Of course, you can avoid getting into this situation altogether if you set up an engagement ring registry. But that's of no use to you now. What is? Expert advice, all conveniently compiled in this post so that you can proceed with confidence, kindness, and awareness of your options.
We reached out to a number of different etiquette and engagement ring specialists so you'll have a range of perspectives to consider. Right this way for the answers—and straight talk— you need now.
Dr. Jenn Mann, Psychotherapist/TV Host/Author
Jenn Mann is a psychotherapist, host of VH1's hit show, Couple's Therapy, and author of The Relationship Fix (Sterling)
Don't say anything right away. Celebrate the life you’re going to have together, the commitment that has just been made, the new union you are about to share, and the love that is being celebrated. To bring up a ring issue right away is the sexual equivalent to having sex and then telling your boyfriend something you don't like about his penis. To say this is a buzz kill is an understatement.
Try to wait 48 hours to address any ring issues. When you do, say something positive either about the ring or the proposal or what an amazing husband you know he’s going to be. Make sure to acknowledge his hard work in picking the ring, his generosity in paying for the ring, and how excited you are to be his wife.
Positive, negative, positive: "Honey, I never imagined you would buy me such a gigantic diamond! You must be the most generous man on the planet! I have to admit though, I have always envisioned a round stone on my engagement ring. This princess cut diamond is stunning but it is very different than what I imagined. Do you think it would be possible to swap out the princess cut for the round stone I always envisioned? I don't want it to cost you anything. Your proposal exceeded my wildest romantic dreams! I feel like the luckiest woman in the world!"
Proposing and buying a ring is taking a huge risk. It is being vulnerable. He has spent two to three months of his salary, shopped long and hard to find what he believed would be the perfect ring, and probably spent months or years, working up to this commitment. Women need to be sensitive to this. With good, sensitive communication most couples are able to work through this relatively quickly.
Diane Forden, Bridal Guide Magazine
Diane Forden is the Editor-in-Chief of Bridal Guide magazine.
He gets down on one knee, professes his undying love, asks you to marry him and proudly gives you an engagement ring that you (horrors!) instantly dislike. First, stay calm. Just be in the moment and celebrate that the man you love has asked you to be his wife. Do not say anything negative about the ring. Your nervous fiancé has probably rehearsed and planned the proposal for months and any unfavorable reaction would be soul-crushing. You might want to wear it for several days to see if it grows on you. But if the stone shape or setting just isn’t your style then it’s fine to want to adjust the ring so it suits you better. After all, you’ll wear the ring every day for the rest of your life and ultimately, your fiancé will want you to be happy with it too. Just don’t expect a bigger diamond—you can always upgrade your engagement ring in the future to celebrate a wedding anniversary.
That said since this is such a sensitive issue it’s best to start the conversation by telling your fiancé everything you loved about his proposal. Thank him for all the time and effort he put into making it so special and let him know how thrilled and excited you are to be engaged to him. You might want to ask why he chose that particular ring (always interesting to find out what his thoughts were behind the purchase). But be honest and let him know that you’d like to customize it a bit and would appreciate his input. The two of you can go to the jeweler together to explore your options (be sure to check the store’s return policy/exchange agreement in advance), but any adjustments made should still be within his budget.
Matthew Tratner, Jewelers of America
Matthew Tratner is the Director of Membership & Sales for Jewelers of America.
When I proposed to my wife, Susan, I gave her what I believed was the ring she wanted.
It was a platinum ring with a bezel-set solitaire round diamond center stone. She was thrilled when I sprung it on her. After wearing it for six months she finally told me that the style of the ring was in fact not what she had wanted and that the ring overall was “too heavy” (too much metal) for her finger. I had it redone the way she wanted it, a thinner ring with the diamond set in a half bezel.
When I asked her why she had waited six months to tell me, she responded with two reasons. 1. She did not want to hurt my feelings and 2. Even though it wasn’t what she wanted exactly, she didn’t want to part with the ring since she was still very emotionally excited about us getting engaged.
I appreciated that she didn’t want to hurt my feelings but told her it most important to me to get her what she wanted. I did like that she waited, though six months was longer than I needed, so we could bask in the glow of our engagement.
I think if a woman is given an engagement ring that is not what she wants and she wants to avoid hurting the guy’s feelings she should wait at least two weeks before broaching the subject. Make the “rounds” to family and friends and then start dropping hints. Since eventually you will be getting wedding bands, and most women want their band to have some relationship to their engagement ring, it’s important to have the engagement ring you want before you start that process.
Most jewelers will resize an engagement ring they have sold for free. But when you get into changes like resetting the diamond in a completely different ring or changing the ring entirely (different shape diamond, etc.) there will be charges involved and should be as it is a lot of work to make these things happen.
The person buying the ring needs to have very blunt conversations with their jeweler about all possibilities before they purchase the ring. What if she says “no”? What if the diamond is the wrong shape? What if her Mom/Best Friend/Sister were all wrong about what she wanted? They should know what the jeweler’s policies and time frames are for all these scenarios so there are no surprises if things need to be changed. Every jeweler treats these situations differently and if you are trusting this jeweler to help with one of the most important moments of your life, you should trust them enough to have these conversations in an open and honest way.
Barbara Palumbo, Adornmentality
Barbara Palumbo is a writer, jewelry influencer and the founder of Adornmentality
There is no better time to be a woman than right here, right now: We make our own money. We know our own worth. And finally—FINALLY—we have our own voice, one that is loud enough to be heard, strong enough to get noticed. There is nothing written anywhere in any law that says women cannot express our disappointment in something that we don’t like, and that includes the ring with which our beloved asks us to marry them.
Let’s take a look at a metaphor to get a better understanding: Say a guy and a girl are in a serious relationship. Maybe the guy’s car died a sudden death and he’s been saving a while for a replacement. Because deep down he wants the new Volvo—and will stash his paychecks away until he can get it—he decides he’s okay with taking public transportation for a little while. Now, let’s say the girl in this relationship gets a nice bonus at her job and, in a selfless, sincere act of love, she goes out and buys the guy a 1987 Mercury Cougar she found on Craigslist that was repainted in a rather interesting shade of green. Does the guy now have a car? Sure he does, and that’s great, but there’s a reality that this guy would rather take the bus than being caught dead in an ugly piece of crap that even his smarmy cousin Cletus wouldn’t drive. My point is that while there is no reason anyone should be rude or mean, we need to start any lifelong marital commitment with honesty.
I suggest that the recipient politely tell her fiancé that while she knows the thought behind the process was genuine, she would prefer to wear a ring that she could feel good about looking at for the rest of her life, even if that means that she will contribute any additional funds needed in order to make that wish possible. She’ll also need to understand that she should show empathy if her significant other’s feelings are hurt. This is normal, but it’s only normal until it isn’t. If the ring presenter starts going borderline bananas, threatens to call the engagement off, or partakes in some other daytime-talk-show-esque behavioral nonsense, hopefully, the intended recipient will take the hint, pack up her belongings in that 1987 Mercury Cougar and get the hell out of Dodge.
Jennifer Gandia, Greenwich St. Jewelers
Jennifer Gandia is the co-owner of Greenwich St. Jewelers in New York City.
Let the jeweler know right away that you don't like the ring and want to understand your options. The longer you wait, the harder it can be for the store to offer flexibility. Have examples of the modifications you’re looking to make. And understand that the changes may come at an additional expense.
If the ring is a complete surprise, consider purchasing one that the store has in their case, rather than making customizations. Custom or special order rings are non-refundable, and this is pretty standard.
The fundamental design of a ring cannot be changed. In some cases decorative elements can be added or removed, a stone can be set lower or higher, finishes can be changed. If it’s a bezel setting and she wanted prongs, or if she wanted rose gold and the ring is platinum—these types of elements aren't tweakable.
Over the years we have only had one or two “she doesn’t love it” situations. Even though we have a 10-day return policy on jewelry purchased in-store or online, we’re always willing to work with our clients. We truly care that our clients are happy with their ring and through flexibility and compromise we have always gotten them there.
Myka Meier, Beaumont Etiquette
Myka Meier is the Founder & Director of Beaumont Etiquette.
Try not to spoil the moment with a negative reaction and instead show your excitement for the actual reason for receiving the engagement ring—you're getting married! Focus on enjoying the moment, and on the thoughtfulness and the sentiment behind the engagement ring and proposal.
That being said, if you simply don't think you will be happy wearing this engagement ring, you should not be expected to lie and say you love it when you really don't. Etiquette is about being kind, thoughtful and respectful, and the last person you want to hurt is the person who loves you the most. The goal is not to come across ungrateful or disrespectful for what your partner thought was representative of their commitment to you.
So, some guidelines: Before you break bad news, always say something positive first. Never follow up this statement with the word "but,” as it takes away from the first positive you just gave. Communicate in a gentle way so that your fiancé feels a part of the process in making you the happiest you can be.
You might say something along the lines of "You asking me to marry you makes me happier than you can imagine! While I'm truly so grateful that you're my fiancé and so appreciative of the ring you chose to symbolize this, I want to take a few days to see if the ring makes me feel as amazing as I truly feel about being your future wife."
Just can't bring yourself to tell them? Suggest shopping for and picking out the wedding bands together so that you can choose a style you really love. Many women choose to wear their wedding band in lieu of their engagement ring, which can look extremely elegant and timeless.
Joe Corey, Day's Jewelers
Joe Corey is the manager of Day’s Jewelers in Manchester, NH
Remember to be easy on him! Getting engaged is a nerve-racking event. In most cases deciding that “she’s the one” is a feeling that comes naturally—that’s the easy part—but the decisions don’t stop there. There are endless engagement ring options to choose from, and while finding that perfect ring that will knock your socks off is always the goal, remember: We don’t live in a perfect world.
So if you do receive that “not-so-perfect” engagement ring, focus on what it symbolizes: an expression of true love and commitment between two individuals. Remember, inanimate objects can be switched or replaced, but your love can’t.
That said, the most common quips have to do with the metal color or type being wrong, or the style just not being what she wanted or not conducive to her active lifestyle. So you could try saying something like, “I think for my lifestyle and personality I would be better suited with…” but wait a day or two before speaking up so the joy of the moment isn’t tarnished.