Real Talk

How To Reimagine Your Engagement Ring After The Marriage Is Over

Today’s reader question comes from S, who is in the process of divorcing her husband. S, like so many divorcing women, is conflicted about what to do with her engagement ring: Part of her wants to hold on to it for her children, but…it’s complicated. I get it, and you probably do, too.

So S wanted to know if I had any ideas for what to do with her engagement ring. I’m going to give my 100% honest answer, with the understanding that this is a touchy subject, and also that symbols of marriage (and the institution itself) are topics I have ever-evolving views on. Let’s back it up for a moment.

For the years that I was married, if you had asked me what my most prized possession was, I would have said “my engagement ring” – the $350 pawn-shop band with which Kendrick proposed to me in a Las Vegas parking lot – without a moment’s hesitation. Cut to nine years later, when a trio of events related to that ring took place:

  1. I had the original diamonds (which weren’t especially good-quality and were three different sizes) replaced with three cognac diamonds.
  2. I incorporated the original diamonds into a ring that I designed myself and had custom-made using stones and gold from other pieces that were special to me, but that I rarely wore.
  3. I lost my original engagement ring. I put it on my nightstand one evening, and the next day it was gone – likely a victim to curious three-year-old hands, or perhaps some wayward cat paws. In any case, I never saw it again.

Oh, and then I got divorced.

I redesigned my engagement ring after my divorce

The ring I designed using the stones from my original engagement ring, and that now sits on my right ring finger.

While I was desperately sad when my engagement ring first disappeared – and sure, still wish that it hadn’t – now I think there’s something almost lovely about the symbolism: It’s been set free. It came to me having been owned – and presumably loved – by someone before me. It was never really *mine*…it was mine for awhile, and our story will always be a part of it, but now it’s off to new adventures. That said, I kind of can’t believe my luck in having removed the original stones just before it disappeared, because the whole point of the custom ring that I made was to symbolize not “marriage,” per se, but family.

And family is forever.

To get to S’s question – and the matter of engagement rings post-divorce more generally – here’s how I personally think the matter should be handled.

When To Return The Ring To Your Ex: If the ring was an heirloom very special to your partner’s family, you should respect that. Otherwise, my feeling is that engagement rings are gifts, and gifts should not come with conditions. (The law in most states, by the way, agrees with me here.)

When To Sell The Ring: If you’re struggling financially – divorces are hella expensive, speaking from experience – and selling the ring would get you out of a hard spot, give yourself permission to do that. It was a gift. Let it continue to be one. (If you and your ex are amicable and could both use some extra money during the post-divorce period, I think it’s very kind – albeit certainly not necessary – to offer to split the returns from the sale.)

When To Save The Ring (For Your Kids, Or Whomever):  If you think your children will want the ring, or if the piece is very special to your family for any variety of other reasons, there’s nothing wrong with putting it in a safe, and leaving it be. Or wearing it! On your right hand or – gasp! – on your left. It’s your body, your jewelry, and your life; you do you.

Short story: If you don’t want or need to sell it, and you don’t feel obligated to return it? I say you reimagine the piece, and make it about you.

With that approach in mind, I asked S if she’d be willing to share an image of her engagement ring and a few more bits of info about what would be meaningful to her, and came up with a couple of designs for her.

I redesigned my engagement ring after my divorce

This is S’s engagement ring: Three round diamonds set in yellow gold. S also mentioned that she has additional gold she’d be able to melt down to work into the jewelry. She loves rubies, because they’re her sister’s birthstone as well as her grandmother’s, and also rose quartz (which, incidentally, symbolizes all kinds of love – including self-love, unconditional love, and friendship).

Here are the ideas I have for S.

redesign your old engagement ring after divorce

1. An asymmetrical ring. (You’ll note all of these designs are asymmetrical – that’s both because I love asymmetrical jewelry, but also because we’re working with three stones, which I imagine to symbolize S and her two sons). The top ring idea spotlights a rose quartz center stone (S’s favorite stone, symbolizing all kinds of love and deep inner healing). On the left side is one of the diamonds from S’s engagement ring, and on the other side are the remaining two diamonds, plus a small ruby (the birthstone of S’s sister and her grandmother).

The second ring is a bit simpler: Just the three diamonds arranged asymmetrically, with a small ruby and a small rose quartz embedded into one side of the band.

redesign your old engagement ring after divorce

2. A matched pair of earrings and an asymmetrical necklace. The rubies in the earrings symbolize S’s sister and grandmother, and the trio of stones alongside the diamond in the necklace are ruby (again, a symbol of feminine ancestry to S), rose quartz (love and healing), and citrine to symbolize strength, independence, and manifestation.

redesign your old engagement ring after divorce

3. A pair of asymmetrical earrings. These earrings incorporate the diamonds, small rubies, and a pearl to symbolize personal integrity (the pearl is also the birthstone of one of her sons – the other son’s birthstone is spinel, which comes in a wide range of shades, so the ruby in this earring could be replaced by a red spinel).

Look, it’s not that divorce *taints* a ring, and there’s nothing wrong with preserving it in its original form if that’s what feels right to you. But the ring itself – meaning in its current iteration – has very particular symbolism, especially in our culture. It does symbolize the two of you, and that’s something to be honored, because the two of you came together for a reason, and created something precious. But I think there’s something even more beautiful about maintaining the ring’s essence – its stones, its metal – while creating new symbolism and new meaning. Your family didn’t “break” – it evolved. If we’re talking about passing things down to our children, I think that’s a hell of a message.

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