Mirror, Mirror: Rings of mangagement

18-karat yellow gold (left) with emerald-cut amethysts, garnets, rubellites, and citrines, Craiger Drake Designs, $1,950, at Craiger Drake; eternity band with baguette diamonds set in platinum (right), Craiger Drake Designs, $5,625, at Craiger Drake; 14-karat white gold with eight princess-cut diamonds, Safian & Rudolph, $4,600, at Safian & Rudolph Jewelers; platinum band, Craiger Drake Designs, $6,500, at Craiger Drake. Staff photographs by
18-karat yellow gold (left) with emerald-cut amethysts, garnets, rubellites, and citrines, Craiger Drake Designs, $1,950, at Craiger Drake; eternity band with baguette diamonds set in platinum (right), Craiger Drake Designs, $5,625, at Craiger Drake; 14-karat white gold with eight princess-cut diamonds, Safian & Rudolph, $4,600, at Safian & Rudolph Jewelers; platinum band, Craiger Drake Designs, $6,500, at Craiger Drake. Staff photographs by (Michael S. Wirtz)

Gay men, and engaged women, are putting a ring on it, with more understated, masculine, geometric jewelry styles.

Posted: June 26, 2014

Kevin McNeal plans to honor his recent marriage proposal to partner Scott George traditionally - with a diamond ring.

The bauble is platinum and rose gold, and the bling - a tiny piece of black ice in each of the squarish band's four corners - is understated.

"It symbolizes my eternal love for my fiance," said McNeal, 50, a real estate agent who lives in Center City. "I think we needed something that tied us together; it shows our commitment."

Since a federal judge overturned Pennsylvania's 18-year-old ban on same-sex marriages last month, local jewelers have reported an uptick in so-called mangagement rings - engagement rings for men that are more masculine than the traditional diamond band worn by women.

"We've gone from selling about two or three a month to three or four a week," said Hy Goldberg, owner and chief executive officer of Safian & Rudolph Jewelers in Center City. "It's not only a political statement, but it's a breath of fresh air."

Rituals of modern-day mangagement rings are too new to be set in stone, and vary from couple to couple. For instance, who gets to wear it, and on which finger? Sometimes just one member of the couple proudly flashes the most brilliant of gems on his ring finger.

Other couples treat themselves to engagement rings and wedding bands. Rachid Ait Belhaj and his partner have matching tricolor engagement rings they purchased for each other from Cartier along Paris' Champs-Élysées. In addition, the couple are having matching white-gold ruby bands made for their wedding in March.

"We wanted to celebrate the love of our engagement, but we wanted to show devotion with a wedding ring, too," said Belhaj, 33.

It's most common, however - as in the case of McNeal and George - for couples to purchase one ring for each partner that serves as both wedding band and engagement ring.

And that ring, said Craiger Drake, owner and chief executive officer of Craiger Drake Designs, usually features a thicker band fashioned from any number of precious metals, with rose gold being quite popular.

Mangagement rings, Drake said, usually have a geometric twist to them, resembling squares or hexagons on the outside, but circular inside. Diamonds are a favorite, but couples also tend to work family heirlooms - rubies or sapphires, for instance - into their designs.

"Most of our mangagement orders are custom," Drake said.

The nation's growing acceptance of same-sex marriage is probably the biggest reason mangagement rings are on the rise in the world of style.

However, their growth coincides with heterosexual unions' becoming more egalitarian, too - more women are buying rings for their honeys. (See the silver one Camila Alves presented to Matthew McConaughey on their 2012 engagement. Alves hails from Brazil, where engagement rings for guys are a custom.)

And there is the slow but steady softening of male fashion rules. At a time when men are wearing fitted suits, and rappers are rocking skirts, the definition of what's masculine is changing.

"Back in the start of the 19th century, a man wearing conspicuous jewelry was considered to be tacky, or effeminate," said Clare Sauro, curator of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University. "The exceptions to that rule were cufflinks and shirt studs - although these could be flashy - and wedding bands."

According to Vicki Howard, author of Brides, Inc: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition and an associate professor of history at Hartwick College in New York, we first saw mangagement rings in the early 1920s. East Coast department stores such as Bamberger's tried running a series of newspaper ads for engaged men featuring rings named the Pilot, the Stag, and the Master. But the rings didn't catch on in a culture in which men wore dark suits and needed to appear tough - not to mention, most of their fiancees couldn't afford to buy them diamonds.

In the late 1930s, De Beers, at the time the world's largest diamond company, launched a national campaign that turned the diamond into a prematrimonial must-have. By 1947 the campaign's slogan was "A Diamond Is Forever." And during the following decades, the diamond ring became the bounty of the engaged woman.

In the meantime, gay men in committed relationships found ways to wear rings as symbols of their commitment, if inconspicuously. Drake remembers men coming to his family's jewelry business in the late '70s through the '90s requesting matching rings for pinkie and middle fingers.

Brian Daggett and Franz Rabauer have been together for 18 years, and the couple married in December. Daggett is having a mangagement ring/wedding band made for Rabauer - identical to his, but with a few more diamonds.

"It lets people know we are married," said Daggett, 48, an insurance executive from Wayne. "I want to see him with a ring, and I want to be able to ask him, 'Why aren't you wearing your wedding ring, honey?' "


ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704 @ewellingtonphl

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