John Anthony Jr. sees it happen all the time: Someone walks into his shop asking to see Gemological Institute of America-appraised diamond engagement rings.
Small problem — that’s not a thing.
“What they do is gem reports,” which Anthony said grades a diamond on clarity, color, cut, carat weight, proportions and finish. It does not assess monetary value and, if a store claims otherwise, “turn around, get out of there, because these people have no idea what they’re doing.”
For many young couples, an engagement ring is the most expensive purchase they’ll make up to that point in their lives. As such, it’s important not to make a mistake. Diamonds are forever, but trends are not, and neither are bank loan extensions.
So here’s what a few Philadelphia area jewelers had to say in regards to engagement ring shopping.
Anthony, owner of John Anthony Jewelers in Bala Cynwyd and president of GIA’s Pennsylvania-Delaware Valley chapter, advised people to buy from a jeweler who is an accredited member of the GIA, the American Gem Society or the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers.
If a shopper isn’t an expert on diamonds, it’s important to buy from someone who is.
Or as David Rotenberg, owner and operator of David Craig Jewelers in Langhorne, put it, “If you don’t know jewelry, then know your jeweler. Diamond shopping is not a one-two-three. They need someone who’s going to hold their hand and take them through the process. Then they can make an intelligent decision.”
Rotenberg told shoppers to “buy the best you can, the best you can afford.” While cheaper options may be available online, it’s important to keep in mind exactly what you’re paying for. Lower prices can be an indicator of lower quality or unpopular designs. An engagement ring is something a person, presumably, will wear every day for the rest of their lives. Something to consider is getting a ring that’s durable and won’t need constant repairs. The extra money can be worth it in the long run.
On the other hand, Eric Sack, owner of the former Sack’s Jewelers in Jenkintown, advised customers to not go over budget.
“Never ever spend more than you can afford,” Sack said. ”Especially for younger couples, don’t spend more than you can write the check for at that moment. Never extend yourself. There’s always going to be a future. There’s always going to be another opportunity to express your love in gems and precious metal. Don’t start out in debt.”
For whatever amount people do plan to spend, Sack suggested to put as much of the budget into the gemstone as possible as opposed to the rest of the ring. The engagement ring, according to Sack, is symbolic of a lifelong commitment. As such, he encourages people to get one that is timeless as opposed to trendy.
“If the wearer chooses to change the setting — and that’s not unusual — maybe five, 10, 15, 20 years down the line, they’re sometimes surprised at how little value that mounting had,” Sack said. “That gem is always, basically, going to retain its value and basically going to be the centerpiece of whatever piece of jewelry evolves from it, be it another engaging style, or pendant or something else.”
There are a variety of gem cuts available, but the round cut is by far the most popular, with the marquise and pear cuts greatly diminishing in popularity over the years. Emerald-like cuts such as the asscher have made a resurgence, according to Anthony.
Regardless of cut, white diamond is still the king of gemstones. However, those looking for an alternative may consider sapphires due to their vibrant colors and cheaper price.
Yet there are some drawbacks to softer gems.
“The bottom line is diamond is the hardest mineral,” Rotenberg said. “So, if you look at a diamond that’s worn for 30 or 40 years, chances are it still looks like the day it was bought. Or as you look at a sapphire or an emerald or something like that, it has scuff marks and wear on it because it’s not as hard, tough and so forth.”
For metals, white platinum is big, but Anthony said yellow gold has risen in popularity in recent years. For gem settings, the halo is quite popular, which consists of a large gemstone in the ring’s center surrounded by smaller gemstones.
A recent trend Sack noted is the increased prevalence of the custom ring. Not to be confused with a customized ring, which describes a finished ring that’s later altered to the customer’s specifications, a custom ring is built from the ground up to the customer’s specifics.
Computer-generated designs allow jewelers to create a ring that’s one of a kind. This can allow people to have a more involved experience, feeling like they’ve contributed to the ring’s creation or at having put more energy into the overall ring selection process.
However, a custom ring is more expensive than a standard one, and Sack said that most custom rings tend to either look identical to dozens of other rings already on store shelves or look unappealing.
“I have seen some engagement ring designs on fingers, presented to me proudly, that I really have to bite my tongue because I can’t imagine that the wearer is going to feel good about this style even a year or two or three down the line,” Sack said. “I just can’t say it. The idea is supposed to be timeless. So to come up with something so far out, to me, defeats the purpose, that defeats the meaning, the symbolism of this specific piece of jewelry.”
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I am getting my engagement ring in a few weeks, I think, and am trying to think of how my fiance and I are going to do our wedding. I think we will have the ceremony and reception at home. We live in Los Angeles where the pandemic has caused us to think low scale and close family & friends only, although we may now be able to have more guests than we thought earlier. Still, some may have to attend by Zoom. We’ll see how it goes in the Spring, like May. We have a lot of time to plan.
Learning more about things like the cut of a diamond and how it affects the overall result of a ring was really helpful to me. This makes me have more of an idea of what I’ll get my partner since she’s always been one to try something that’s out of the ordinary. I’ll ask for a unique cut for sure when I start looking for jewelry stores that sell engagement rings.