When a guy pops the question with a sparkly diamond, his intended will likely go gaga over the ring — but he shouldn't relax just yet. His sweetie might ask for an upgrade before too long.
Upgrading an engagement ring (search) with a larger, flashier diamond or a glitzier setting has become as common among young couples as moving from an apartment to a house or trading in a modest set of wheels for something spiffier.
“It’s a growing trend, especially with more couples paying for a good portion of their wedding,” said wedding expert Sharon Naylor (search). “They may not have the money to get the really, really good ring.”
But size doesn't matter only to women. Men get competitive about their wives' rocks, too, often because the diamond becomes synonymous with how much they earn.
"I don't know that it's a competition that ever gets verbalized," said Michael Zampetti, a 26-year-old real estate investor from Teaneck, N.J. "But it's like your car. For some guys, the engagement ring becomes the same sort of status symbol."
The diamond-as-male-ego phenomenon can especially be felt during get-togethers with other couples — and those who married younger and poorer may have an inferiority complex around their more well-established, recently wed counterparts.
"Guys notice that other guys are checking out their wife's ring," Zampetti said. "It sounds dirty and it sort of is. For a lot of guys it does become a sense of pride."
That's why some couples up the ante. Naylor said many husbands buy their wives the new-and-improved ring for a first, fifth or other special anniversary, when they’re more financially stable.
Stay-at-home mom Laura Zachariah, 27, of Evanston, Ill., got her .9-carat original diamond upgraded to one that’s a little over 2 carats.
“When he bought the ring, he was 22 years old and had no job,” Zachariah said of her husband. “Then we both were doing really well and he just wanted to get me a bigger ring. Our life had been upgraded and it was just something we wanted to do.”
Some women thinking about trading up want to make the setting more snazzy, but keep the rock as is.
A magazine editor named Kristen, who asked that her last name be withheld, has a plain solitaire setting and said she’d like to add gemstones and detailing, which were financially out of reach when she got engaged.
“[My husband’s] take on it was that this is a placeholder because of the bottom line of the wedding," said the 28-year-old New Yorker. "He knew that stylistically I have more complicated tastes.”
But the idea of swapping in a new stone doesn't appeal to her.
“Upgrading the size of the diamond is a bit crass for my tastes,” she said.
Some people think upgrades can sour the memories surrounding the proposal.
"The ring that's on her hand symbolizes everything I felt when I bought it for her," said Zampetti, who designed a 1.5-carat diamond ring with three baguettes on each side for his wife. "You can't upgrade the engagement. I wouldn't want to take away the sentimental and emotional importance of the original."
But Naylor said that doesn't necessarily happen when a couple upgrades.
“It doesn’t take away from the sentimentality or the meaning of the ring,” she said.
A spokesman from Harry Winston (search) said he rarely gets engagement ring upgrade requests — but the jeweler is known for sizeable gems. Their average engagement diamonds are 1.75 to 2 carats, according to James Haag, director of marketing and sales.
More common, said Haag, is upgrading by purchasing a whole new ring with a larger stone for an anniversary.
Still, some grooms scoff at the idea of shelling out more dough for a bigger rock.
"I wouldn't do that," said UPS driver Mike Compierchio, 37, of Verona, N.J. "For us, there'd be better things to spend our money on. She has a nice ring."
Other hubbies don't even cave into pressure from their friends.
"He thinks jewelry is a waste of money," Seattle resident Julie Leitner, 32, said of her husband of seven years, who sometimes gets ribbed by his buddies for the 1.3-carat ring with baguettes he gave her. "His friends could all buy their wives 10 carats of diamonds and he wouldn't care."
But there are brides and grooms who think the size of the ring is an important reflection of their relationship and their place in life.
“Relationships change,” Zachariah said. “Love grows — and so do rings."