“Yes, yes! A million times, YES!”
I went through the scenario a couple of times in my head before deciding which retailer to go to first: Would it be Cartier? Maybe Tiffany? What’s Van Cleef & Arpels? Am I buying for myself? No, I should buy for somebody else. Oh, I know! Since it’s Pride Month, I decided I’d buy for my girlfriend — her name? Oh! Yes, her name is…Sabrina. We’ve been dating for 5–6 years now, and you know what, it’s TIME. She’s your glamour gal — has plenty of social events marked up in her calendar and absolutely loves jewelry. She needs a statement piece. She needs color. She needs brilliance. Me? Her imaginary partner? Well, I don’t wear too much jewelry, so I might need some additional help shopping for an engagement ring.
That way, I won’t look too stupid for not knowing as much.
My boss, Eve, was heading out of town for the next couple of days and had a fun project for me. For the next two days, I would be conducting comparison shopping (aka: a comp shop). In addition to luxury flagships, I would also step into small businesses — your mom-and-pop shops—and evaluate sales practices in the jewelry industry.
TEN THINGS I LEARNED/GOT TO DO
1. Be bold and be brazen. Know what you want and don’t be afraid to ask for it — sales consultants are trying to close a deal. But even if you’re just curiously browsing or window shopping, just have a conversation with sales consultants. Every time I told my story — even though the scenario was fake — the excitement and the curiosity were real. You also get to learn: Each retailer educated me on the Kimberley Process, which is a certification on its members that certifies their shipments of rough diamonds are “conflict-free” and prevents conflict diamonds from entering the legitimate trade.
2. It can be intimidating when you don’t know where to start. Information becomes accessible once you walk through the door — all you have to do is step through that door. I found that with each location I visited, sales consultants were more than happy to help a complete newbie.
3. There are some handy online resources for those beginning the search for an engagement ring: Gemological Institute of America (GIA) 4Cs of Diamond Quality (https://4cs.gia.edu/en-us/4cs-diamond-quality/) as well as their Diamond Buying Guide (https://4cs.gia.edu/en-us/diamond-buying-guide/)
4. Retailers usually have an educational booklet about their diamonds and gemstones that will help aid your knowledge. Don’t hesitate to ask for one!
5. Diamonds are more popular in the U.S. than colored gemstones. Many stores I entered had limited colored gemstone engagement ring selections.
6. Some retailers have their engagement rings stowed away on another floor or perhaps a more private space. They will also usually ask that you sit down with a specialist and discuss your preferences and your budget. Most luxury flagships I visited offered this option, but I gave off the impression that I was a serious shopper with a firm proposal in mind. My scenario made me realize how emotional shopping for a ring — or any piece of jewelry — can be, and a more private space makes that experience that much more memorable and individualized. With smaller businesses, I found that a lot of the times, big lofty spaces may not be a luxury, but sales consultants give superior customer service. They wanted to know my story, and they wanted to make my dreams a reality.
7. Retailers try to sway potential customers from custom rings — their collections are initially recommended. Custom rings require a lot of communication, immense preparation, and commitment. Every time I asked about custom rings, I got a lot of replies like “well…”, “what color/cut/stone/design?”, “oh CUSTOM…”, “consultation”, “plan”, “deposit”, “your vision?” and so forth. It became a much more strategic and complicated process that entails putting a lot of trust in a designer to make a ring that only YOU can see.
8. Small businesses and mom-and-pop shops aren’t the aggressive, secretive establishments they were notoriously known for anymore. Many have informative websites and comply with industry guidelines. They also tend to have very close relationships with their clients and keep them for a lifetime.
9. If you’re looking for a really unique, vintage piece, check out the Diamond District in New York City.
10. You can get custom designed rings at a much lower price from an independent designer — many of them are all about supporting transparency and advancing social causes within the industry — who will work tirelessly to source an excellent stone and design a unique ring that tells your story.
11. I went to Bulgari just to check it out and the sales consultant put a $1.2-million-dollar ring on my finger. Saying that’s the most expensive thing I’ve ever worn is an understatement.
The highlight of this short project was my trip to Bulgari, which wasn’t on my list of retailers to visit, but I had always wanted to go in there — and now I had a reason to. The sales consultant placed a ring of her choice on my finger. And boy, was it BIG.
“How much is it?” I asked. She answered perkily: “$1.2 million!”
My stomach churned. “Oh, that’s um, that’s a bit out of my price range, ha-ha.” I mean, it didn’t feel like a $1.2-million-dollar ring. But it sure felt like one after I learned about the price. It was stunningly brilliant, but it only felt special because 1) it was a Bulgari piece and 2) it temporarily gave me external validation. To be able to put something of that worth on my finger, potentially own it, AND THEN give it somebody else in a declaration of love is a nuanced version of the American Dream to me. At that point, you feel like you’ve made it. It is incredibly validating, and I could understand how this process is emotional in that aspect as well.
As the shopping progressed, I found that the sales consultants all believed me. Nobody doubted a word I said as each retailer emphasized the importance of celebrating love and all types of love. I went in gravitating towards diamonds, but I found myself leaning towards colored gemstones, in particular blue sapphires, pink diamonds, and yellow diamonds. I didn’t find Sabrina’s exact ring, but I found what she likes. Sabrina’s ring will be a yellow diamond ring in the range of a little below 3 carats situated with a cushion cut and a halo of small diamonds surrounding the main stone. ;-)
I normally don’t like shopping, but this — this was pretty fun.