What to do with your wedding ring after the marriage ends

Shirley P. Olin

Do you have post-divorce wedding or engagement rings burning a hole in your jewelry box? Join the club.

About 43 percent of once-married people have been divorced by the time they’re in their fifties. Nearly 800,000 people divorced in the U.S. alone in 2017.

That’s a lot of rings loaded with emotional baggage and raw material. Maybe it’s time to do something with those rings.

I have one of those rings. Sometimes when I open my ring drawer, light glints off its princess-cut diamonds and I think: “I should do something with that.” Then I close the drawer. Kind of a metaphor for what happens when I think of the marriage itself.

So, what do we do with our unwanted wedding rings? I’ve been asking jewelers and divorced friends.

A wedding ring is loaded with memories, symbolism, and disappointed dreams. Maybe turning it into cold, hard cash is just what you need. Or maybe you need something else.

The more recent your divorce, the more therapeutic physical transformation can be. And the more likely you are to do something dumb.

1. Toss it in the river? No! Don’t do it! I cringe whenever I see that scene in a movie. What a waste of precious material. It might feel good in the moment to make a dramatic gesture like that but don’t be fooled. It’s still down there, honey. Only now it’s buried in the muck doing nobody any good, least of all you.

2. Transform it. Yes! My friend Adrienne took her wedding ring to a local jeweler after her divorce, had the diamond removed, added a couple new stones and turned it into a one-of-a-kind ring for her middle finger. She’s now happily remarried. She would say learn from your mistakes and move on, preferably with better jewelry.

“Regal AF” ring by Gary Roe, hand-carved and fabricated from 18k gold and diamonds

3. Take it in for appraisal. If it’s an antique or made by a designer with name value, this is a good place to start. Your ring may be worth more than the sum of its parts.

4. Put it up for auction. If it does have designer or historic value, it might be worth paying a seller’s fee to make sure it reaches a wide audience of potential collectors. Find an auction house that specializes in that style or period.

5. Pawn it. If your divorce left you strapped, this may be the quickest way to make that ring cover your immediate expenses. Park it and borrow against it. You can revisit what to do with it later, when you’re in a better place.

6. Sell it for gold. If it contains substantial gold, have it weighed and sell it by the gram. Gold is selling for nearly $1,800 per ounce and has been at peak value for the past year. This is a great time to sell gold jewelry. Make sure you’re dealing with a reputable business and have an idea of the ring’s market value before you commit.

Knuckle ring with bezel-set diamonds by CEEM Designs

7. Turn it into something you really want. Use the proceeds to top off the down payment on a car or book a trip you could never get your ex to take with you. Splurge on something fabulous and impractical.

8. Take a flame to it. Personally, I think this is the best idea. Unlike torching your Vera Wang gown which will turn it into a worthless pile of ash, torching your rings leaves you with the raw material for… a brand new piece of jewelry!

If you can’t do the torching yourself, most studio jewelers will be happy to do it while you watch, and then help you transform it into something special, custom-made for you (with no spouse looking over your shoulder).

My friend Jim Dailing, an Oregon-based studio jeweler and teacher, occasionally holds an event he calls “The Great Ring Meltdown.” Around Valentine’s Day, he invites people to bring their rings to his studio and take a torch to them. By doing that, they’re literally burning the significance out of the original ring and returning it to its elemental state.

Then Jim helps them design that metal ingot into a ring or pendant they can wear now – or give away.

I’m past wanting to torch my former marriage via that old ring of mine. I just don’t care that much anymore. But during the period when I was picking up the pieces of my life, it would have been satisfying and meaningful. Having done it himself, Jim says it’s surprisingly therapeutic to turn your wedding ring into molten metal and start over again.

I would like to rearrange those diamonds and gold into something else though. Our society imposed this symbol of marital commitment on diamonds. But what are they really? Diamonds are the hardest substance known to man. Natural diamonds like mine were formed over billions of years, under incredible pressure and heat. And what is gold? A rare element, the most malleable of all metals, resistant to corrosion.

That sounds like a recipe for a lasting marriage doesn’t it? Oh well. Back to the jeweler’s workbench with you, little band of gold, little pile of diamonds.

I want to take my wedding ring back to its elements and make something beautiful out of it, something strong but malleable, bolder than the original, more unique, less constrained. What will you do with yours?

Jewelry featured on his page was designed and made by Jim Dailing, Gary Roe and CEEM Design.

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