What with all this talk about salaries, is that supposed to be gross or net?

In February 2009, the Daily Mail’s much quoted article suggested that somebody with marriage on mind “should” be looking to spend between one and three months’ salary on their engagement ring.  One of the reasons is that is acts as an honest gesture of commitment and loyalty to his soon-to-be partner.  So pretenders need not apply.

Whilst the most commonly quoted rule of spending a traditional two months’ salary on the perfect engagement ring might work for you, it might also interest you to know that this ‘rule’ was actually first started by De Beers in an advertising campaign during the 1920s to try to get people to spend more money! 

So talking of tradition, where does this tradition of a financial commitment in the form or a ring originate from?

The exact origins of the history of an engagement ring are unclear but various different ancient races had some kind of ring wearing tradition. The Egyptians wore some kind of betrothal or wedding rings. I have read that this was worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because it was thought that the 'vein of love' ran from this finger directly to the heart. I find this slightly hard to believe actually because I think that the linking of the heart to the feeling of love is a relatively modern concept and other generations have linked all sorts of other parts of the body to love (eg even the kidneys!). But perhaps the Egyptians thought that a vein ran from the fourth finger of the left hand to whatever bodily organ they link to love at that time!

The Romans also wore betrothal rings. Originally made of iron to signify strength and permanence, these gradually began to be made of gold perhaps with carving or engraving on them – becoming more ornate.

In 860 Pope Nicolas I decreed that a ring was a requirement to signify betrothal or engagement and it was also stipulated that it should be a gold ring - perhaps this, again, was to do with the financial commitment being made by the groom. Since this time, the betrothal ring became also a valuable ring. It was then (as now) clearly seen as a ring that represented commitment and it was felt that for a man, this commitment had to be financial in order to be taken seriously.

Apparently in 1477, a love-struck Austrian, Archduke Maximilian, came up with a gem of an idea: why not give Mary of Burgundy a diamond ring to celebrate their forthcoming engagement? He placed it on the third finger of her left hand.  Thus began the idea of using a diamond ring as a betrothal ring.  But at that time diamonds were much more rare and valuable even than they are today.

It wasn’t until De Beers came on the scene many centuries later and started several larger scale diamond mines that the aspiration for many people to have diamond rings could become a reality for many more people.

Anyway, I think we can conclude that historically, an engagement ring is meant to represent a financial commitment to the partnership rather than just be a symbol of intent.  We can see that looking back in time, you were supposed to put a significant amount of money into the ring so that you were financially committed to follow through on your promise of betrothal.

My own view is that I think is that you don't necessarily have to spend a massive amount of money on an engagement ring. You don't have to spend as much as 2 months’ salary if you really shouldn't. Obviously if you can, you should, but often people are also saving for a house deposit, have large mortgage payments or have other financial priorities as a couple.  If these priorities are important to both parts of the couple then that is fair enough.  However, I also don't think that a proposer should hedge his bets because they want to buy themselves a new flasher car either.  And I don’t think that the price of a winter coat is enough to spend – the purchase has to really 'mean something' financially and be a proper commitment to the bride. I think that the purchase of an engagement ring has to (slightly) 'hurt' the wallet in order to make sure that you really mean it.

That said, this doesn't mean that you have to spend thousands of pounds.  As I mentioned earlier, we have made many bespoke engagement for students or people on very low incomes where they have spent maybe less than £500 which may not sound like a huge amount for some people but this amount wasn't easy for them to afford – and so for them, this was certainly enough to spend. But to them, that was an amount of money that represented a real financial as well as emotional commitment.

I had a customer a couple of years ago who was struggling to justify how much he was about to spend on his engagement ring but then he realised he had spent more than our quote on a new set of hub-caps for his sports car a couple of months earlier so quickly realised that maybe he should stretch to more than that for such an important symbol of their partnership that was going to last a lot longer than his new wheels!

These days you can buy low quality engagement rings or rings made from inexpensive materials very cheaply. A while back the press asked me to comment on the radio about a line of engagement rings that a well know high street retailer had brought out costing £18.  Is that enough to spend, they asked?

I'm a great believer in the symbolism behind an engagement ring and all my designers love telling your love stories in the form of a bespoke engagement ring.  Being a jeweller, it may surprise you that I don't think you should over spend on an engagement ring and put yourself into a worrying financial position.

However, my answer (to the horror of the but-it-is-only-the-thought-that-counts brigade) was that no - £18 is not definitely enough to spend'.  In my opinion an £18 ring doesn't say 'commitment' any more than a meal for 2 or a small bunch of flowers or anything else that you can afford for just £18.

But even if you have a generous £50,000 budget you still want value for money - right?  Please don’t think that bespoke jewellery doesn’t represent good value because it really does.  I know I *would* say this, but I think there is also nothing more romantic than getting a bespoke engagement ring made, whatever your budget. Designing in little personal details that show you really care is as much an indication of commitment as flashing your wallet around. For example the guy who wanted us to incorporate the little doodles that she did on her phone pad into the shoulders of the ring, or the lady who wanted her engagement ring to her partner to be inspired by the colour of their eyes to us.

I think that it is not only about how much you should spend but also about how you spend it.  Even if you have a relatively modest budget of £1000 I think you are much better off getting a really good quality bespoke ring made with low key gemstone/a or a nice semi-precious gemstone with that budget rather than buying a cheap and low quality engagement ring from the high street.  Or alternatively perhaps recycling some family gold or/and gemstones that you may be able to beg from your gran and take to a good bespoke jeweller to make into something new with.  The chances are that a brand new gold and diamond ring from a chain jewellers at that kind of price is quite likely to have very very low quality stones in it which won't sparkle and that the ring itself will be very light in gold content and construction such that it may not stay together until the wedding (I know this sounds harsh but we see this all the time and get customers coming to us who originally bought like that and then bring their broken ring to us to get re-made from scratch designed with extra metal and designed and made to last).

But even if you are on a relatively tight budget, a bespoke ring can also be a great way to be super-romantic without spending thousands of pounds.  We can design meaning and symbolism that is personal to you into a special one off ring to suit your budget.  For example the couple that chose a silver ring with little dashes and dots around it to represent a love message in runes (they were Viking enthusiasts, I should add!).  Yes, we spend much or our time on larger budget rings but this doesn’t mean that we won’t give you the same service with materials tailored to your own brief and budget.

Lots of people are starting to tell their partner-to-be their budget and go ring shopping together – let’s face it, if she has a dream ring in mind, then you’ll win brownie points by allowing her to pick out her perfect ring and you get keep your burning wallet intact!

With bespoke rings, many couples really enjoy the process of designing the rings from scratch together (and according to their budget).  So you can always propose with our sketches in a beautiful presentation box or with a lovely gemstone that we have sourced for them, explaining that they want their partner to be involved in the design to check it is absolutely perfect for both of them.  This is quite good as it shows that you have done some thinking and some planning but still lets your partner be involved in the actual design process.  So there are always lots of options so that we can find the right answer for you.

However do be careful if you decide to propose with a gemstone. Be very careful what you buy online or abroad – you will only get what you pay for and a bargain always has a catch that you may not have the experience to understand (like that a treatment method may have been used to enhance the stone and the price).  Whatever people trying to sell you their diamonds tell you, you really can’t be sure that a diamond will be good based just on its quality specifications online.  One G VS diamond and another can be worlds apart with one having great brilliance, fire and scintillation and the other looking dull and flat.  Please come to an expert instead.  We source options from our customers from our many gemstone traders based all over the place and can hold your hand and make sure we choose the right gemstone for you.  Also remember that the ring itself can cost a high proportion of your budget too – so don’t spend your whole budget on just the gemstone forgetting that the platinum and shoulder diamonds we’ll be using for you might cost well over £1000 too.

But in conclusion, how much you spend on your engagement ring is, of course, down to your personal preferences, your budget and your future plans.  But do make sure it is an amount that really means something to you without bankrupting yourself! And good luck popping the question!

Find out more about the magic of a bespoke engagement ring.