If you’re thinking of popping the question to your sweetheart anytime soon, you might want to read this first.
“So how did he propose?” I asked casually, being their official photographer.
“It was so romantic!” she replied. “He surprised me. He booked a flight to Paris! Then one night during our stay we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. And that’s where he asked me to marry him!”
She beamed, looking down at the engagement ring on her finger. And that’s how her mortgage banker fiancé planned his proposal.
When you have the money you can indulge in doing nice extravagant things like that. But the one thing you don’t want to ever do, rich or poor, is spend your money on anything not worth the price.
If there’s one thing wealthy people are especially known for, it’s that they’re careful shoppers. Apparently they know a thing or two about how to get the best for their money.
So when a gentleman has the means, and love blooms in his heart, and he sets his sights on an engagement ring to give his love, the question is: what do the rich know about buying engagement rings that others ought to know too?
I spoke with a few prestigious jewelers who cater to the affluent to discover the secret engagement ring buying tips of the rich.
Today’s Trends vs. Yesterday’s Traditions
Traditions bring to mind Junior offering great-grandmama’s engagement ring to his beloved. Keeping it in the family, handing it down through the generations, according to social tradition and custom, and all that.
But that was then and this is now.
Yes, there still is the keeping with the expected standards of their social circle, even standards of how things have always been done in their own family. But though such practices still have a hold, couples today are more and more influenced by trends.
“Sentimentality and tradition are large factors. But the new gold standard - is platinum,” says Dean Lederman, of James Allen (jamesallen.com), a leading online jewelry retailer, illustrating how trendsetters may opt for other colors, such as pink, blue or yellow, such as best-selling author and fashion designer Lauren Conrad whose engagement ring was a traditional round-cut diamond, but set in a more nontraditional yellow gold band. Though “the classic investment from a diamond standpoint,” agrees Torsten Flaegel, Executive Director of Yaf Sparkle Boutique (yafsparkle.com), “remains the round brilliant cut.”
But while a white round diamond may be the traditionally preferred popular choice of engagement ring buyers, from Princess Diana’s (and now Kate Middleton’s) blue sapphire ring to Mariah Carey’s pink diamond engagement ring, celebrities sporting a more nontraditional look can be an influencing factor spurring others to follow the same nontraditional course, despite what great-grandmama would’ve deemed proper.
Looking Beyond the Four “Cs”
When starting the quest for making the best choices for an engagement ring purchase, one of the first things we’re taught to consider are carat, color, cut and clarity. And while that is how diamonds are certified and valued, gone are the days of relying solely on that certification just to end up picking out a ring from whatever ten pieces a jeweler happens to have in stock in a display case tray.
What Are a Diamond's Four “Cs”?
Carat tells you how much a diamond weighs, not its size. (“Pay attention to magic numbers for diamonds - as soon as a diamond is at 1.00 carats or above (same with 1.50 carats, or 2.00 carats, 2.50 carats, etc), the price jumps dramatically,” advises Ankur Daga of NYC-based Angara Jewelry angara.com).
Cut refers to both the diamond’s shape and to the number of facets, their size and their relative proportions on the surface of a diamond.
Clarity is a measure of the natural inclusions. They may be so small that they’re completely invisible to the naked eye ("Inclusions that are black in color are far more noticeable than ones that are clear or white," counsels Daga).
Color is more of a personal choice. It's measured from D (colorless) to Z. “The less color, the better,” advises Vinit Mehta of Golkonda New York (golkondanewyork.com).
But lately, technological changes have increased consumers choices and savvy buying decisions beyond any such previous limitations. On the James Allen site for example, couples can browse over 100,000 certified diamonds at 15 times or greater magnification in 360° HD. And that from the comfort of your living room, whether your living room happens to be on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Fifth Avenue in Park Slope Brooklyn, or 5th Ave in Illinois.
How the stone also looks when viewed normally in real life is another secret buying tip from Barry Verragio (verragio.com), the renowned ring designer. “There’s an extra sparkle in seeing the ring that its certificate doesn’t give you. A diamond is felt and experienced.”
A diamond may be more valuable because of its clarity or color, but on a setting worn on a finger it’s not the certificate which will be noticed (“Color over clarity!” asserts Verragio. “You’d need ten times magnification to see clarity.”) The way it looks is important and so what looks good on her, and what she likes, is the criteria.
Yes, what she likes. Because you want to acquire a piece unique to her (or him). “Gone are the days blindly shopping for an engagement ring hoping your future bride loves it,” observes Verragio. She'll be wearing this forever, so knowing what she likes is the first step in making sure you're headed in the right direction. Verragio adds, “when selecting an engagement ring try to eliminate the noise. Keep your future bride's personal style in mind and go with something that is more her.” She may be dropping hints on social media about what she likes, or accompany you to the jewelry store, but naturally, she’s saying “yes” because it’s you she loves, not contingent on the ring nor how much you spend on it (let’s hope not!).
And so our next buying secret has to do with that if you choose to keep with tradition - you can do something yet new and distinct for yourselves.
How? A secret buying tip of the affluent may be a fifth “C” - they seek to customize their engagement rings. Even grandmama’s diamond may find itself in a whole new setting.
It’s a sure way to make the ring even more personal and meaningful. “What it has to be is simply unique to her,” advises Verragio. “Dressing it up in different colors, or with just the right ring mount or setting” offers so many possibilities to do just that. “They see it as more of an investment, it’s their own special creation,“ offers Emily Duke of DiamondEnvy.com in NYC’s diamond district. “It makes sense – if you want a superb diamond, you want to show it off in the best possible way.” Again, technology makes this a breeze: On the James Allen site you can even customize ring designs virtually to see what they’d look like.
So How Much Should I Spend?
Spending two months' salary on an engagement ring is frequently cited as the unwritten rule of buying one, thanks to De Beers, the well known diamond company. In the 1930's at the start of the De Beers marketing campaign, a single month's salary was the suggested spend. In the 1980's it became two months. And though that campaign has long been over, its rule of thumb for appropriate price still lingers in the public consciousness.
Now, George Clooney got on bended knee to present his beloved, Amal Alamuddin, with a $750,000 diamond engagement ring. That may or may not have been two month's worth of the actor's salary, but truth is you can spend whatever you're comfortable with, and feel right about, because everyone has different circumstances regarding what they can budget and what’s appropriate for them to spend. “Price is still the guy’s turf,” states Verragio. “It’s up to him.”
It’s Not All About The Ring
In the past, the intent to propose marriage, as well as the when and where of the upcoming popping of the question and presenting the engagement ring, unless he asked her parents for her hand in marriage, may have been held secret to the woman he loved, known only to the hopeful groom, maybe to his best bud, certainly to his parents... and the jeweler. What he didn’t always know was what her answer would be. Sometimes these proposals didn’t end with the expected happiest of outcomes. If you’ve ever witnessed a proposal gone wrong, you can see some of them on youtube. They’re a bit sad. But funny! But sad.
Of course if she’s been dropping hints and tagging along to the jewelry store with you cheerfully pointing out rings and trying them on, you likely already have pegged her answer (and mama says you shouldn’t ask if you don’t know her answer!)
The upside is, there’s less anxiety knowing she’ll say yes.
The downside is, if she knows what’s coming, how do you make it romantic when it’s no longer a surprise?
The answer? In effect, the emotions which used to come from the romantic surprise of an unexpected appearance of an engagement ring can now be weaved into the romantic experience of the engagement proposal itself. “There are more creative proposals,” observes Lederman. She may know the proposal’s coming, but she still doesn’t know exactly what moment it will happen, and that increases and heightens the sensation of it all. Stories of the hopeful groom driving from Boston to the New York showroom to pick up the ring en route to Vancouver to keep the date, or travelling to Hawaii to pop the question while up in the air in a hot air balloon, prevail - not only keeping hopeful grooms on their toes, but jewelers too!
Top Ten Tips How the Rich Buy Engagement Rings
- Tom Daube of Washington Diamond (washingtondiamond.com) points out, “when the affluent are looking for an engagement ring, they start with the loose diamond. While the diamond is loose they can thoroughly examine it for quality and defects.”
- Oded Edelman (also of JamesAllen.com) recommends choosing an undersized diamond. It’s a great way to make your ring look more expensive. Undersize diamonds are those that weigh just below a cutoff weight, such as 2 or 3 carats. To the naked eye they look identical to their marginally larger counterparts but their price tag is significantly smaller.
- Krish Himmatramka (doamore.com) further advocates focusing on the diamond's actual measurements. For example, he says you could have an ideally cut 1.45 carat diamond with a diameter of 7.46 mm and an ideally cut 1.55 carat diamond with a diameter of 7.41 mm. All else equal, the 1.45 carat diamond is the better choice because it will save money and look bigger!
- Himmatramka also says that affluent customers generally prefer rings that aren't overly delicate. This is because they want the ring to be as secure as it can be. Delicate settings, no matter how well they’re made, are more susceptible to damage since there is less metal protecting the overall ring.
- When making a large and expensive diamond purchase, advises Edelman, think about how it will be placed in the setting. A simple and plain setting allows the diamond to stand out and shine bright. A more detailed setting can accentuate the bling and create a more expensive look.
- What’s more, he recommends finding the most flattering ring for your finger shape and size. Wide bands tend to complement longer fingers, while thinner, smaller settings look best on short fingers.
- Ingrid Asoni (asonihaus.com), a luxury lifestyle concierge management service, points out another way the rich shop wisely: getting unconventional ring shapes. This not only adds to the uniqueness of the piece but often may reduce the price of the same carat equivalent by 10 to 20%.
- Of all the Cs, Dan Moran of Concierge Diamonds in Los Angeles (conciergediamonds.com) feels cut is the most important. It’s the one he advises his clients not to sacrifice. “Cut is extremely important because a diamond’s only job is to sparkle. And the sparkle is in the cut.”
- Moran also cautions that most people think a diamond must be flawless in order to be beautiful, but says that's both untrue and impossible - even diamonds graded "internally flawless" have flaws. They're just smaller flaws. Most consumers don't realize that without magnification as it's virtually impossible to tell the difference between a mid-range clarity and an extremely high clarity.
- And as Verragio urged, remember: “color over clarity!”
Rich or not, perhaps the real secret to buying the diamond ring comes down to simply this. Notes Lederman, “the guy just wants to get it right.”
A portrait artist-photographer in NYC, Masana opens his studio to engaged couples (and their engagement rings) a few times a year to try out his romantic, artistic portrait style free of charge. Find out more about that here.