DEAR ABBY: I am a young man with a burning question: Does an engagement ring have to be a diamond? I'm not ready to pop the question yet, but I'd like to know just the same. -- GEMSTONE INQUIRER IN ILLINOIS
DEAR INQUIRER: I took your burning question to Carol Brodie, director of global communications for Harry Winston Jewelers. Our conversation was fascinating. She says the tradition of giving a diamond as an engagement ring began in 1477, when Archduke Maximillian of Hamburg presented one to Mary of Burgundy. At that time, diamonds were regarded as "charms" that would enhance the love of a husband for his wife.
In more recent times, diamonds were the logical choice because their hardness equates to durability. However, it is not the only choice; much depends on the woman's taste. Rubies, sapphires and colored diamonds (pink, yellow, etc.) are also popular. (Because emeralds are the softest of the precious stones, they are not recommended for use as engagement rings.)
It goes without saying that fine jewelry should be purchased only from a reputable jeweler. The Better Business Bureau can recommend one if you need a referral.
A final thought: Although the idea of presenting a ring (on bended knee) might seem romantic, most modern women prefer to be part of the selection process. A practical way to arrange it is to call the jeweler ahead of time and arrange for a selection of stones in your price range to be shown to both of you.