When Chelsea Nicholson got engaged, sticking to tradition wasn’t at the top of her priority list, as she and her fiancé’s love story hadn’t followed the most traditional path to begin with. “We’ve had a wild ride,” says the cofounder of jewelry brand Ceremony. “We grew up in a small town in Oregon and we’ve kind of known each other our whole lives, but we never dated until our early 20s.” After eight years of long-distance dating, off and on, Nicholson and her fiancé got engaged and finally settled together in Los Angeles about a year and a half ago. They set a wedding date for two years down the road and brushed off any pressure to stick to a timeline. “We’ve been going at our own tempo.”
Generally speaking, Nicholson is well versed on challenging norms, particularly operating a brand that’s in (but doesn’t necessarily follow the traditions of) the approximately $76 billion wedding industry. She cofounded jewelry brand Ceremony with designer Jess Hannah Révész in 2018, which aims to avoid most of the wedding-jewelry stereotypes you might find in, say, TV commercials for engagement rings that typically feature only heterosexual couples. “We’re not trying to capture some market or capitalize on someone’s relationship,” she says of her direct-to-consumer and sustainably sourced brand that takes an inclusive approach to marketing. Instead, the collection of gold rings—some with diamond detailing, some with heavier metal silhouettes—are called symbols of love. “They’re really there to signify any type of interpersonal or intrapersonal love.”
For her own engagement, Nicholson—whose role at Ceremony includes selecting the 100% recycled diamonds that are used in the designs—went with the brand’s Giverny style, a Victorian-inspired ring with a wide band and three diamonds that sit on top. She considers it a more classically feminine style, but “it’s not actually super traditional in the sense of a solitaire or a halo or something like that,” she says.
As expected, there wasn’t much question that she’d choose a Ceremony ring for this commitment, but still, landing on the right one did call for trial and error. On the other side of the decision, Nicholson has gleaned several pieces of advice that any ring shopper can follow. “What I did was try on all our styles a million times,” she says, “wear them in front of a mirror, take photos, and envision what I feel good in when I catch myself in the mirror walking by. And for me, that was a little bit of sparkle.”
Nicholson doesn’t believe in putting down any particular type of ring style—“everyone has different preferences and that’s great. How it should it,” she says—but for customers like herself who prefer something a bit more unique and personal, she warns shoppers to be cautious of designs that have a sudden surge in popularity. “We definitely try to go for styles where you can’t pinpoint the era that they’re from,” she says. “They kind of look vintage but they look modern also.”
This isn’t to say that every recently trendy style, such as a halo cut or cluster rings, should be avoided. But customers should look beyond them in order to determine what truly speaks to their taste. “I like the idea of buying the piece that you’ll keep forever, but sometimes it is really hard to tell if you’re falling into a trend or really just eyeing something you truly love,” she says. She recommends two ways to find clarity.
First, do some historical digging for inspiration from 40, 50, or 100 years ago. “Don’t just look at what you’re being marketed with. Do a little bit of research on what rings looked like over time. Does anything speak to you more than the one you got targeted by 10 times today on Instagram?”
Second, Nicholson says buying a forever ring is about considering the materials as closely as you would the design. Alternative stones such as emeralds, sapphires, morganite, or opal may be beautiful, but customers should be aware that they’re not as hard as a diamond, she explains. Metals such as 18-karat gold and G-color, VS-clarity diamonds will retain their value over time, even if your taste should change. “If in 10 years this [ring] is really not what you want to wear, then you reset it and adapt it to modern times,” Nicholson suggests; she stresses that both parties in a relationship should be on the same page about this possibility walking into that purchase.
For further ring-shopping resources, Nicholson shares that Ceremony is relaunching its own site on December 26 to introduce a video concierge service that helps shoppers through the overwhelming process of selecting a diamond. “We search for each stone as we’re working with the customer,” she explains. The site’s new feature provides a more one-on-one experience to make sure every ring has the look and budget that fits each customer.
Ceremony is one of many brands who set a new precedent for the bridal industry and also focus on allowing individuals to decide for themselves what commitment and partnership looks like. Other examples include brands like Lein, which creates dresses to be worn for the wedding day and any day after; fellow jewelry brand Anna Sheffield, famous for its stackable engagement and wedding rings in unique materials; and Zola, a site that allows couples to create a registry for their honeymoon adventure or a charity close to their hearts instead of asking for a toaster or a gravy boat.
Ceremony is a for-profit business, but it’s also one that opens up questions about why people marry, how they marry, and how they choose to show their commitment through a piece of jewelry. For Nicholson, that symbol is a tri-stone ring; for her fiance, it’s the Rowan III, a wider gold ring. “I got him an engagement ring too,” she says, sharing another unconventional approach to engagement rings, which are almost exclusively marketed for women to wear. “Because we’re having a two year engagement, it’s kind of weird that I’m wearing a ring for two years and he doesn’t have one, so he has a ring that he wears every day.”
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