For most of us, February 29 is just an extra day on the calendar. But in the British Isles, it's traditionally been the one day that, instead of waiting patiently for Prince Charming to pop the question, a damsel is allowed to ask a man for his hand in marriage.
Well, one day may have sufficed in fifth-century Ireland or in today's more anachronistic circles, but these days, it's becoming more and more common for a man to be proposed to, thanks to continued steps toward gender parity and the growing acceptance of gay marriage.
But what exactly does one give to a man once you're down on one knee? Cartier and Tiffany & Co. have several lines of engagement rings for women, but when it comes to men, you'd be hard pressed to find a brand with even one dedicated collection.
L. Bamburger & Co., the department store that would become Macy's, tried to make the male engagement ring happen in 1920's, but it never stuck.
1/19 – What do you do with one of the world's largest rough diamonds?
You chip away at it -- for some 47,000 man hours, and then turn it into one lavish neckpiece, featuring 11,551 diamonds. Credit: Courtesy Chow Tai Fook
This isn't helped by the fact that there aren't set standards for what constitutes a proper engagement ring for a man. One stone or several? Diamonds or no diamonds? And if it's a "yes" to diamonds, what are the politics of a princess cut versus an emerald cut?
For some independent jewelers, this is an opportunity to define the masculine engagement ring -- sometimes called a "mangagement" ring -- on their own terms. Instead of appropriating their ostentatious female counterparts, these rings are often based on the tenants that define design for men today: comfort, practicality, and simplicity.
How to pick the perfect ring
"We always suggest something really wearable, not too heavy with a low profile on the finger," said Andy Henson and and Brent Gold of Sydney-based Henson
. "Men tend to wear jewelery less, so having something that is comfort driven and that will wear well is a big factor for us."
"Often the look is clean, bold and modern, but with a flourish that makes it special," says Andrew Schloss, creative director of New York jewelers Reinstein/Ross
"Some men want a ring with a central stone, and some men prefer a band. Either way, our intent is to make this a special and significant piece."
Similarly, Leign Batnick Plessner, co-creative director of cult Brooklyn brand Catbird
, usually steers clients towards less ostentatious designs with subtle embellishments.
"I'd suggest a chunkier eternity band, like the Saturn's Ring
in black diamonds, or something sentimental, but not saccharine," she says.
But in the end, most jewelers agree that the most important thing to consider is not what society says is appropriate, but what your partner will like most.
After all, if you're a traditionalist, the opportunity to propose to your man only comes around once every four years.