Men’s Engagement rings for Leap Day proposals

The most famous leap year tradition apparently began in 5th century Ireland. Legend has it that St. Patrick deemed that once every four years, a woman need not wait for a proposal from a man, but may take matters into her own hands on February 29th. This became a law in 1288 Scotland, with the added provision that any man who declined the proposal on this day would have to pay a fine (and that any woman proposing must wear a red petticoat while doing so). Society has come a long way since the days when these laughable parameters were culturally acceptable, and while most modern women would not hesitate to pop the question on any day of the year, there are some who find the idea of asking their man for his hand in marriage on February 29th novel and charming. If you’ve never been asked to design a “man-gagement” ring, read on for a brief history of the trend and some ideas on how to promote your jewellery ahead of Leap Day:

The first engagement rings could arguably be traced back to the 2nd century B.C., when the ancient Romans were giving “betrothal rings” to their fiancées instead of the high-priced gifts and dowries that were previously traditional. According to the American Gem Society, it is believed that Archduke Maximilian of Austria commissioned the first diamond engagement ring for his fiancé, Mary of Burgundy, in 1477. Since then, and bolstered by the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, men have increasingly been gifting their women flashy rings to symbolise their commitment, and as a deterrent to potential suitors. So when did men begin to adopt this tradition? The first recorded newspaper advert for men’s engagement rings was placed in 1926 by a group of companies including L. Bamburger & Co (which would eventually become Macy’s). Despite the ultra masculine names (the Pilot, the Stag, the Master…), the campaign was unable to overcome the ingrained femininity associated with the rings. In fact, the groom was not even expected to wear a wedding band until the 1940s or 1950s, and it’s speculated that they only achieved popularity when Humphrey Bogart was photographed wearing one. But by 2009, famous jewellers were attempting to once again popularise diamond rings for him, and – sported by celebs like Michael Bublé – the trend started to take hold. Happily, engagement rings no longer convey the ownership of a woman as the ancient Romans intended, but signal a choice made freely by independent individuals. As society has evolved, so has our take on these traditions, and men are increasingly opting to show off this outward symbol of their emotional commitment.

Compared to women’s engagement rings, men’s choices are generally rather limited and less elaborate. The standard tends to be a gold, platinum or titanium band between five and seven millimetres wide, perhaps embedded with small diamonds or etched with simple lines at the most, although De Beers reports that white or blackened gold is the most popular option they have observed. For men, the gesture and symbolism themselves are often more significant than the flash of the piece, however this is also completely dependent on the man receiving it.

So what happens when the time comes to tie the knot? Most men reportedly move their first ring to their right hand instead of stacking their rings on the same finger as women traditionally do. Some place it on a chain around the neck, and another popular option is for the engagement ring to simply step into the role of wedding band. Because of this, it’s difficult for jewellers to report how many of the men’s bands they sell start out as engagement rings, but according to a survey conducted 5 years ago by the parent company of leading wedding website The Knot, 5% of engaged men now wear ”man-gagement” rings.

So is this trend going mainstream? In a 2013 survey of 800 respondents, around 67% of the men reported being open to wearing an engagement ring. But since it’s not yet a tradition, women aren’t being asked if they want to buy them, and the conversation is simply not being had. However, the increase in legalisation of same-sex marriage around the world is creating a new demand in the industry, which may help to normalise the idea in popular culture.

So how do you make the most of this trend? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start the conversation! Ask your clients what they think of the idea, and do some research into what they’d be willing to pay, and what materials and designs they’d find appealing
  • If you have any existing ring designs that would work as a man’s engagement or wedding band, start promoting these on your marketing channels, and share content related to Leap Day engagements
  • The wording around this campaign will depend entirely on your audience. If they are very conservative, make the most of the novelty of the day. If they’re liberal, you could poke fun at the ridiculousness of the idea
  • Consider getting into a mutually beneficial partnership with a parallel business in the engagement industry. This could be a gift package that features your products, or a lead referral exchange. Either way, you’ll be accessing each other’s audiences and spreading your reach. Try the following:
    • Wedding or engagement shoot photographers
    • Spas and retreat centres
    • Restaurants, hotels and resorts
    • Orchestras, opera houses and ballet companies
    • Champagne brands
    • Artisanal chocolatiers or confectioners
  • It would be pretty unusual for a man to propose to his girlfriend on Leap Day, so push that angle if your brand is about marching to the beat of your own drum and breaking the rules. It’s much more noteworthy than the cliché of Valentine’s Day proposals, and may be quite a nice surprise 2 weeks after that hubbub is over.
  • If you do know of clients getting engaged on Leap Day, set a reminder to send them well wishes once every 4 years, with a gift suggestion from your range. While it’s not common for people to commemorate the anniversary of their engagement, a leap year is special – which is why it was chosen. Even if they don’t buy anything, the contact will keep you top of mind and nurture the relationship.

With all of the above, think out of the box and keep your ideal client in mind!

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