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A Bargain Store Has Britons Asking: Can You Really Pop the Question With Plastic?

Category: Europe,World

LONDON — He had thought of everything: a home-cooked, candlelit dinner, a romantic playlist, a declaration of love and a ring.

But when Tim Egerton, 27, got down on one knee and opened up a heart-shaped box to reveal a white sequin cast into plastic, he didn’t quite get the response he was hoping for.

His girlfriend, Danielle Nichol, 26, froze.

“Is that a toy,” she said she thought to herself, while trying to find words that would not offend him. “Is this a joke? Should I laugh?” (She wanted to cry.)

Reading her agonized expression, Mr. Egerton jumped in with an explanation: “I want you to choose your own ring, this is just so I have something to put on your finger now.”

With that, Ms. Nichol laughed with relief and then cried out of happiness as she said “yes” several times. Mr. Egerton later confessed that he didn’t have enough money for a real ring, but assured her that he was saving.

The couple’s experience has apparently been widely shared in the last week, as more than 20,000 people have purchased the engagement ring from the discount store Poundland (the British equivalent of America’s Dollar Store). They come in four varieties, with stones resembling diamonds, topaz and rubies, and cost one pound, or about $1.30.

The rings have prompted a flood of proposal posts on social media and television — the British presenter Piers Morgan jokingly proposed to his co-host, Susanna Reid, on air — and nearly as much commentary. While some women have dismissed the rings as tacky or insulting, others have welcomed them as a funny and spontaneous idea that allows women to participate in choosing the real ring.

“We don’t need to spend thousands in order to tell someone we love them and want to commit,” said Kate Baxter, a jeweler designer and consultant, and the founder of The Cut London, a jewelry store. “A friend of mine was proposed to with a shell on the beach, then you can choose the perfect ring together.”

“The notion that a man should spend three times his monthly salary is outdated, in my opinion,” she added. “The best advice is to save up until you can afford to pay for what you want, or make sure you can afford the repayments. If it’s enough to make you wince a little, that’s about right, but there’s no point in starting married life in loads of debt.”

Poundland’s jewelry and Valentine’s buyer, Frances O’Sullivan, said that the rings’ acceptance by the public proves that the “one pound proposal is clearly a gem of an idea.”

By Valentine’s Day, Poundland was almost sold out of the rings, but a spokesman said they would bring in new stock after Feb. 14 to meet the unceasing demand.

Browsing the Valentine’s Day gift section at a Poundland store in London’s northern Kilburn neighborhood, Miriam Abati, a married mother of two, said she would have been mortified if her husband had proposed with a plastic ring.

“Those rings are for children,” she said looking at a poster of the rings. “Your husband needs to give you a real ring to prove that he is a man.”

Her friend, Joelle, chimed in. “You don’t buy an engagement ring the same place you buy your house cleaning products,” she said, laughing.

As marriage proposals have modernized in recent years, men and women are increasingly opting to shop together for their rings to avoid expensive disappointments or mistakes, experts say.

When Ms. Nichol announced her engagement to a group of her closest friends on WhatsApp, the first thing they asked after congratulating her was to see the ring.

“That’s all anyone really cares about,” she said. “I was too embarrassed to send them a picture of the Poundland ring, but when I told them about it later they loved the idea and had so much respect for Tim,” she recalled. “Now they are helping me choose a real ring.”

The Poundland rings have even found favor with older couples. Lizzie Bennetti, a 48-year-old former jeweler, was proposed to on the top of London’s Shard building last Saturday with a placeholder ring.

“It was the last ring in Poundland and it the topaz one, my birthstone,” she said in a phone interview. “It seemed like fate. It was meant to be.”

Her boyfriend, Barry Fricker, 47, later gave her a real diamond ring that she said she loved.

“As an ex-jeweler. I saw how much pressure it was for men to buy expensive rings,” Ms. Bennetti said. “There should be an affordable way, it’s the thought that counts.”

A woman shopping at London’s Portobello Poundland branch disagreed.

“Knowing my man, if I had to choose my own ring it would turn into a huge argument about money,” Martha Daly, 46, said. “It’s a bad idea, and I don’t think anyone would end up getting married after having to go through that process. ”


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