How I Went Mining and Made My Wife’s Unique Engagement Ring (The Best $1,390 I’ve Ever Spent)

Inside: See how one guy used a bit of creativity and elbow grease to create a one-of-a-kind Montana sapphire engagement ring.

Last year we did a post about engagement rings and held a few competitions for the cheapest ring, the most expensive, the oldest ring, and funny marriage proposal stories! (winners were announced here)

I also promised to share the story about my wife’s unique engagement ring, but just realized I never did that! So, this post is about how it all went down, plus a few other cost-effective ring ideas people shared.

Hopefully it gives some inspiration or ideas to any of you guys or gals planning to propose soon to your significant others! And for the rest of y’all, just a fun and sappy story. :)

First, here’s a glimpse of my wife’s engagement ring…

The stone is a Yogo Sapphire. And the reason it’s weird-shaped is because I mined it with my bare hands! The setting and band are white gold with teeny tiny diamonds all around it. The all-in cost was $1,390.

My Clueless Beginnings … How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

I was 27 years old and had no clue what I was doing. I’m guessing most people are a little lost and confused when they’re planning the biggest investment of their life (the marriage, not the ring). Carats, ring sizes, advice coming in from all directions … ring shopping is quite overwhelming! 

My married friends weren’t much help. One colleague at work told me to spend at least $30,000 on a ring! I’ll never forget — he said, “Think about your wife sitting around having brunch with her friends… you want her to have the biggest and fanciest ring to show off.”  🤦‍♂️  Horrible advice.

The internet told me to spend 3 months of my salary on a ring. I earned ~$90k/year back in 2013, so this would have been like $22,500! This was WAY more than I had in mind. I continued shopping around online, but never found anything that felt right.

Why Does an Engagement Ring Have to Be a Diamond?

My wife never really liked diamonds. She studied soil science, worked in farms and vineyards, and was always more fascinated with other types of earth stones.

One day I was chatting with a family member and they mentioned that maybe a colored sapphire would be nice instead of a diamond ring. I had never considered a sapphire engagement ring before. I guess I thought anything less than a big sparkly diamond might seem cheap. But, the more I thought about my wife’s style and attitude, the more I came to like the sapphire idea.

Better yet, I was recommended a specific type of sapphire, called a Yogo Sapphire. Yogos are found only in Montana, and since my wife’s family is from up there, it had a cool personal connection. I also heard that the center stone in Princess Diana’s famous engagement ring might be a yogo sapphire, so this eradicated my fear of seeming “cheap.”

Looking back, I don’t know why I cared so much about what others thought. My advice now for any people looking to buy a ring is: Do whatever you feel is best for you and your partner. Don’t let others decide your ring. The more unique/different/personal it is to you, the more special it will be.

Finding a Yogo Sapphire

When I was chatting with another family member at Christmas, they were telling me about visiting a yogo sapphire mine once as a kid. His school class took an excursion into the mine, and all the kids got to try mining their own stones.

This got me thinking … Instead of buying a sapphire, why don’t I just visit a mine, ask the workers if I can borrow a pick axe, and dig up my own natural sapphire? How hard can it be? Plus it’ll save me a few bucks instead of buying one at the store.

I started calling around to different mines in Montana to ask about yogo mining. Unfortunately, I hit a few roadblocks. Since yogos aren’t very profitable for the mining business, there was only 1 mine that specialized in yogo sapphires, and that mine had been closed for 2 years due to a large accident involving the owner. 😳

After a few more phone calls to mine sites, I struck some luck, albeit a bit of a risk …

I found a guy who owned a small mine in the middle of dingo woop woop, Montana. He said that a few years back he bought a truckload of “reserve ore” (dirt) from a yogo mine and he’d be happy to ship me some. He said “Give me your credit card number over the phone, I’ll ship you a box of dirt and some instructions, and you’ll probably find some yogo sapphires in there.”

The guy said he’d charge me $100 for the dirt and $40 for shipping. 2 weeks later, I had a large box of dirt delivered to a friend’s house in Los Angeles.

(I guess things have changed since I was searching for a Montana sapphire because some mining production has restarted and there are even options for people to find their own stones now. Yogos in particular are coveted enough that the ones that come from “yogo gulch” can come with special certification.) 

Mining Gemstones Isn’t Really That Hard …

The box was about the size of a small cooler. I was expecting to find some regular loose soil inside that I’d have to sift through, but instead there were about 15-20 large dirt rocks in the box, each about the size of my fist.

The instructions were to soak the rocks in water and slowly rub them with various tools until you find gems inside. It was a very slow and tedious process that took several trips to my friend’s house to work on. After hours and hours of rubbing and scraping, we started to find little rough sapphires …

We ended up with about 100 tiny blue stones, only of which 4-5 would be big enough to put in a ring. Coincidently, one gemstone was in the shape of a heart, so that was used in the final ring.

How I Met the Fancy Ring Designer

This was a pure coincidence … The week after mining the sapphire, I was throwing a party at my house and one of my friends brought along a guest. The guest turned out to be a custom necklace designer who worked at a fancy jewelry store in Beverly Hills. 

After a few beers, we got talking about the sapphire story, and he offered to design and make me a ring. I was surprised, because he was used to designing custom bling bling for celebrities and gangster rappers in town … Their budgets were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, mine was only a few grand. He told me not to worry about the money, and he would ask his boss if he can just do this job “under the table.”

I gave him the yogo sapphire and after a few weeks of emails back and forth with design ideas, it was all ready. I picked up my custom ring outside the back of his workplace and in exchange for an envelope full of cash. The best $1,250 I’ve ever spent. :)

$140 for the stone + $1,250 for the ring stuff = $1,390. Not too shabby! 

It’s the Thought That Counts, Not the Money

At the end of the day, any ring is a good ring. I like to think that my wife would have said Yes even if I proposed with an empty box. (Some people don’t even want a ring, just an eternal promise of love 😍.)

During the ring competition last year, we got a TON of responses from people who spent less than a few hundred dollars on a ring. And some even under $1!

So if you’re planning a proposal in the near future, don’t feel pressured to spend money just ‘cause. High or low, YOU set the budget.

Other Ideas for Budget-Friendly Engagement Rings and Discounts

Here are a few ideas we got from the competition respondents! 👇👇👇

  • Enso Rings ($20 – $40): These are made from super durable silicone and look quite sharp I think!
  • Lab Diamonds (~$300 starting): These diamonds are made in a lab (environmentally friendly!), and are indistinguishable from earth diamonds. You can choose your own cut/color/clarity/carat weight.
  • Tattoo rings ($50 up to a few hundred):  Hard to propose with, unless you’re right outside the tattoo shop down on one knee?
  • Watch repair person hook-up (discounts vary): Take your watch into a jewelry store and ask to speak to the “repair technician” directly (not the sales clerk). Ask the repair person if they have any diamond connections and if you can strike a cash deal. (The watch is just a decoy to talk to the repair person, obviously!) Many technicians do the parts/metal/stones buying for small stores and may be able to get you a deal! h/t to Max for this tip!
  • Estate Sales (price depends): Estates sales are great places to find old and vintage style rings. Prices depend on the area and ring type, but you can get killer deals if you’re patient.
  • Jewelry Auctions: Some of these are online estate sales or leftovers from events that didn’t sell. Caution here: Watch out for taxes and sales surcharges that some auctions apply.
  • Ask about upcoming sales in store: If you’re at the store and not in a rush to buy, simply ask the clerk if there are any upcoming sales or events. You’d be surprised how many people don’t ask because they’re embarrassed. There is no harm in ever asking for discounts!

Happy to add more to this growing list if you have tips or tricks to share!?

Have a great weekend, all!

PS: For all you bloggers and content creators out there… I had the pleasure of chatting with Pete McPherson on the Do You Even Blog podcast! Episode here if you’re wanna listen :)

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  1. Samantha January 29, 2021 at 12:05 PM

    Love this! We did a similar thing. Why go to the mall and buy some crappy meaningless rock that looks like everyone else’s and totally blow MONTHS of your salary when you can make something special (and less war-driven?). We snagged a gorgeous salt water pearl online and had a custom palladium ring made for like $1,200. Its still my favorite piece of jewelry I own, 10 years later. But I’m a “pearl girl”, never did like diamonds and gold all that much.

    1. Joel January 29, 2021 at 1:00 PM

      That’s so cool! There’s really cool places around the world to go pearl hunting too if people want to turn the ring making into a travel activity!

  2. KYmath January 29, 2021 at 12:09 PM

    Cool story about the ring. Always great to have a good story to tell.

    1. Joel January 29, 2021 at 1:04 PM

      My wife doesn’t know this yet (and I don’t think she reads these comments haha!) but I’m planning to use the remaining small yogo stones to make 10, 20, 30+ year anniversary gifts throughout our life. Doesn’t have to be jewelry – I can try sicking them into any home made gift somehow :) Something fun to figure out!

  3. Steveark January 29, 2021 at 1:41 PM

    That is cool Joel, my wife had no interest in an engagement ring and opted for a plain gold band for a wedding ring. It cost $31. But 42 years later she’s still putting up with me.

    1. Joel January 30, 2021 at 3:51 PM

      I always pictured you as a young 30-40 guy, Steve. You’ve been married for 42 years!!?? No wonder you spit out such mature and sound advice!

      Congrats on a long and successful marriage. And thanks for proving that mega expensive gifts aren’t needed when wooing your life partner :)

  4. Adam January 29, 2021 at 2:59 PM

    Right on — nothing like making the stone happen with your own two hands! When I was eleven I took a gemstone grinding class at a local science center (man I miss those summer classes); I came out of it with a large gorgeous polished opal. Wish I knew where that thing ended up.

    My wife definitely did not want a diamond, so I worked with someone in Idaho to find a .8 carat ruby and then had a local guy design and cast a platinum setting (she is clumsy and bakes a lot; it took some doing to craft something sturdy that looks good). The metals market today is far removed from what it was eleven years ago; at the time a platinum engagement ring with matching palladium wedding bands made great sense, but today’s palladium prices are crazy. It’s pretty fantastic that fate found you someone to design the setting!

    1. Joel January 30, 2021 at 3:46 PM

      Great story Adam, and very similar! Send me a pic of that ruby! It sounds cool!

      When the ring makers set my wife’s stone, they said that there’s a good chance it will fracture or break in the first year or so (when you hold the stone up to the light it has many cracks and fractures visible in it). But it’s been 7 years and it’s still going strong! I’m waiting for it to break any day because my wife is clumsy also, but so far so good! haha. :)

  5. Angie Pannkuk January 29, 2021 at 4:04 PM

    Love this story. By the way, it wasn’t a “coincidence” that your friend just happened to bring a jewelry designer to your party. That was a divine appointment.

    1. Joel January 30, 2021 at 3:42 PM

      Agreed! The universe was on my side to make this happen for sure :)