Blush and Bashful: You’re a Lesbian and You Want To Buy an Engagement Ring

Engagement rings! There’s so much to say about them! And today, we’re going to get right into it. By far the most common wedding-related question we receive at Autostraddle is some version of HOW THE HECK DO I BUY AN ENGAGEMENT RING OR EVEN START THINKING ABOUT IT so it made sense to me to address that right at the beginning of my lesbian wedding column. Also, if we think about things in a linear fashion, buying an engagement ring is often one of the first steps when it comes to wedding planning and actually getting gay married, so it’s a logical beginning.

two hands, both belonging to white women, show off two gorgeous and unique engagement rings

photo contributed by VENVS

In terms of personal experience, I did not feel equipped to tell anyone how to buy an engagement ring. My ring is one I inherited from my grandma and then gave to my partner to propose to me when she was ready because I couldn’t imagine finding a ring I loved more and it also seemed excellent to not spend any money on the ring if we could help it, and my partner’s ring is the very first one she tried on in the very first antique shop we visited — she declared she loved it, the salesperson declared it was on sale, and I declared I would be buying it immediately. This is not particularly useful advice to the general lesbian population — “inherit a diamond” and “have an easy time at an antique store” is actually extremely useless advice — so I decided to go to the experts.

Luckily, I was able to interview not one but two queer jewelers who specialize in creating and selling gorgeous engagement rings (and other jewelry) to the queer community. The following information is what I learned from talking to Haley Biemiller, founder of VENVS, and Ashley McGinty, founder of Chouette Designs. Each woman founded their jewelry companies after finding the traditional jewelry industry lacking — for Haley, she felt othered during the experience of trying to buy an engagement ring for her wife, and for Ashley, she felt frustrated that she worked with fine jewelry but could never try on the rings she worked with because they didn’t fit her ring size. Both Haley and Ashley are determined to make shopping for engagement rings — and jewelry in general — a more inclusive and positive experience. Here are all their tips for finding your dream engagement ring!

The first step when looking for an engagement ring

Both Haley and Ashley agreed that the number one step when thinking about buying an engagement ring is to talk to your partner! Of course you want to talk about marriage in general, and if that’s a thing you’d like to embark on together, but in a more granular sense you want to understand what kind of ring your partner is looking for and excited about.

Ashley suggests starting a Pinterest board together and taking note if your partner really has their heart set on one specific design. Haley shared that even though the sentiment of the ring is of course important, it can be really disappointing (to both people!) if the ring purchased isn’t something that the person wearing it wanted or can envision themselves wearing. Both jewelers affirmed that there are plenty of ways to keep an element of surprise to the engagement while still checking in about what kind of engagement ring one or both partners want.

For my part, I’ll say that my fiancée and I talked about rings very openly and there was zero element of surprise for either of us when it comes to the actual jewelry, but we both planned surprise proposals for each other that were meaningful and exciting; knowing exactly what our rings would look like as the proposals were happening did nothing to take away from the sentiment of them, and the end result is simply that we both love our rings and have the exact rings we each desired. Ashley suggested that if you’re the kind of person who really wants to surprise your partner and the idea of talking about rings beforehand ruins that for you, you can purchase a very inexpensive but still beautiful piece of CZ (cubic zirconia) jewelry or costume jewelry and use that for the proposal, then once the cat is out of the bag you two can plan together what kind of ring you’ll get. This is also a great idea if you can’t afford a piece of fine jewelry right now but still want to propose — you don’t have to wait until you have “the ring,” you can always propose with one ring now and purchase another one together in the future (that’s actually what my dad did for my mom and I have always found the story very romantic!).

a gold ring with diamonds all around the band and a beautiful square cut blue stone in the center

photo contributed by Chouette Designs

How much does buying an engagement ring cost?

During my research for this piece, I learned that the average American currently spends $6,000 on an engagement ring (and, full disclosure, I was shocked because that price seemed so high to me!). I also learned that the advice to spend X percentage of your paycheck is very dated, and apparently started as a way for women to insure they’d have a certain “security” in case their husbands ever left them, or possibly as a scheme from jewelers to encourage men to spend more money at their stores. Yikes! Very toxic all around.

Both Haley and Ashley emphasized that the most important thing to consider when thinking about your budget for your engagement ring is what makes sense for you and your budget. They both agreed that you do get what you pay for, but also that it’s very possible to get a gorgeous ring for a lot less money than $6,000, and that an engagement ring should never feel like a financial burden. “It’s a big purchase,” Haley said, likening it to a milestone like buying your first car, “but at the same time, I don’t think it should be a daunting ‘how am I going to come up with this money’ kind of thing? It should be comfortable.” She emphasized that buying a ring should be an exciting time, and that the purchase should feel fun and meaningful — to that end, choosing a very, very comfortable budget before you start looking can help make the experience only feel positive.

Haley said many of her clients are in the $1500-$2000 price range, and Ashley said many of her clients are in the $2500-$3000 price range, but both emphasized multiple times that it’s very possible to find a perfect ring for you for less than that. Like anything with a wedding, there’s really just such a giant range — I have one friend who spent $100 on a ring, another friend who spent $800 on a ring, and another friend who spent $10,000 on a diamond. The important thing is to figure out what you can afford (really truly, not in a I-will-go-into-debt-for-this-purchase way) and stick to your budget. I’d recommend not window shopping too much outside of your budget. There was one jeweler who I adored while my fiancée and I were in the pre-engagement phase and all her rings were about $5000 — eventually my partner told me to stop looking at them because we couldn’t spend that much money on a ring, and she was right. I unfollowed the jeweler on Instagram and it made me happier.

two different rings. the one on top is gold with an oval salt and pepper diamond in the center and the one below is gold with two stones side by side, one diamond and one pink stone

photo contributed by VENVS

How to figure out your (and your partner’s!) ring size

Figuring out your ring size is an important part of buying an engagement ring — and if you’re shopping for your partner, figuring out their ring size is obviously even more important! You can order cheap ring sizers online, and if you go into any jewelry store they’ll let you use their rings to find your correct size. If you go to an in person boutique they’ll probably take a bit more time and care to go over it with you, but it’s very easy to do by yourself, so don’t be intimidated. And the best news? Even if you get the size wrong, you can always get the ring resized! It’s true that occasionally with a custom design it can cost a lot to resize a ring (because of labor and changing the shape of the design) but in general, wherever you purchase your ring will allow you a free resizing after purchase, and most jewelers will offer to resize your ring even years after you originally purchased it for a small fee. This information made me feel a lot better when thinking about sizing my own ring (which I’m constantly worried is a little too tight? Or maybe it’s fine? Should it be looser?) so I think it’s important to impart on others as well. When it comes to ring size, you can always change it! Don’t overthink it and don’t stress.

close up of a Black person's hand posing with a gorgeous gold engagement ring with a large sparkly green stone in the center and tons of tiny diamonds surrounding it

photo contributed by Venvs

How to make ethical choices when buying an engagement ring

One of the biggest questions we’ve received from readers is how to shop ethically for an engagement ring! Full disclosure, I thought the answer would be obvious — lab grown diamonds! — but both Haley and Ashley taught me that things are a bit more complicated.

“The most ethical thing you can do is use a recycled piece of jewelry,” Ashley said. “But not everyone has an heirloom piece available!”

So what are some other options?

“It’s a tricky subject,” Haley said. She explained that for the past few years many people have been gravitating toward lab grown diamonds because they’re theoretically more ethical, but it turns out that the carbon footprint of making a lab grown diamond is just as bad for the earth as mining them. At the same time, The RJC (Responsible Jewelry Council) has enacted some heavy regulations on natural diamonds. If a jeweler is buying natural diamonds from an RJC certified vendor, they know they’re being audited 2-3 times a year to make sure all of their practices are ethical — that their workers are being paid fairly, that there’s no corruption going on in these processes. Lab grown diamonds are also heavily regulated, but with the power that goes into creating these stones, you can’t say it’s great for the environment.

If you don’t have an heirloom diamond and still don’t feel great about buying a natural or lab grown diamond, Haley recommends moissanite, which she says is the most ethical of stones. They are all created in the USA, and it doesn’t take as much power and energy to create them.

Ashley shared that with most traditional jewelers, the process of how they find their gemstones is quite “cloak and dagger” (which made me LOL, truly), but there are more jewelers out there now that have made being transparent about their process a part of their business model. For her jewelry, she works with a company called Misfit Diamonds. “They’re big on finding what the rest of the industry would call ‘trash diamonds’,” she said. I asked what trash diamonds meant and she told me those are stones that would traditionally be thrown away (!!!) because they’re not perfect. Apparently salt and pepper diamonds used to make up a big portion of those that are thrown away, but they’ve become very trendy. “Consumers are starting to realize that [‘trash diamonds’] can look really cool and interesting and unique.”

As you can see, the process of buying an ethical engagement ring is not necessarily simple — which is probably why so many of us are wondering about it. I think the information Haley and Ashley shared is a helpful starting point, and then considering your own particulars can help you come to a clearer conclusion. Is it important to you to have a very sparkly ring? Moissanite has major bling factor, and most people can’t even tell they’re not diamonds. Price point might also guide you in this process — Haley told me that whereas a one carat natural diamond would cost between $4000-$6000, a moissanite around the same carat weight would be $600-$800 (and lab grown diamonds would fall somewhere in the middle). It seems to me that choosing a queer jeweler who is transparent about where they source their gemstones is a really good step to take if you’re buying a new ring — then you have the added bonus of supporting a small queer business as well when buying your ring.

two rings. the top one has a white gold band with a rectangle black stone in the center. the bottom one has dark small stones all around the band and a salt and pepper square cut diamond in the center.

photo contributed by VENVS

Advice specifically for queer people looking for an engagement ring

Haley had some practical advice for queer couples that I really loved: “There are really no rules,” she said. She shared that she sometimes meets with queer couples who have internalized the stigma that one person’s ring needs to be more feminine and one person’s ring needs to be more masculine, but that’s not true. “Traditional jewelers will tell you it’s not an engagement ring if it’s not a diamond, or it’s not an engagement ring if you didn’t spend X amount of dollars on it… that’s not true! You don’t have to play by any rulebook.” And Ashley emphasized that for queer couples in particular, finding a jeweler you feel comfortable bringing your whole self to is ideal. “Find someone you vibe with,” she said. “You want to be excited about the ring – it’s representing you, and representing your relationship – the process of buying the ring should be something you’re excited about and something that’s affirming, not just something where you have to settle.”

a gorgeous silver ring with an infinity band and tiny diamonds studded in between the woven strands of metal

photo contributed by Chouette Designs

Advice specifically for fat people looking for an engagement ring

As a fat person who, for years, just told myself “rings aren’t for me,” I was particularly excited to hear Ashley’s advice for how fat people or people with bigger fingers could have a positive experience shopping for engagement rings.

She recommended finding jewelers who have extended size runs in a lot of their offerings, but acknowledged “that can be a huge challenge, because there aren’t a lot of us.” She said scrolling social media for hashtags like #sizeinclusivejewelry and #plussizejewelry can be helpful, although she warns that some brands are proud of themselves for going up to size 10 — “which is great, it’s a start, but I would encourage you to look for brands that go even higher.”

She also emphasized that finding an affirming jeweler, ideally someone who shares your experiences, can create a better experience. “Not that I’m biased or anything,” she laughed.

three rings set up on a background of astrological data, representing different birthstones

photo contributed by VENVS

What these professionals wish they’d known before shopping for their own engagement rings

Okay, get ready for a truly harrowing story! When I asked Ashley this question she laughed ruefully and said, “I wish I had known not to put a raw diamond in the engagement ring.” In an effort to get her wife, someone who works in the jewelry industry, a unique and gorgeous ring, Ashley’s partner got her a ring with a raw diamond — an uncut stone. But because diamonds are so hard, the stone started to eat away at the setting — and then fell out, to be lost in the streets of Portland forever!!! “I made that mistake so that my future couples don’t have to,” Ashley joked. But seriously, she said that particular style of stone is gorgeous, but it just doesn’t hold up in a ring setting. Put it in a necklace, or earrings — something that won’t get beat up in the same way a ring does.

Similarly, Haley shared that she encourages couples to do research on the stones they’re interested in. VENVS works with a lot of gemstones and Haley says she frequently sees couples pick out their own birthstone, or their partner’s birthstone, or the stone of the month they met, which is a beautiful idea but some of the stones are very delicate. She says one stone people often pick that is not a great choice for rings is opal (I personally really wanted to buy my fiancée a moonstone ring, but decided against it when I learned how soft they are and how likely they are to get scratched in a ring setting). Haley said she wouldn’t necessarily tell people they can’t buy those stones, but it’s good to be aware that you’ll probably have to replace it down the line.

Haley also said her biggest piece of advice is to just do a lot of research in general about what’s possible for engagement rings. “There are so many endless options on what you can do,” she said. “There are so many ways to individualize your ring and make it super unique for your relationship and yourself.”

I am extremely grateful to Haley and Ashley for taking the time to educate me about this subject, and I hope this installment of Blush & Bashful helps you and your partner when thinking about how to buy an engagement ring. And remember, even if you don’t want to go to a jeweler or spend a lot of money on a ring, there are other options. If your family (or your partner’s family) has rings or even just stones that they’re willing to pass down to you, that can be a really sentimental (and cost effective) option. Scouring Etsy, antique and vintage shops, and second hand jewelers allows you to buy rings with their own histories and often with a significantly lower price tag than what you’ll find with new or custom jewelry.

And! You don’t have to get a ring. Some couples both really want to wear rings to symbolize their union, in some couples it only feels good for one partner to wear a ring, and some couples simply don’t want rings at all, either opting for other jewelry or ignoring the tradition altogether. I’ll try not to belabor this point in this column, but it must be said: the absolute best part of getting gay married is that you really don’t have to follow the script of “what it means to get married” — you can literally do whatever you want, and as long as you and the person you’re marrying agree, you’re golden.

Blush and Bashful is a biweekly queer wedding planning column.

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Vanessa is a writer, a teacher, and the community editor at Autostraddle. Very hot, very fun, very weird. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 404 articles for us.


  1. I also wanna rep Automic Gold! They’re a (very) size inclusive queer fine jewelry company from whom we got both our engagement and wedding rings for very reasonable prices. All their gold and stones are recycled and so far our bands have held up so well!!

    • I’ve purchased other jewelry from Automic Gold in the past and also thought they were fucking great!

      The way I went for my partner’s ring was having a local (queer) stonecutter put an agate in a gold band — I provided the agate myself (it had sentimental value) and picked the band. All told, it cost around $600. I LOVE how it turned out.

      The stonecutter is Anna Fitzer, who runs a shop called Gnarled By Nature. You can see Anna’s work here:

      10/10, would recommend Gnarled by Nature for any of your cool agate jewelry needs. The whole experience was just wonderful.

  2. I also wanted moonstone and onyx for my fiancée’s ring, but had to switch to a black diamond with accent regular ones because of the softness issue. I had a custom ring made with Automic Gold and it was great! (The only issue was that we designed the wedding band separately after the engagement, and the two designs were not as perfectly matched as I’d hoped—one drawback to doing everything online)

    • Your ring sounds beautiful! I encourage anyone to get a moon stone cabochon ring if you want one. I have a moonstone round cabochon with tiny diamond halo platinum engagement ring. Its from the 1910s, and it’s lasted over 100 years! I’ve worn it mostly 24/7 for the last 15 years and it still looks great. Moonstones aren’t sparkly and should not have a faceted cut for durability. The antique store we got it from said that the round surface will allow objects to roll and slide off it so that it wouldn’t scratch easily. I think many jewelers will push you towards a more expensive stone. I love my ring! I always get compliments on it. If it ever does wear down, then it’s a fun opportunity to buy and bless new jewelry.

  3. I love Haley’s comment that “there are really no rules”. One of the things I love about being in a queer relationship is that we get to decide what traditions we keep and make things up as we go along.

    And that held true for our engagement rings. No one would look at our rings and think they are engagement rings. But they are and they are meaningful to us. Mine is twig-like with a tiny inset gem and my spouse’s is wooden with inlayed crushed stone.

    • Agreed! I think my (now) fiancée was trying to “play by the rules” when she was sending me inspiration pictures of what she wanted but once we actually went to the store she was more attracted to “men’s styles” bands. I ended up getting her a custom built “men’s style” band with diamonds as her engagement ring which will ultimately also serve double duty as her wedding band. All the rules are fake – do what makes you happy

  4. About ring sizing:
    I’d recommend sizing yourself at a bunch of different times of day
    I’ve found my fingers to swell at least a whole ring size when I exercise or when it’s particularly hot out
    And I know pregnancy makes fingers swell too
    So don’t stop by the jeweler immediately after a run on a hot day and not get sized again, cause then it might be too big for the rest of the time

  5. Here to rep the “other jewelry” option! We didn’t do engagement jewelry at all but our wedding bands are bracelets made from recycled silver. They are hand-molded by an artist we found and worked with so really unique and unusual, and we get compliments on them all the time.

  6. My wife and I aren’t really jewelry people (and I have a tendency to lose expensive things), so we decided to go with a mix of sentimental and cheap by making our own rings out of sterling silver. We found a partner ring course at Metal Atelier here in Berlin, the cost was 575€ plus materials. It was really fun to make the rings from start to finish, and although they aren’t as perfect as they would be if a professional had made them, I love the quirks because they’re truly one-of-a-kind.

  7. Wow, I had no idea about raw diamonds being bad for rings! A bunch showed up on the Pinterest board I made for my partners ring inspiration, so I narrowly avoided that. Flowers on top of the icing on the cake of how much I love the ring they ended up picking, which is rose gold with a garnet and three accent moissanite stones, one for each of my partners who proposed. I believe it was about $300 on Etsy

  8. My sensitive body doesn’t enjoy most jewelry and I don’t enjoy most patriarchal traditions, but non-metallic anklets were comfy and meaningful to my previous partner and I! A loved one made them as a gift. <3

  9. someone beat me to it but yes SHOUT OUT to to the queer jewelers at automic gold who made my gorgeous engagement ring that i especially love because instead of just a plain band it has a carved leaf band <3 and shout out to my sweet and silly fiance who had stress dreams about me not liking the ring for WEEKS leading up to surprising me with it lol I LOVE IT VERY MUCH!!!!!!!!

    • oh and she went FULL surprise for mine, which i know isn’t for every couple but i loved it. she has bought me a lot of jewelry over the past four years and is rly good at picking out things i like and laughs at me every time i point it out and is like “well yeah i look at you every day, i know what will look good” 🥺

  10. i love all these comments so much because it’s SO useful to get a ton of other perspectives on what can work for engagement jewelry! thank you again to ashley and haley for your expertise on this subject, and thank you to all the commenters for your expertise, too!

  11. I love all the wedding content!

    We shopped around at a bunch of jewelry stores until we found one where the vibes were right and we felt like we fit in. The hardest part was that when it came to trying things on, I didn’t like any of the traditional style rings I thought I would. Ended up settling on a really simple plain band, and I love it so much.

    This whole process–engagement especially–has been really surprising in discovering which things we care about. In terms of who was proposing, when, what the rings were like…not what either one of us was expecting. It’s been really lovely to uncover new dimensions to each other.

  12. This wedding series absolutely slaps so far!!!

    I especially love the section on price – I got engaged stupid young many years ago so my ring very much was bought on the budget of a 22-year-old student – because we were 22-year-old students! I’ve been wearing it (as much as I can because now I’m very knocked up so it’s a gamble most days if it fits) almost everyday for almost 7 years and it’s really special to me.

    Something I’d definitely throw out there is to consider how often you want to wear it – I knew I wanted to wear mine pretty often, and told my husband that I wanted something that would go with whatever I wore, whether it was grungy jeans or a nice dress. I know some folks who mostly wear theirs for special occasions so they went with a different vibe.

    Re: buying different rings later – I also think this is now hella romantic. I didn’t used to – I loved my engagement ring and the story of our engagement that it came with so much I wasn’t sure how another ring could feel as special – but then my husband started buying me other rings for my ring finger specifically – including one now for my sometimes swollen preggo fingers – and I have gotten a little rush of the same happy lovey feel I got when he engaged every time. But I’m also a triple cancer so maybe I’m just a sap.

  13. I lost my mother to cancer prior to meeting my spouse; her will stated that I inherited all jewellery.

    Our engagement rings were made from 3 treasured pieces. They are composed of 2 diamonds, 5 sapphires and gold.

    My own ring is a direct copy of my mother’s engagement ring design. It is white gold with a centre sapphire, a diamond on each side. My spouses’ uses the remaining sapphires set in a gold band. In this way the two are connected but totally unique.

    I choose to wear a wedding band, my spouse prefers not to. After getting a few quotes I found out that getting my mum’s band melted, re-cast and engraved would be the same as buying new. Instead, I wear mum’s as is.

    My advice to those re-using inherited pieces is to make space for ALL the feelings; acknowledge the sentimentality and photograph all pieces before they are changed. Give yourself permission to bring a new life to the stones & gold. Take your time with any new designs (the jeweller should be able to create a wax cast you can wear).

  14. I’m glad you mentioned second hand or inherited jewellery as I believe that’s the only ethical option – it’s not just about diamonds, gold mining is destroying the planet and poisoning the underpaid people who mine for it.

  15. When my husband and I got engaged, I knew I didn’t want a diamond, for ethical reasons plus I’ve just never liked them that much. We wanted matching bands and found ones that had a central band of rose gold with a rippling-water pattern, surrounded by bands of yellow and white gold. Under $1000 each. We love them and wear them all the time, and if we take them off briefly why then that’s just an excuse to propose again, isn’t it. (We are sappy. Kiddo thinks we are soooo embarrassing with all the flirting.)

  16. I love modernist style and was committed to not purchasing a new diamond. My engagement ring is a vintage 1960’s solitaire with a swirling setting that we got on etsy and then had cleaned up for prime time. I then took a ring that had been my great-grandmothers and had a custom band made from the metal to nest with the engagement ring. In the end I got exactly what I wanted, utilized existing materials with a side of sentimentality, and still stayed way under what most people would spend for a wedding set.

  17. More of this content! I used to subscribe to A+ and then stopped after I found myself skimming article titles & reading fewer and fewer. I don’t want to age out of Autostraddle. Y’all were a lifeline at earlier points in my life. I’m now happily settling into “adult life” and craving a version of queer community that’s here for weddings and hgtv and how-the-hell-to-be-a-parent-soon. This was a lovely read. Keep it coming!

  18. This article is so wonderful, thank you for doing this Vanessa! It would have been even more wonderful like, two months ago though, ahahaha. Since by the time I read it I had already bought a ring! I actually proposed last night! She said yes (obviously, because I think you should never propose unless you and your partner have already had many conversations about if!) – and later that night, she gave me a ring as well!

  19. LOL okay so I’m back because while I LOVE the aesthetics of the ring my partner got me, it turned out to be too large. Not just around my finger, that’s easy to solve, but like, between my fingers? It feels too thick, so when I have it on I can’t press my fingers together.

    Anyway, so we’re looking for a new one. A “men’s” ring that is a flat band and as low profile as possible. The one she got me is tungsten carbide which I like, but all the rings like that we could find seem too think for my small hands and close-set fingers.

    Any suggestions?? We’re also in Canada so that might make a difference.

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