Michelle Tauber
April 30, 2012 12:00 PM

At first glance, it was a typical evening out for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Attending a private viewing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Chinese galleries on April 11, the couple mingled with guests, including jeweler Robert Procop, and took in the exhibits alongside 8-year-old son Pax. “They had a relaxed evening,” says Miranda Carroll, director of communications at LACMA. “Pax was happy and enjoyed himself.” But a keen-eyed observer might have noticed that there was something very, very different about Jolie that evening: Her usually unadorned left ring finger was sporting a dazzling diamond ring. Two days later the couple announced that yes, it is the ring. The big one. The “will you marry me?” kind. As Pitt’s manager Cynthia Pett-Dante puts it, “It is a promise for their future.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an engagement. And not just any engagement, but an engagement between the two biggest stars in the Milky Way galaxy. After seven years and six kids together, Pitt, 48, and Jolie, 36, are finally planning to make their union official-and not since a certain royal wedding a year ago have impending nuptials created such alert-the-doves excitement. In fact the engagement was long in the planning, as Pitt secretly brought his own design for the ring to Beverly Hills-based jeweler Procop. “Brad had the vision, he had the design, and we collaborated to fabricate it together,” Procop tells PEOPLE. The jeweler, who provided Jolie’s jewels when she won her Oscar in 2000, has a “long-standing friendship” with the couple, he says. He teamed with Jolie on a high-end jewelry line benefiting charity and has helped the pair design gifts for each other before, including a jeweled cuff that Pitt gave Jolie for Christmas in 2010 and a pendant that Jolie designed for Pitt with a microscopic secret message inside.

But the engagement ring, which Procop says is made with a diamond from a non-conflict area, was the most top-secret project of all. The museum event “was the first time she wore the ring in public,” Procop says. He won’t confirm the custom-cut jewel’s size or price. “The ring looks like a beautiful classic large diamond with an art deco feel,” says jeweler Neil Lane, who has also worked closely with Jolie and Pitt over the years. “Brad’s sense of aesthetics is amazing, and knowing Angelina and what an elegant, beautiful woman and style icon she is, it only makes sense that he’d design for her one of the most beautiful rings in the world. They are an amazing, loving couple.”

Before April 13, when Jolie and Pitt publicly confirmed the engagement, only a select few knew about it-and the duo spent the day at home together in L.A., savoring the moment until their kids returned from school in the afternoon. No one, of course, is more thrilled than the pair’s boisterous-and increasingly vocal-brood, who had been urging Mom and Dad to puh-leeeeze get married already. “We’re getting a lot of pressure from the kids,” Pitt told CBS News earlier this year of Maddox, 10, Pax and Zahara, 7, Shiloh, 5, and 3-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne. “[They say], ‘Get Mommy a ring!’ Okay, I will, I will.” Although the pair previously had said that they would wait to wed until gay marriage was legal everywhere, “I don’t think we’ll be able to hold out,” Pitt acknowledged recently. “It means so much to my kids … and it means something to me too, to make that kind of commitment.”

It’s a pretty traditional move for a pair who live by their own rules. The fact that they even announced an engagement at all, along with a classic diamond ring, had some scratching their heads at such startling normality. (This is, after all, a couple who fast-tracked their family from one to six kids in a matter of three years and who casually jump continents the way most folks run errands.) Insiders who have spent time with them say that the family have settled into a genuine comfort zone as they emerge from the foggy infant-rearing years. “They’ve reached a stage where their family has jelled,” says a source who has visited with the pair in France. “Their children are all of a certain age now, and they feel a stability. They can breathe a little as a couple.” At an event in Paris earlier this year, “I saw a couple very, very much in love,” says a source who knows them. “You could see their partnership at work. There’s a great deal of tenderness and shorthand between them.”

For all the extraordinary trappings of their superstar lifestyle, this is also a family who cherishes the ordinary pleasures of domestic life: watching Nickelodeon’s iCarly together (“I know every episode,” Pitt told PEOPLE in January), breakfast in bed (the clan celebrated Pitt’s Oscar nomination earlier this year with homemade pancakes), outings to McDonald’s and the movies. “A lot of it, for us, is family,” Pitt said of how he and Jolie like to spend their downtime. “Just breaking away and getting to take the kids to Benihana or something.” Nor can the influential tug of Pitt’s own traditional childhood be overlooked: A born-and-bred Midwesterner who grew up in a tight nuclear family in Springfield, Mo., he and Jolie have fostered close bonds with Pitt’s parents, Bill and Jane, whose marriage is still going strong after five decades. The pair are also close with Pitt’s siblings Doug and Julie and Jolie’s brother James Haven, likely key members of any wedding party.

When they are home in L.A.-where they celebrated Easter with Jolie’s father, Jon Voight, with whom she’s largely mended her relationship-“family time is very relaxed,” says an L.A. source. “Brad and Angie often lounge around the house all day in pajamas. It’s very unstructured. The girls love art projects, and Maddox and Pax spend a lot of time outside in the garden with their toy guns.”

Mom and Dad, meanwhile, make sure to carve out plenty of couple time. “They constantly work on keeping their relationship alive,” says the source. “It seems they have found a great way of doing that first of all by being very appreciative of each other. Brad and Angie are very good at giving each other compliments and praise. They show affection in front of the kids and the way that they speak to each other rubs off on the kids in a very positive way.” Having both experienced failed marriages in the past (Pitt and Jennifer Aniston divorced in 2005 after five years; Jolie’s unions with actors Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton were both combustibly short-lived), the couple have reached “a very Zen-like approach to their relationship,” says the source. “It clearly works for them.” And okay, they’re also pretty good at keeping things hot. “I’m still a bad girl,” Jolie told 60 Minutes last fall. “It’s just in its place now. It belongs to Brad.”

So now that Brad’s put a ring on it, when can we expect a wedding? Pitt’s rep says, “There is no date set at this time,” but the couple will be busy with work in the next few months: They are in talks to appear onscreen together for the first time since 2005’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith in director Ridley Scott’s upcoming drug drama The Counselor, and Jolie will start shooting her role as a horned villainess in Disney’s Maleficent on June 6. Besides, for now they are content to bask in their new betrothal. “They really do have a magnetism together,” says a source. “They’re like royals.” But don’t line up the horse-drawn carriages just yet. No matter what style it takes, their wedding “will be a fun ceremony and party that the kids can be a part of,” says the L.A. insider. Big day or small, white wedding or not, this much is certain: There are six very excited flower girls and ring bearers in training right about now.

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