The majority of men will probably only wear one ring in their adult life: the wedding band.
Another, smaller set of men will wear a devoted ring of personal significance for much of their life: a class ring, a family seal, or a Masonic emblem, perhaps.
Other than that, they, too, will stick to the wedding band.
Only a small percentage of men will ever wear decorative rings as adults.
But as it turns out, that minority might just be onto something.
Men's Rings: Yes or No?
Insofar as there's any argument here, you can rest assured — yes, men can wear rings if they want to.
A lot of modern jewelry styles may not be to most men's tastes, but there's nothing inherently problematic about the object itself.
Rings have been both masculine and feminine (and gender-neutral, for that matter) for pretty much all of human history.
The two major arguments people present when they criticize men's rings are generally
a) that it's too feminine, or
b) that it's too flashy.
Both of those, in any case where they're true, are problems with the design of the ring in question, not with the presence of a ring at all.
For a quick overview of this article on men's rings – watch the video here:
There's only one really significant objection to rings on men as a broad concept, and that's an old and class-based one: very traditional men of wealth, especially British and European aristocrats and royalty, have a quiet tradition that men simply don't wear decorative jewelry. This even extends to watches (they have people to tell them the time, on the rare occasion that they need to know) and wedding bands (which are only worn by the woman in most high society marriages).
So if you're planning on hob-knobbing with dukes and duchesses, maybe skip the rings. Otherwise, it's a viable option, so read on to learn more about the specifics of the style!
Functions of Rings
Some rings have more symbolism than others. We can generally break rings up into ones that serve a purely decorative function, ones that send a specific cultural message, and the in-betweeners that do both at once:
Cultural and Religious Rings
There aren't any major world religions that explicitly require the wearing of rings, but many do encourage it for specific roles or relationships.
The Western wedding band is the most familiar example for most of us: it's not explicitly required by Christian tradition, but over time it's evolved into a cultural expectation with a lot of symbolism behind it — enough that choosing to go without is something people will notice and consider unusual, at least in America.
In most cases, these tend to either be plain bands or to involve a specific emblem or crest. Insofar as there are personal style choices, those choices are restricted to the size and material.
That said, you can work these into your personal style — married men with gold bands, for example, often tend to accessorize with other gold elements (belt buckles, etc.) so that there's a natural match across all their metal items.
If you're making a bold, aggressive statement with a religious or cultural ring like a wedding band, it's a little tacky. Keep these simple (but high-quality), and look to other jewelry for your personal statements.
Rings have been used to denote membership in groups and families for thousands of years.
These days, the most common examples are fraternal rings, class rings, and the occasional family crest, along with other things of that nature. Some veterans may also wear a ring denoting their branch of service, or even a specific program within their branch (Naval Academy, West Point, Air Force Academy, Merchant Marine Academy).
These are cultural, in that they display a specific belief or membership, but they also tend to be decorative. As a result, the bands and designs are larger, and the detailing more eye-catching, than on a wedding band.
There are several common designs here: the single large, colored stone in the center, surrounded by text or smaller stones, is popular among class rings, while a shield or similar crest in raised or etched metal is often seen on fraternal and family rings.
Most guys wear these with the desire that they be noticed and remarked upon. It's actually a functional door-opener for men in some industries — more than one corporate sale started between two guys with the same school ring.
So if you want to do one of these in the traditional style, be thinking big, bold, and chunky: usually one color of metal only, maybe with one color of stone or one colored stone and smaller neutral ones like diamonds set around it. They're not necessarily meant to impress with their artistry or craftsmanship — just grab the eye and make a statement.
We touched briefly on family crests above, under “affiliation rings,” but most men who wear a family ring attach a little more importance to it than that.
Family rings do not necessarily have to be a single shield, coat of arms, or similar emblem on a solid ring, though many are.
Rather, the purpose of a family ring is simply to remind the wearer of something special and unique to his family and its history. It might be a ring of any style that a beloved ancestor wore (rings acquired overseas by soldiers often come down through the family this way), or it might be made from a certain metal or in a certain shape that has personal significance.
It's not really important if the reasoning behind the family ring is obvious to outsiders, although it can help. Outside the remaining royalty and nobility of Europe, no one's likely to recognize another family's coat of arms at a glance.
The only thing a family ring needs to do is give you a connection with your family. If you feel it does that to your satisfaction, go ahead and wear it — and be prepared to explain it, if necessary, especially in the case of unusual rings.
There's nothing wrong with wearing a cheap trinket your grandfather picked up while he was stationed overseas during WWII, even if it doesn't look like a man's ring usually would. But you are probably going to have to justify it from time to time, especially when you're dressed up nicely.
If you're ever really worried about the appropriateness of a family ring, but don't want to go without it, invest in a long, slim chain and wear it around your neck, under your shirt.
Art and Design Rings
These are the least common type of rings seen on men, and often the most effective choice for a man who wants a unique accessory.
It takes a certain degree of boldness to wear a ring without an “excuse.” And because the selection is vastly more limited for men than it is for women, it can take a while to find something that suits your personal style, falls within your price range, and is well-made and from a reputable source.
If you can get past all that, however, you've got much more freedom of choice with a purely style-oriented ring than you do with something that has to send a specific cultural message.
An art/design ring can look like anything and say anything you want. That lets you pick and choose items that work perfectly with your wardrobe, or even with a single specific outfit that you have in mind.
Guys who are just starting to toy with the idea of wearing a ring would probably do well to start with something that's relatively simple — a thick metal band with circular etching or inlay, for example, without specific jewels or ornamentations or exotic shapes.
That's not to say that you can't jump straight to the screaming eagle clutching a skull traced in diamonds, of course. But a decorative ring on a man's hand is a bold statement on its own. You don't have to overdo it.
How A Man Should Buy a Ring
If you've never purchased metal jewelry for yourself before, the options can get a little intimidating.
Try to break it all down by category: think about the kind of ring you want, then about the size, then the materials, and finally the price.
Odds are good it's going to take you a couple tries to find something that suits your taste on all of those categories. That's okay — take your time. You're going to be putting a decent chunk of cash; you don't want to do that until it's buying something that you absolutely and unreservedly want on your finger.
Step 1: Pick the Kind of Ring You Want
Before you start looking at options, know the general stylistic role you want a ring to fill.
Are you looking for something big, chunky, and rich-looking? Something tough and macho and dramatic? Subtly understated?
There's a role in your wardrobe for all of those, but you need to be realistic about your expectations — you're not going to buy a single ring that goes with all of your outfits, unless you have an incredibly unvaried personal style.
Be thinking about what will be flexible enough to go with the maximum possible number of your general, day-to-day outfits. A really sweet ring that looks amazing with your best suit is only a good investment if you're wearing your suit regularly. Otherwise, it's just an expensive paperweight for most of the year.
Choose the role you most want to fill and start with that ring. You can add others to the collection over the years.
Step 2: Pick the Size of Ring You Want
The size of your ring means two different things: the band size, which is going to affect which of your fingers it fits on, and the cross-sectional width of the ring, which affects how “chunky” it looks on your hand.
The band size is easy — any jeweler‘s store will be happy to measure your fingers for you, so all you have to know is which finger you want to decorate with a ring. (All of them are in play — pinky and middle are the most common choices for decorative rings, but you can even go with a thumb ring if you're smart about your style choices).
If you're shopping online, you can find print-off measuring tapes, or guides on how to measure your finger with a string. Just make sure you follow the guidelines clearly on exactly which part of your finger to measure, and have a friend or family member take their own measurement (without looking at your numbers) as a blind cross-check. You don't want to have to deal with getting bands adjusted. It's possible, but it's expensive.
As far as the thickness of the ring goes, it's mostly an artistic choice (there might also be some practical issues for men with very short, small-jointed fingers, but generally you're not going to be buying something so broad that it prevents a joint from flexing).
Wider rings with a long cross-section are generally perceived as being more “manly,” but taken to an extreme they look like you're trying to show off. In general, you want at least a millimeter or two between the top edge of the ring and the knuckle above it. Once you're within that window, it's just a question of whether you want a big, beefy ring or a slender, subtle one.
Step 3: Pick Your Materials – An Overview of Ring Metals
This can get complicated.
In the most basic rings (like, say, a wedding band) you're picking one metal, which comprises the whole ring. And that's still a lot of options!
The great-granddaddy of all jewelry – the maker of empires – gold is the first and last word in many people's minds.
These days it's just one of many good options, but there's no denying its cultural power.
Jewelers generally sell gold in three shades: gold, white gold, and rose gold. Pure gold is yellowish, white gold is alloyed with a white metal like nickel or manganese to give it a silver tone, and rose cold is alloyed with copper for a reddish tinge.
Gold jewelry will be sold with a karat value (sometimes misspelled as carat, which is technically the measuring standard for gemstone mass). The karat purity (k) is measured as 24 times the mass of pure gold in the metal divided by the total mass of the metal.
Basically, if you read the number in front of the k symbol and divide it by 24, it will give you the percentage of the metal that is pure, unadulterated gold.
24k-gold, therefore, is pure, 100% gold (or, more technically, about 99.9% gold or higher, since even the strictest standards allow for a tiny bit of adulteration).
18k gold, on the other hand, is only about 75% gold, mixed with 25% other metals, since 18/24 = 0.75.
The reasons for the awkward math are historical, lengthy, and largely irrelevant to most men. What you need to know is: 24k is the purest gold, and from there on down it gets increasingly less pure.
The advantages of pure gold are, in no particular order, that you know it costs more, that it weighs more, and that it is that much less likely to contain an allergenic metal like nickel. Aesthetically, it's easy to make even a 50/50 alloy (12k gold) look like the real stuff on the surface level.
Widely known as a cheaper alternative to gold, silver jewelry may actually cost more depending on the quality of the silver and gold in question.
Silver is bright, shiny, and, obviously, silver-tone.
Sterling silver, commonly used in jewelry, is silver of at least 925 fineness, meaning that it is 92.5% silver by weight. Copper is the most common ingredient for alloying, which adds strength to the silver without reducing its shine. On its own, pure silver would scratch and dent very easily, making it impractical for most purposes.
That said, it is possible to find “pure” silver (meaning, in jewelry terms, 99.9% or more silver). This will be slightly heavier, and easier to tarnish or scratch.
Silver is widely used, reasonably affordable, and pleasantly simple. If you want a white-tone ring and don't want to think too hard about your options, sterling silver will do just fine.
Platinum is one of the most precious metals used to make jewelry (it is more valuable by weight than gold).
Like gold, platinum is measured in karats, and the measuring works the exact same way. 24k platinum is at least 99.9% pure, while 18k platinum is 75% pure, and so on.
Platinum looks like silver at a distance, but has a mellower color up close. It can be polished to a high sheen, or left in its natural sense for a smooth, dull finish.
The appeal of platinum is largely its price tag. It is a very high-status metal to own — once, it would have only been available to great kings. Now you can have at least a simple platinum ring for a few hundred bucks, but the appeal is still there.
Stainless Steel Rings
One of the most popular choices for affordable, silver-tone male jewelry, stainless steel is an alloy of steel (for strength) and chromium (for tarnish-resistance). Some stainless steels may include other metals as well, such as manganese and nickel.
You can technically stain stainless steel, if you work at it, but it's harder to do than it would be with regular steel, and the metal has a shinier surface, which lends itself well to jewelry.
Stainless steel is graded based on the composition and the metals alloyed with the steel. The best grade for jewelry is 316, sometimes called marine or surgical stainless steel, which has a very high resistance to corrosion.
Jewelry salesmen will broadly define stainless steel as hypoallergenic, but be aware that some alloys (including the jeweler-preferred 316L) do contain nickel (a common metal allergy). The chromium in the alloy coats the surface, which creates a barrier between the skin and the nickel, but a scratched or damaged stainless steel ring could still cause irritation.
Aside from having a cool name that everyone associates with physical strength, titanium also boasts a very light weight, making it less clunky than other metal jewelry.
Titanium usually appears as a silver-tone, but it can easily be colored, and is often sold in black, gold, and copper tones. Titanium can also be treated to have a rainbow patina, giving it a color-shifting appearance.
The main advantages of titanium are its durability (titanium jewelry is difficult to scratch or dent) and its hypoallergenic nature. It is also extremely resistant to water- and salt-based corrosion.
Titanium occasionally appears in gold jewelry, since a small amount of titanium has so little effect on the weight that it can be alloyed into 24k-gold without reducing the quality, while adding significant resistance to denting and scratching.
Tungsten Carbide Rings
Often shortened in advertisements to just “tungsten,” tungsten carbide is a hard, stiff metal with a bright silver-tone color. It is much dense than steel or titanium, making it a good choice for men who like a satisfying bulk and weight in their rings.
Tungsten jewelry can be almost any color desired, as tungsten carbide's natural form is a powder — it must be “cemented” with other metals to make a band.
Because of that need, tungsten can potentially be a problem for men with nickel, cobalt, or other metal allergies. Ask for the entire chemical content of the metal before buying a tungsten band if you have allergies. Most rings will be hypoallergenic, but a few will not be.
Cobalt Chrome Rings
A fairly recent development in jewelry, cobalt chrome is popular because it looks on its surface very much like platinum, but has a much harder and more scratch-resistant surface (it is also substantially cheaper).
Cobalt chrome is a mid-weight metal made from alloys of cobalt and chrome (obviously), sometimes with small percentages of other metals. It is generally safe for men with nickel allergies, but not men with cobalt allergies (again, obviously).
That said, nickel-chrome-cobalt alloys are commonly used in dental and orthopedic implants, and the metal is available on the market. Double-check to make sure anything you buy labeled as “cobalt chrome” is only an alloy of those two materials if allergies are a concern.
Functionally, palladium is two things in the world of jewelry: an ingredient alloyed with gold to make white gold, and a pure metal used to make jewelry that looks like platinum, but may at times be cheaper.
The “at times” is important there — as stockpiles have fluctuated in the last few decades, platinum and palladium have changed place repeatedly in terms of value. Right now, thanks largely to a massive influx of Chinese palladium jewelry, palladium is the cheaper of the two, and often used as an affordable alternative to platinum.
In properties, the two are quite similar, but palladium is lighter and less durable. It is used as an alternative to nickel for making white gold that is less allergenic.
Ceramic jewelry is barely recognizable as clay, although that's essentially what it is. Metallic-looking rings that are labeled as “ceramic” are generally made by firing hard, powdered compounds like silicon carbide and tungsten carbide.
The result can be just about anything desired, but the most common ceramic rings are smooth, silver-tone ones with a light weight and a hard, brittle surface. You probably can't scratch a ceramic ring, but you can shatter it, with enough force.
Ceramic rings are popular because they are non-metallic (avoiding certain allergies), scratch-resistant, and cheap, and can be made to look like many popular metals if the right finish is used. They cannot be re-sized or altered in any way.
The sheer number and variety of gemstones out there makes them too complicated to discuss in this article.
However, in the simplest terms, you want to look at the color of the gem first (if it's not the color you want, there's no reason to buy it), and then at issues of cut and quality.
Diamonds are famously evaluated by “the four Cs” (cut, color, clarity, and carat weight), and you can apply similar metrics to most precious gems.
For those on a budget, rhinestones, colored glass, and cheap minerals like citrine can make good alternatives to precious stones.
In general, though, a man should keep the presence of stones in his rings to a minimum. One or two very small accent stones, or a single large central one, is fine, but much more than that starts to get gaudy very quickly.
When you start looking into the quality of the materials you'll also want to think about their sourcing, both in the case of metals and gemstones. Don't be afraid to ask (write the company if you need to) where they're sourcing their gems and metals from. You don't really want to be spending money to fund wars in Africa, and you ideally want your metals coming from responsible mining operations too.
Step 4: Settle on a Price For Your Ring
We put this last because it's honestly the least important.
If there's a single piece of jewelry you've identified that really works for your style and your tastes – you can make the money work.
It might take time, or some compromises on other spending, but price isn't an obstacle unless it's truly astronomical. (So yeah, you might never get to wear a ring made out of minerals mined from Saturn's rings and set with frozen unicorn tears or whatever they're offering in SkyMall this year, but in general, you can make prices work.)
That said, only be willing to lay down serious money for a ring that really is perfect for you. If it's nice but not quite your style, or not quite the quality you want, and the price is too high — walk away. There'll be other purchases.
If something's perfect for you, make it happen. If it's just good for you, maybe make it happen anyway, but only when the price is right.
Once you've made those choices — the style, the size, the materials, and the price — congratulations. You just picked out a ring.
Wear it well.
Read next: how to choose an engagement ring?