EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story first appeared in the Grand Forks Herald's Wedding Guide.

Here’s a rule of thumb for your better half’s ring finger: an engagement band can match today’s trends if you’d like. But decades from now, both of you will want it to be timeless.

“What I always tell people: it's about quality,” said Nancy Marchell, owner of Signature Jewelers in Grand Forks. “Whatever you do, you want to make sure: how long will I like this ring? You're going to want to wear it a long time.”

But despite that simple, central rule, there are a thousand ways to make a ring unique. Recently, Marchell said, she’s seen plenty of “halo” style rings — a central stone surrounded by smaller ones — but she adds that there are plenty of people who want a “solitaire,” or single stone, too. And there’s a burgeoning interest in custom jewelry too, finely tailored to a buyers’ most unique interests.

“What's in style is whatever you want,” Marchell said. "I tell people it's like decorating — it's whatever your taste is."

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The same goes at River City Jewelers, where co-owner Mike Zhorela points out that custom jewelry has been getting more popular for years, with computer-assisted processes and more making it far more feasible to build customers what they want.

“The manufacturing of one-of-a-kind pieces has become a lot easier to do,” Zhorela said.

And this year’s ring-shopping season arrives at an interesting moment — just as the COVID-19 pandemic starts to wane. There are plenty of theories that suggest COVID has had an impact on engagement rings.

Brides magazine quotes a range of jewelry experts that claim COVID, scrambling traditional wedding plans around the country, has given couples the drive to “take control of what few details they can” — personalizing ring settings and stone cuts to make a unique statement.

“Since a lot of weddings are being postponed we have been seeing a rise in rings that can serve as both an engagement ring and wedding band,” jewelry designer Katherine Kim told the magazine.

But COVID-19 is changing more than just styles. As the pandemic comes to an end, Marchell said Signature Jewelers is pivoting toward more private appointment shopping, a carryover from big successes during the pandemic. Customers like the fit and feel of private service, she said.

At River City Jewelers, Zhorela said he’s seen a big surge in repairs and restorations during the pandemic; perhaps people are looking to touch up jewelry that belonged to a departed loved one, or maybe hoping to complete a more antique set.

"Repairs and restorations were through the roof,” Zhorela said of the last year. “(It was) very, very busy in the custom direction, because people were at home, probably at home designing (and) found projects to build. We saw a lot of that happening."

But no matter what customers are looking for, there’s always the simple, central idea to keep in mind — that a timeless look, even one that’s dressed up, will always work well.

"Modern takes on classic styles are always the hot seller,” Zhorela said.