Alternative Engagement Rings are on the Rise

Why people are choosing to fight tradition for the sake of the environment (and their wallets)

By Sammi DiVito


Illustration by: Megan Smith

Illustration by: Megan Smith

Back around the time when my parents were young and in love, it was a widespread belief that the only way to properly express your eternal devotion to your partner was to fork over thousands of dollars on a specially cut diamond and band. Although it put him in a dark financial pit, my dad still got down on one knee for my mom. However, in this current age of environmental reform and nationwide student loan debt, young couples are starting to no longer see the appeal in the traditional engagement route.


According to Business Insider, the average American spends around $6,531 on a ring; that price doesn’t even begin to include other potential wedding-related costs. The graduating class of 2016 in the U.S. alone is burdened by a collective $1.5 trillion dollars in money owed from schooling. To put it simply, the young adults of today don’t have thousands tucked away to spend on a sparkly rock. The effects of the diamond industry have also become more apparent, particularly the soil erosion, deforestation, water-rerouting, and its resulting effects on the environment and its wildlife. 


This is where people like artist Daan Roosegaarde come in with an option to remedy the diamond issue: the “smog free ring.” The “smog free ring” is a piece of jewelry containing thousands of gallons of smog that is sucked out of the polluted air from Beijing and Rotterdam, compressed, and then packed into a clear plastic case that is fashioned onto a ring. Were a person to somehow break open the casing and breathe in the fumes, according to the artist, the particles are apparently toxic enough to shorten a person's life expectancy by six to eight years. Romantic, right?


The ring, besides being just environmentally sustainable, only comes in at a whopping $290, therefore making it not just conflict free, but cheap. However, for the couples that don’t want to potentially risk the lives of their romantic partners, there is a sizeable following of people trying out other alternative methods like lab-grown diamonds (which are entirely similar to diamonds down to the atom, just created artificially above ground), gemstones, antique rings found in thrift stores, and even banded tattoos on the ring finger. 


While these options lack some of the glamor of a big glittery diamond, the appeal of alternative rings—even ones micro-compacted with pollution—is still apparent in the ring industry. De Beers, one of the biggest diamond producing industries in the world, has reportedly cut prices by 9% and reduced its projection goal in order to accommodate for falling diamond demand. Who knows, maybe years from now people getting down on a knee and proffering a ring made of pollutants will be the new norm? Maybe we’ll all be exchanging cool shells for someone’s hand in marriage. Whatever the case, the new era of marriage culture is looking a little diverse and environmentally sound. 


Wake Mag