A close-up image of an elegant yellow gold ring featuring a prominent princess cut diamond set in a minimalist design
London-based jeweller Rachel Boston introduced five placeholder rings in 2018 and now has 15 designs

When Fred Hayes proposed to his girlfriend, Isabel, last September, he did so with a 14-carat yellow gold ring from Lylie Jewellery that she could wear until they picked an engagement ring.

“Ultimately, I don’t have to wear the ring and so the idea of me choosing something that Isabel was going to wear for, hopefully, all her life didn’t quite sit right with me,” says Hayes, a private client investment manager in London. “Getting married and getting engaged is obviously a thing that you do as a couple, so the idea of also designing the ring together was something that I really valued.”

He is not alone in buying a so-called placeholder ring with which to pop the question. Fine jewellers are reporting rising customer interest in such pieces.

Lylie launched its first placeholder rings in summer 2021 after founder Eliza Walter recognised “a need for a different, empowering way to propose” as some wedding traditions felt “outdated” for her clients, with many people now living together before engagement.

She says the pieces, typically priced at between £400 and £600 and most popular in 9-carat gold, allow for a “surprise proposal moment” and for couples to create their “dream ring” together.

An elegant 9ct gold ring with a unique twisted design, highlighted by its glossy finish and detailed engravings
Lylie founder Eliza Walter recognised ‘a need for a different, empowering way to propose’

Next month, the UK jeweller is responding to increased demand by adding two designs, bringing its collection to 10. The new adjustable versions eliminate what Walter says is a “stressful” element for proposers.

“With placeholder rings, one of the benefits is that you don’t necessarily [know] your partner’s ring size so, if they can be cinched in to be worn smaller, or pulled out a bit to be expanded, it means that’s not a concern for purchase,” she explains.

London-based jeweller Rachel Boston introduced five placeholder rings in 2018 and now has 15 designs, with more planned for release this summer. She started designing these 9-carat pieces, often featuring small diamonds, after noticing customers wearing silver or brass “fake-looking engagement rings”.

“It struck me as something very wasteful because you would never use it again once the actual engagement ring was made, because it was made to look like an engagement ring,” she says.

Most of her placeholder rings, priced at between £200 and £450, are designed to be stacked with an engagement ring and wedding band, or worn on a different finger to mark the proposal day. Some customers look outside the selection and have Boston’s Memento and Memory rings engraved with the proposal date or their initials.

Lylie allows customers to exchange a placeholder ring for credit against the cost of an engagement ring. Walter, however, says this only happens in about 20 per cent of cases as the placeholders become “hugely sentimental”.

Four of the Lylie designs can be used as wedding bands, which Walter says means the placeholder “still has significance” once the engagement ring is ready. Hayes says his fiancée will probably use her placeholder ring — which he chose in part for its intertwined, rope-like design because they are both keen sailors — as her wedding ring when they marry in July. The couple designed a custom engagement ring with Lylie.

US jeweller Jade Trau has clients who use her 18-carat gold eternity bands for proposals and then choose engagement rings. She will gauge customer interest for dedicated placeholder rings when she launches a new bridal space in her seasonal store in the Hamptons this summer.

She thinks the growth of lab-grown diamonds is playing into the rise of placeholder rings by causing confusion among consumers. She suggests some people are “hitting the pause button” and taking their time to make the “considered purchase” of an engagement ring.

During the first three months of this year, 43.5 per cent of engagement rings sold in the US featured lab-grown diamonds, according to data collated from 1,500 jewellery stores by industry analyst Tenoris, compared with 10 per cent in 2020.

43.5%Proportion of engagement rings sold in the US with lab-grown diamonds, Q1 2024

Managing partner Edahn Golan says the lower cost of lab-grown stones means people are buying bigger diamonds, and this has created a “halo effect” with natural diamonds. The average size of an engagement ring diamond in 2024 is 1.33 carats, says Golan, compared with 1 carat in 2020.

While Boston’s customers were unaware of placeholder rings six years ago, she says they now ask for her collection. She says these pieces are apt for clients who do not know their partner’s taste, or have left it too late to have an engagement ring made for their proposal.

Boston also puts the rise in popularity down to more women being excited by the bespoke design process. “Over the past 12 years I’ve been doing this, we have significantly more couples who design the engagement ring as a duo, as opposed to the guy doing it on their own,” she says.

Keira Wraae-Stewart, founder of Edinburgh fine jewellery boutique Ætla, says this is also true of same-sex couples. She expects the growth in placeholder rings to continue and is working on expanding Ætla’s curation of antique, vintage and contemporary designs, which includes pieces by Scottish jeweller Ellis Mhairi Cameron.

Should a marriage not work out, there could be a ring for that, too. Model and actor Emily Ratajkowski unveiled new “divorce rings” in March after jewellery brand Alison Lou repurposed her two-stone engagement ring into two designs.

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