Photographed by Kevin Sturman
When Chloe Malle became engaged, playing solitaire wasn’t an option.
You didn’t cry at all?” The Vogue fashion team was incredulous. It was the first day back after the winter holiday, and word of my New Year’s Day engagement had pitter-pattered around our 8:00 a.m. Lanvin pre-fall appointment. “But what were his exact words? How did you feel?” Honestly? Equal to any joy or elation was the feeling of complete stupefaction that a kind of Carrie Mathison–level covert operation had taken place behind my back. As it turned out, everyone involved in picking out the ring (my soon-to-be fiancé, Graham; my mother, stepfather, stepsister, and future sister-in-law; and, of course, Vogue Accessories Director Rickie De Sole) had strong notions of what constituted a “very Chloe” engagement ring, none of which included a platinum solitaire. But how did I feel? Thrilled to be engaged, obviously—but also overjoyed that those close to me knew that a traditional engagement ring was just not part of my proposal fantasy.
The diamond solitaire wasn’t always comme il faut: Cavemen tied bands of braided grass around their mates’ wrists or ankles, ancient Egyptians wrapped a single silver or gold wire around the third finger of their loved one’s left hand, and the Puritans exchanged more practical thimbles. Mary of Burgundy was the first known recipient of a diamond engagement ring, given to her by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477, though it wasn’t until the mines of South Africa were discovered in the late nineteenth century that the stone became de rigueur. Tiffany’s creation of its signature six-prong setting in the 1880s—and, decades later, De Beers’s 1940s campaign “A Diamond Is Forever”—cemented the solitaire’s status as the engagement ring go-to.
Though diamonds may be forever, many women are now opting away from them—or at least from the conventional style. “I think the concept of one traditional kind of ring is changing with our generation,” says jeweler Monique Péan, whose Atelier line offers bespoke engagement and wedding rings. Pamela Love, who collaborated with Péan on her own ring, agrees: “There are a lot of women out there who want something more unique, more personal.” Love recently had two women drop by her studio looking to design engagement rings with her after returning the solitaire platinum rings their fiancés had proposed with to the two Fifth Avenue jewelers whence they came.
What do they want instead? Everything from a hexagonal gray diamond on a recycled gold band from Péan to one of James de Givenchy’s lassoed cushion-cut sapphires for Taffin—or Irene Neuwirth’s square-shape lightning-ridge opal. Those looking to subvert tradition rather than remake it, meanwhile, can find their subtle wink in Maison Martin Margiela’s new line of wry and quirky gems: If Holly Golightly can make an engraved Cracker Jack prize elegant, Margiela’s bisected diamond or floating cushion-cut sapphire should present no problem for the creatively minded.
“When Jason proposed, he said, ‘I refuse to pick out an engagement ring for you because I know you would get so much joy choosing one yourself,’ ” explains Fabiola Beracasa, who will wed Jason Beckman in Croatia this summer. Indeed, she delighted in designing a ring with Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia composed of two portrait-cut diamonds forming a circle on a bed of rubies in the shape of the West African symbol for unity. “At the end of the day, they’re family heirlooms,” she says, “so it’s nice when they have a story.”
Sofía Sanchez Barrenechea and her fiancé, Alexandre de Betak, spotted her future engagement ring in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar while on holiday. “He took a picture, and a year later I managed to get it,” she says coyly. “It’s not an obvious one—it’s half and half whether people know I’m engaged,” Barrenechea says of the nineteenth-century Ottoman ring.
Another thing that isn’t obvious? The etiquette of the male engagement ring. The question of the appropriate ring for two male partners encourages a healthy dose of creative license. “There just aren’t as many rules about engagement rings for men,” says Joseph Altuzarra, who recently became engaged to Seth Weissman. “But I was obviously not going to wear a solitaire.” Weissman, upon the counsel of the couple’s close friend Vanessa Traina Snow, went to Givenchy, who created a custom three-layer ring consisting of a gray ceramic center bookended on top and bottom with bands of diamonds.
The ring my fiancé, Graham, ultimately decided upon—after many clandestine rendezvous with my mother at Fred Leighton—is a 1920s Art Deco cushion-cut sapphire set in a diamond surround with wedge-shaped sapphires on each side. It does not look like an engagement ring, but rather a petite blue flash of elegance. People don’t automatically know that I’m engaged—and I actually like the hesitancy and uncertainty. The simple fact of being engaged at 28 is, frankly, far more conventional than I had hoped to be. Thank God the ring isn’t.