I’ve been obsessed with “toi et moi” rings since 2013, when the diamond and sapphire engagement ring that Napoleon Bonaparte gave to Josephine de Beauharnais went up for auction.
A few years ago, I returned to the toi et moi (“you and me”) style with a literal twist. This award-winning, tourmaline toi et moi design for ANZA Gems is also known as a “bypass ring” for the way it twists around the finger, leaving the center open.
Thank you to JCK for featuring this design in a recent feature about the celebrity-inspired surge in popularity of toi et moi engagement rings (and thanks also to Metal & Smith for alerting me to the JCK opportunity).
The interest in this style has been building for a while, starting with Emily Ratajkowski’s fabulous double-diamond engagement ring in 2018. That was followed by Ariana Grande’s beautiful but impractical-for-non-celebrities diamond-and-pearl engagement ring in 2020. But what really solidified the trend was the emerald-and-diamond ring by Stephen Webster that Machine Gun Kelly gave to Megan Fox early this year.
This is yet another variation on the toi et moi style, because it’s actually two rings that fit together. You can do quite a lot of personalization within the toi et moi genre. I think Megan’s ring looks gorgeous, and, in general, I much prefer the toi and moi style to the previous celebrity default of a giant diamond looming over a band that was about as thin as a single hair. That said, I cringe to see an emerald in an engagement ring — not because it’s not stunning, but because I don’t recommend such a fragile gem for engagement rings for non-celebrities. Emeralds aren’t as delicate as pearls, which are an even bigger no-no, but considering how hard most people are on their engagement rings, I wouldn’t want to make something like this for my typical customer.
People outside the jewelry industry sometimes scoff at the popularity of diamond engagement rings as a triumph of marketing alone. But diamonds are the #1 hardest gem, and the most scratch-resistant material we know of. For a ring that is worn every day, there’s nothing more practical than a diamond. Rubies and sapphires are the next best things. Emeralds aren’t in the running. In an industry Facebook group, the question was posed: “What will you say if a customer comes in asking for a ring like Megan’s?” One jeweler cracked me up by replying, “Even if she does wear it like a thrice-blessed queen … you can anticipate with fair assurance what that stone is going to look like in 10 years.” Another jeweler responded, “I always say, I would be happy to set emeralds for you as long as you are happy to pay to replace when needed.”
Let me stress that this is not a critique of Stephen Webster’s work on the Megan Fox ring! The normal concerns about wear and tear presumably don’t apply to the very famous or the very wealthy, who can replace damaged gems when necessary. (Also, it’s so clever that the ring is really two separate rings — if Megan insists on wearing her engagement ring to the beach, for instance, she can theoretically leave the emerald at home and wear the much-more-durable diamond alone.) But, as I and other jewelers can testify, the average not-famous customer gets very upset when their engagement ring looks a little worse for wear. I swear, people will wear their ring to the beach (the sand is going to scratch the metal), in the pool, in the shower, to the gym, and drop it down the garbage disposal (seriously!), and then shed real tears when the ring isn’t as pristine as the day they got it. Even with diamond rings, I emphasize to customers that the ring design should suit the wearer’s habits and lifestyle, and I’ve yet to work with someone who has an emerald-engagement-ring lifestyle.
Another thing about the Megan Fox ring that gave me pause is something Machine Gun Kelly told Vogue: “The bands are actually thorns. So if she tries to take it off, it hurts… Love is pain!” Um …what? First of all, Stephen Webster has been doing thorn designs for years, if not decades. You can try on his work — or just study it — and see that the thorns aren’t dangerously pointy. Obviously, I haven’t handled the Megan Fox ring myself. Maybe when she first put it on, or took it off, it did literally scratch her. That’s something that could be easily fixed. (Years ago, I tried on a designer friend’s silver bangles and told him to soften the sharp edges because they scratched the hell out of me.) Or maybe this is just a story inspired by Webster’s design concept. Per Webster’s website: “The ‘Thorn’ collection celebrates an ancient symbol widely used to denote the bittersweet nature of pleasure and pain.” I don’t find that description alarming. After all, one of my specialities is poison rings, and I don’t expect my customers to literally poison anyone. Megan and Kelly have been going for a goth Angelina-Billy Bob vibe with blood-drinking proposals and whatnot, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they were inspired to invent a personal mythology around the thorn-themed ring shank. But, read the room, Machine Gun! Unless allegedly blood-drawing rings are worn by both partners, it comes off as toxic and possessive.
I do encourage my customers to come up with their own interpretations of pieces that are emotionally important to them. My dragon ring might be inspired by an ancient Chinese empress, but that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to see any connection to Empress Wu in it. Still, if you’re going to share your personal conception of my work with the world, I implore you not to make it super-awkward for everyone! Anyway, I’m going to wrap up this post so I can get to work on a custom ring featuring a luscious but still-practical ruby.
If you want to discuss any kind of custom design, holla at me at info at wendybrandes dot com or direct message me on social media. I always say that if you can describe it, I can create it. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the person who finally convinces me to make an emerald engagement ring.
UPDATED TO ADD: The Zing Report has a piece on toi et moi rings too.