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Podcast Episode 6: How to Do a Surprise Proposal


Wedding proposals carry a lot of emotion. Add the element of surprise and things can get complicated. In this conversation with Lex Atencio, we discuss what to consider and how to overcome the common obstacles. Lex also shares a lot of stories from his years of working with customers. Join us for this interesting conversation.

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Show Transcript

Troy: Welcome to the Modern Jewelry Podcast, today we’re talking about how to do a surprise proposal and our special guest is, Lex Atencio. Lex, welcome to the show again.

Lex: Thank you for having me Troy, nice to be here again.

Troy: Lex what we are talking about is how to do a surprise proposal. Before we get started I think we should address, you know, let’s do a legal disclaimer that you do not recommend or encourage you to do a surprise proposal. We’re simply providing some ideas and some other examples of what people have done and kind of talking through ways to do a surprise proposal. We are in no way encouraging you that that's what you should do. Is that a good way to put it?

Lex: Yeah, I would add that a proposal is very much like the engagement ring itself, where it's unique to everybody. Everyone has their own styles, preferences, tastes, what they do and don’t like and the proposal is no different. It should be something that’s special to you and unique to you and something that speaks to you and your relationship, much like the ring. But yeah, I would agree with what you said.

Troy: Great! So let’s start off with, what do we mean by a surprise proposal and Lex, you’ve obviously dealt with a lot more people and have a lot of friends who have done this. What would you define as a surprise proposal?

Lex: Well a surprise proposal to me is a proposal that you get that photo opportunity, quote on quote, where you’re down on one knee and she has her hands over her mouth, a gasp, that you are doing this because she was so taken off guard. Obviously I think that you can still have a surprise proposal even if you have shopped for rings together, you know, we have many, many young couples that will come together to figure out what she likes or that they like in a ring and that doesn’t mean the proposal is not going to be a surprise. You can still find a way to make it off guard.

Troy: I love how you described that, just a surprise in that even though he or she may know of the intention, they’re surprised in that moment. And obviously, I think we should start by talking about the ring itself because, there’s so many logistical complications and things you need to consider because, the last thing you want to do is get down on your knee, show them this beautiful ring and then it doesn't fit or it’s not what they were expecting or something like that. So, let’s start with, what are safe ways to determine ring size?

Lex: So, it is definitely tricky and I would encourage people when we’re getting an engagement ring and kind of aiming for that size and she doesn’t know that it’s coming at all, we want a general closeness. Don’t stress about getting it exactly right, it’s totally normal and honestly expected for her to come in after the fact and get it properly sized. So we want to get it pretty close and I would air on the size of a little to big than a little too small. You want to be able to slip it over her finger. You don’t want it to present it to her and she can’t even wear the thing to show off to people or not even be able to get it on her hand when you’re on that knee. And so, I would get a little bigger. Obviously you don’t want to get it so big that it’s a risk of getting lost. You don’t want your partner to fling it off in an excitement and it goes off the side of a cliff. So, there are some tools at our disposal that we can use to tighten a ring without sizing it as a very temporary solution that you can utilize to make it a little tighter if it needs to be. So, again, I think it’s good to be slightly big. The ways that you can try to get a good guesstimation of your partner’s finger size is a lot of people will take a ring of theirs that they already wear, whether they’re at home or ona trip or what have you, they’ll sneak it out of the house, they’ll come to us to get it sized. The issue with that is that it really depends on what specific finger they wear it on, that particular ring because, the right hand and the left hand are two different sizes, even finger to finger. Your dominant hand is generally a half size bigger on each finger because it’s your more muscular hand. You’ve grown more muscle on your dominant hand. So, if someone is left-handed and you’re sizing a ring that they wear on their right hand, then that size is going to be a little small compared to their left hand and vice versa, obviously. Additionally, their fingers are much different sizes. My index fingers are a lot bigger than any of my other fingers on both hands and so you can’t necessarily say “she wears this on the index finger of their right hand and so it’ll be similar to that as their ring finger on their left hand.” That’s a tough one so the closer you can get it to that exact finger or a ring they wear on their ring finger of either hand, the better. If they happen to wear a ring on their ring finger you can take that ring and put it on your finger, pick a finger to wear it on, and notate on yourself where it stops, if it’s between this knuckle and that knuckle or if it stops a fingernail width from here, whatever it may be, so that way you can come in and try on ring sizing rings and we can figure out which rings stops at that same point. That’s a pretty good guesstimation as well. Finally, a lot of people will kind of work with their friends so if their friend has a ring they get to try it on and say “oh I just got my ring can I try yours on”? That’s pretty common and they can notate their ring got to there on her so that friend can then help you know you need to be here. There’s some little tricks that we can do. A couple of people have taken pictures of their spouses hand and I can do a decent job of kind of eyeballing it a bit. I’ve been in the industry for twelve years and I wouldn’t save every sales person that has that capability, to look at a picture and go “I think that’s a seven”. There are ways to kind of try to get close. Again, if you were to just come in and say “She’s 5’ 6”, she weighs 120 pounds and she’s very active” then we can go for someone of that size, I could say a 5 ½ or a six is gonna be something that could go on and be fine. So, it doesn't have to be perfect. Again, air on the side of being a little too big. Our stock ring size in our bridal is 6 ½. We do that because most women are between a 4 ½ and an 8 ½ and 6 ½ being right in the middle, you can size up or down generally a size and a half before the ring needs to potentially be remade. 6 ½ is a good average size if you feel like your spouse is a really small person then maybe we start with a five or if you feel like they are a powerlifter and they got big hands then we can start a little bit bigger, but that’s a good rule of thumb to be right in the middle at 6 ½. So if you’re looking for average, I think you’re safe there.

Troy: Great. Yeah, that was a lot of good information and while you were talking, I was looking at my own hands being like “oh yeah, I think you’re right. I think my right hand is bigger” and sure enough, I moved my wedding band over and I couldn‘t fit it on my other hand. You learn something new everytime you talk to Lex for sure.

Lex: That’s a good point to pause cause Jodi says somebody’s knocking on the door, hang on one second.

Troy: Alright, so we’ve covered the sizing and approaches for getting the right size so now let’s talk about probably the most important aspect of the ring. How do you find out the style of ring and diamond they like?

Lex: I would always start off with Pinterest. For a lot of guys out there, Pinterest may be a social media website you haven’t thought of very much in the last four or five years but almost, without fail, your soon to be fiance probably has a Pinterest board of a bunch of rings that she’s saved that she likes so if you can get access to that Pinterest board, that would be my step one. Beyond that, I would say, if you’re really going for full on surprise here, she has no idea that you’re even looking for a ring, I think talking to her friends. They probably have some feeling or have gotten some feedback from her on what she may like or not like and if you’re open to it, you can enlist a friend of theirs to go shopping, not for themselves per say. You can say “Hey go look for a ring for your sister” or whatever it is and write down her feedback on seeing those rings. I think friends of theirs would be a good bet. Obviously we if, we talked earlier, you still want to surprise them but you're open to shopping together then that’s probably your best bet in terms of finding something that they obviously already like and love and would like to see on their hand so that’s certainly an option as well and you can still have that surprise. If you don't want to go any of those routes, one thing we provide is if you just want to pick the stone, you know, you feel confident they like a certain shape or a size or not and you just want to wing it, we will get in a very, very basic mounting for you to set that stone and like I said, this is very basic. It would probably be ten karat gold or fourteen karat gold and there wouldn’t be any side diamond, just a really simple setting. You can buy that ring, set that stone and we’ll take back that ring at 100% of what you paid for it towards the final ring that you guys can come in together after you propose and pick that out together. So it’s a fairly risk free way to say hey I don’t know exactly what she wants, I know that I want to propose, I know I want to use a diamond or some other similar stone, whatever you like, and we’ll mount it and you can propose with that. Basically it just a temp ring. So, that’s also a good option that we’ve offered and has a lot of good feedback. It really alleviates the stress, SO many guys are stressed about getting the right ring and this really negates that so that you can really enjoy it together to come in and build that ring, the two of you, and find something that she wants exactly and so you can still propose without knowing exactly what to get.

Troy: That’s really great and I think we might’ve talked about that or I would definitely encourage our listeners to check out our podcast episode about engagement rings. I think it was episode two of this first season, so lots of good information there as well. Great, that’s a great approach to just make sure you get it right and also, I think it provides that added experience of being able to go together and find the ring that goes with the diamond. So I think we’ve addressed everything related to the ring and making sure you get the right size and style, so let’s talk about the place and the method and the approach to popping the question. Do you give advice to customers, do you have customers asking you questions about that or what would you typically recommend for somebody?

Lex: Usually play the opposite usually I will ask them, what’s the plan? How you gonna do it? You know, I like to hear the story and back to our upfront, would you call that Troy? What we said earlier about not having, you know, our specific ideas be your idea, our waiver. I can’t think of a way.

Troy:Our legal waiver.

Lex: Yeah, you know, everyone’s got their own ideas and certainly some guys have already thought that out and planned it and sometimes they just go, “I don’t have any idea” and “I haven’t even gotten that far”. That’s a common one that I hear too, they’re really focused on getting the ring. And I was in the exact same boat when I proposed. I proposed in May of last year and I didn’t know, really, until I got the ring, what I was gonna do. So again, no pressure to have figured that out for anybody. There’s enough pressure on getting the right ring upfront than already knowing a game plan for how you’re gonna propose. But, I will say that, you know, we’re were talking about surprise proposals here and you want something that is special to you and again, that’s going to be different for everybody. I did just have a customer that proposed oh, I did just have a customer that proposed while scuba diving. They're both avid scuba divers and he found a way to bring the ring down, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, that sounds like a great way to lose the ring. They went scuba diving and he brought the ring down and proposed to her with a little, you can write on a little plastic tablet when you’re scuba diving that said, “Will you marry me?” And sure she’s right there but I don’t think you could hear her say yes through her mask but, you know, you don’t want to choke on her water trying to try to scream under there with excitement. But, you know, finding ways that are things that you two enjoy together, so whether that be traveling, food, restaurants, sporting events, you know, whatever it is, I think there’s a lot of really fun and creative ways that so many people have thought “this is going to be, this is gonna make that moment more special. Now on that note I would say that you want to find, you know them better than we do, obviously, and you don’t want to put them in a position where they feel ultra pressured or that there’s too many eyeballs and, you know, you do hear some stories of people saying, you know, I panicked that I wasn’t ready for it and there were so many people there that I didn’t know how to say no or put it on pause. So, you know, there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing something ultra, ultra intimate and giving your partner that space to really take in the moment for themselves and hopefully give you a yes. and and give you gas.

Troy: Yeah, great. So, I think like you mentioned, you know, there is a risk of telling other people or talking to friends or, you know, making it a big production. I think we’ve all seen, you know, maybe online the videos of the big, big productions. I remember one that went on for quite a few minutes with many, many people involved and it was amazing but at the same time, you know, that risk of telling so many people that somebody’s gonna let it slip or, you know, maybe let the cat out of the bag a little bit early. Do you have any stories? I know you’ve had friends who propose or do you talk to any customers? Are there any of those success stories or maybe even the horror stories you can share?

Lex: Luckily I’ve been spared any major horror stories or no’s. Our customers, like I said, I’ve got lucky where everyone’s very, very happy and we get huge yesses and customers love to come back and tell us the story of how they did it. I think, you know, your mileage may vary on people keeping a secret. I would certainly agree that the fewer people you can tell the coordination or help from friends I think that’s a utilize. When I proposed last year I think basically our entire friend group knew but we’d also been together six years and she was not alone in wondering when I was gonna pop the question. So, when I finally did it, it was very intimate. When I actually proposed, I had a friend that was photographing us from inside of a stairwell but after I proposed all of our friends were there at that same location to basically throw a surprise engagement party for her. Like a birthday party, she walked in the room and everyone yelled surprised. So, everyone knew that that was coming, nobody was under any false pretenses that they were showing up for her birthday or some other event. So, everyone knew about it in that regard but I really had the full backing of everyone long before that so I wasn’t worried that anyone was gonna spell the beans. I was confident in my friends, but I did tell them very close to it. It was very spur of the moment trying to organize everyone to come and I think it was about 5 days or a week so, there wasn’t a ton of time where people could get overly excited and accidentally say something or we’re out for drinks and someone drinks too much and slips it in. So, I did it with a lot of people present and obviously a lot of people were here in Colorado. A lot of people do a hike and some people will have a photographer hiding or some people enlist the help of a friend to photograph the moment whether from right up close or from afar. If you do want to have a picture taken, obviously someone’s going to know about it whether that’s a photographer or somebody else. So, again, there’s nothing wrong with it being just the two of you either. I think that what you’re talking about, where it’s these big productions, for better or for worse, I think that’s a social media thing. You know, there’s big productions now for gender reveals and big productions for weddings and big productions for birthdays and big productions for proposals where people want to have something that they can show off on social media and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. A lot of people are very involved with their own social media accounts and that’s a huge life moment whether it’s any of those things. So, I do think people are doing bigger productions than they probably did before. I was talking with a coworker who had a baby seven or eight years ago and gender reveal parties were not nearly as prevalent as they are now and they just found out together and I have two friends right now that just found out that they’re expecting a boy and they didn’t do any sort of large video or big production. It was just the two of them and a person that filmed them finding out what it was going to be. So, in any case, back to what’s important or unique to each individual, if it’s something that you want to showcase on social media and make a big deal out of it then again, I think you’ll need to enlist some help of a videographer or photographer and if it’s not then that’s ok too, there’s no right or wrong answer in that regard. There’s just so many, I’ve heard so many stories, you know, and I’m sure everyone has seen or heard of a jumbotron where they do it at a sporting event or I’ve seen someone get the really long tail on an airplane and then they get the person to look up and it says “Will you marry me?” on the plane flying overhead. Some of those, yeah there are lots of other people involved, like at a sporting event, and you may not know them so that might feel, to some people, less pressery that having a ton of people that they know around them or it might feel more pressery that they have these strangers watching. So, it’s so unique and so personal to everybody. I will say for mine, in terms of making it a surprise, my now fiance and I, we like to travel quite a bit and everytime it felt like we stepped on a plane someone in her circle of friends or coworkers was saying “This is gonna be the trip, he’s gonna propose on this trip.” and she’d go “Oh maybe, I don’t know.” and every trip she would get so excited and so nervous and so we got engaged in May of last year and in March or maybe April we were going to Mexico and she totally thought that it was going to be that trip in Mexico and so to make it a surprise, I opted to just get engaged here in Denver and she didn’t see it coming. I used a friend’s birthday as a false flag and said we’re going to our friend’s birthday party and that was a good excuse and because she kind of anticipated something, she didn’t anticipate me doing it here. She was convinced it would be on a trip so that was a good way for me to surprise her without, you know, going with a huge production or finding a way that was going to take her off guard.

Troy: Yeah that’s great and maybe we’ll include some of the pictures. You can definitely tell she’s surprised and very happy so congrats again. Hopefully it didn’t ruin any of the vacations if she was anticipating it to happen.

Lex: A little bit. Actually, so we did go to Mexico just prior to getting engaged and she point blank asked me. We went with some friends and she said, “Just tell me right now if you’re not gonna propose in Mexico, because if you are thinking of it, then i’d like to bring a change of clothes and I want to look really cute if there’s pictures.” And I said, “Well first of all I'm not gonna tell you if i’m going to do it but I’ll tell you that I'm not doing it in Mexico, ok? I’m not gonna do it.” She said, “Thank you, I can relax.” We go to Mexico, we had a great trip. We’re landing back in Denver and she was like, “I’m a little upset” and I go, “Why?” She goes, “I really thought you were gonna do it in Mexico.” I say, “You told me to tell you if I was not going to and I told you I was not going to.” She said, “Well yeah, I thought you were lying and you were gonna do it and now I can’t believe you didn’t do it in Mexico. Like when are you gonna do it? We have no other trips planned, when are you gonna do it?” She had been waiting six years and she didn't take my honest no, I’m not gonna do it at face value but it was fine, she calmed down. It was great.

Troy: That brings up a great point, when should you postpone? Like are there any indications of, maybe I should wait for things to be a little bit better or right or any advice on that? When should you postpone the question?

Lex: well, let me phrase that differently. I don’t know if I can speak to times when you should postpone for some of the reasons you mentioned, but I will say you’re gonna feel a lot better and you’re gonna make your jeweler feel a lot better if you wait until you have the ring to propose or to plan your proposal. So many people all the sudden go, you know, well in three weeks it’s this event or this anniversary that’s meaning for us and I want to propose on that day and I’ve got three weeks and that is likely not enough time to get your ring made if need be or sized even. And so I would say delay it only if you have to, but maybe you don’t even think about it until you have the ring in hand, and for my particular ring, and I have said this to customers, as they’ve been shopping, the whole scenario and thought process of proposing didn’t even become a real until I had my ring in hand. My ring took an abnormally long time because I was ultra picky and I kept making changes and that’s very common as well. You know, guys will start this process, and then realize early on or halfway through, oh you know want, I to change this or I get some extra feedback from her one of her friends and all the sudden I’ve gotta get it and yellow gold instead of white gold or i’ve gotta change this because she didn’t want that. And so, once it’s in hand and it’s done, you’ve got full control to figure out the time and figure out how you want to do this. Until that point, I think it’s a little premature to start planning things so you just never know what’s gonna come up before you even have a ring available to do it. So, that’s my only timing and sort of variable there.

Troy: No, that’s really great to know that that’s gonna be something to consider. You don’t want to be rushed, you know, into it or waiting for the ring to arrive if you’ve already got it scheduled so that’s really good to know and great! Anything else? I’m just thinking of all the other factors that go into a surprise proposal especially if you like me, and you’re a little old fashioned and you wanna reach out to your future father-in-law and get permission as well. So, there’s always the logistics of that if you’re old fashioned, like me. Any other advice?

Lex: Well,, I will say,I’ll get back to that question. There’s a couple of traditional, societal things that we do regarding an engagement. One of them, off the top of my head, is you’ve got your ring needs to be three months salary. That’s something that I’ve heard on-again, off-again throughout the years and I will say, I don’t believe that that rule is up-to-date. I really think it’s so unique and there’s so many options now with with lab created diamonds, where you may have a hard time even hitting three months or on the flipside, that’s a lot of money and you don’t have that kind of funds. Your money is going towards other places to keep you alive and sheltered and fed and so you don’t want to break the bank. So, I just don’t think that that’s a great rule of them anymore and so I don’t want people to think they have to spend exactly that. Spend what is comfortable for you. Keep in mind you’re going to have a wedding after that so you want to make sure you have money for that and that all your money isn’t going into the ring and all the sudden now you’ve gotta get more money to go into the wedding. So, I would, you know, come in with a budget in mind that feels comfortable for you do you and your relationship and we can try to work in that budget. The other one that you mentioned is asking her father for permission and again, i’m with you. It’s kind of old fashioned, i’m sure it comes from a point in time where we don’t really think that way anymore in terms of thinking of women as property and so I don’t that that is something you need to feel like you have to do or that it’s something everyone does because they certainly don’t. I do think it’s one of those traditions, I don’t think you’re going to find a future father-in-law who is upset that you’re making the effort to ask. It doesn’t have to be just her father, it can be, you know, whoever her guardian is. Her mom, whoever she’s grown up with, her grandparents, whatever it may be, her brother. So, I think it’s still a nice gesture of goodwill and to let them know that this is coming on the pipeline. I have heard some stories where that question didn’t go over so well and those people have had to figure out, well I didn’t get the blessings from them, am I gonna continue this or what do I do now? It is kind of nice to know that that person may not feel great about it so you can prep yourself and your soon to be fiancé that you didn’t have the blessings here but I feel really strongly about it and we can either go our own way or try to convince them or what have you. I think it’s a nice respectful thing to do, I don’t think that you should drive yourself crazy trying to do that if it’s something either you’re uncomfortable with or they may be uncomfortable with. At the end of the day, this is your love for this other person and that’s what matters. Obviously you want the approval of the people that are closest to them but, you know, it’s your deal too.

Troy: Gosh, I wish we had the ability to play that song, by Magic. The “Rude” song saying, “ I’m gonna marry her anyway.” That just came to mind as you were saying that. That’s really good, really good to think through, so great. Yeah, I appreciate all the information. It’s great to hear other perspectives and it’s great to have heard your own stories. Any other closing advice before we wrap up?

Lex: Let me think for a sec, Jodi, anything else?

Jodi: I don’t know, does he want to hear any other little stories or anything about cool proposals, like, oh my gosh this friend like did this as a surprise or this friend did that as a surprise? Little, you know, snippets of stories. Is that something that would help in the, you know, I think it’s great.

Troy: I will say, in closing, any other fun stories you’d like to share?

Well in closing, Lex, any other fun or cool stories you’d like to share about proposals that you’ve heard about or been involved with?

Lex: Yeah, the recent one of scuba diving really sticks out in my mind. That’s pretty cool, I hadn’t heard that one before. You know, I’ve been, in my circle of friends, at a ton of engagements that have happened in the last two years of which the last two years have included COVID and so people have gotten really creative in ways to kind of include everybody while also keeping their distance. Mine was on the roof of a building here in Denver. I had a cousin of mine, he was on Zoom with everybody and she was out grocery shopping and knew that she was coming home and so he got everyone on Zoom, all the family, all the friends, and they were watching from Zoom with her completely unexpected, coming in with a giant bag of groceries and him on one knee. She had no idea that other people were in the room and so it was a really creative way to include everybody and have a huge surprise for her and be able to include her family to be able to witness it. So that was a neat one. But yeah, I had a costumer that got a puppy and there was a ring on the collar of the puppy’s neck and so she got both a puppy and a ring at the exact same time. That, for my fiancé, I think she might have had an actual meltdown and explode so that would be a tough one for me because she wanted both things so bad. I had a costumer do it at the stock show and they had a bunch of cattle they were showing and they had one of the rodeo championships and it took her off guard, she came to sell their sheep and he’s here proposing in the middle of the rodeo, the stock show. So, you know, back to what fits for you and what fits for her and making sure that it’s something that, again, you want that picture perfect, hand over the mouth, you know, just shock. So, whether it’s on top of a mountain or at the stock show, you know, it’s a pretty meaningful moment in a couples’ life and whether you have a photographer there to record it or not or just a story to share with your friends, there’s really no right or wrong answer. It’s a great thing and it’s so much fun being apart of that story and hearing either how they’re going to do it or hearing how they did it after the fact, it’s really fantastic, it’s such a joy to be able to share those stories with costumers.

Troy: That’s great, thank you so much, Lex. This has hopefully given our audience a lot to think about and help them get very excited about their hopefully upcoming proposal. So, thank you very much.

Lex: Absolutely.

Troy: Hope to have you on the show again.

Lex: Yeah, I’d love to be here and best of luck to anyone listening. I want to hear your stories.

Troy: Great, thanks again, Lex.

Lex: Thanks, Troy.