The Ring(s)

Engagement rings are a funny tradition. Much of what we hold true regarding the traditions of engagement rings are actually a clever marketing campaign started by De Beers after they bought up the majority of the diamond mines around 100 years ago. Before that, engagement rings did not typically feature diamonds. Interestingly, it was also De Beers who started the tradition of tying the value of the ring to a percentage of the man’s salary. In the 1930’s they suggested that a man should spend the equivalent of one month’s income on a ring. They have now increased that to 3 months. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the over-hype of diamonds, nor do I have the desire to wear nearly $20,000 on my finger, so Dennis and I were happy to throw tradition out the window when it came to my engagement ring.

About a year ago I subtly (in my head it was subtle) told Dennis about how, when the time came, I wouldn’t mind being proposed to with a placeholder. I’ve had friends who were surprised with a ring they weren’t crazy about, and friends who picked out the ring together and then there was no surprise at all, since she knew when the ring had been purchased. A placeholder seemed like a great compromise, because then he could maintain the element of surprise and I would then be able to pick the perfect ring for us (me).

About a week before the big day, Dennis stopped at a party supply store and picked up a pack of party rings for little girls. There were five rings in the pack, one of which was a big plastic sapphire surrounded by diamonds. Perfect, he thought.

The party rock!

Although I consider this ring the official placeholder, Dennis proposed with a small purple band with daisies on it that he picked up at a flea market the day before. Unfortunately, the daisies fell off and I don’t have a photo of that ring.

Since my official placeholder was made for a 5 year old and thus cut off all circulation to my finger, and the original proposal ring broke, I picked up a third placeholder at Pier 1, which I’ve been wearing off and on for the past month.

The Pier 1 Placeholder

Meanwhile, I was on a hunt for my actual engagement ring. I knew I wanted a sapphire but that was where my certainty ended. I thought I wanted platinum but I didn’t know why. I knew it was more expensive than white gold so that meant it was better, right? Thankfully, Dennis helped me out with some research and I learned a few things.

I knew I didn’t want gold because I’ve never enjoyed the color. All my jewelry to this point has been silver and I love silver and blue together. White gold, it turns out, is gold that has been mixed to change the hue. But as the finish fades, the ring starts to take on a yellowish color. White gold is more precious than silver, hence being more expensive, but it is not as precious as platinum. Platinum also “fades” to a gray color as the finish wears off (preferable to yellow, in my opinion). Then there is palladium. Although palladium is more precious than platinum and more expensive per gram, it is much lighter overall, so it falls between white gold and platinum in price. It also fades towards gray, like platinum, but is stronger and holds a shine longer than white gold.

After my research I felt fairly certain that palladium was the metal for me. The next step was to figure out the stone. It turns out, sapphires are much like diamonds in their variety. While much less expensive, they are almost as hard as diamonds. Diamonds are a 10 (the hardest) on the Moh scale of mineral hardness and sapphires are a 9. Sapphires come in a wide range of colors and, interesting side note, rubies are actually just red sapphires.

I knew I wanted a blue sapphire so I began looking at photos online. The hue (color), saturation (brightness), and tone (shade) of the sapphire determine its value. After educating myself I decided to hit the jewelry stores and actually see some stones in person.

My first stop was a mom and pop place called James McHone Jewelry in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I hadn’t been terribly impressed by their website but Dennis had encouraged me to think outside the big box stores. I decided to stop by and see what they had in stock before heading to Zales, Shaw’s, and Kay Jewelers (the three big name stores in the area).

Shortly after arriving at McHone I met Hunter. I was a little nervous about the whole process and he made me feel instantly at ease. He talked me through what I was looking for, listened to my quick-internet-search-expertise with an open mind, and helped me understand what was really important to me. He showed me a few varieties of sapphire rings they had in stock and explained the process should I want to custom design my ring. After browsing a bit and picking Hunter’s brain, I said goodbye and headed to the mall with a little more confidence.

My first stop at the mall was Shaw’s. I happily announced that I was looking for an engagement ring, at which point the sales woman lit up. She guided me towards the diamonds, where I told her I’d prefer a sapphire. Her face dropped. It was as though she had just learned my shoes were not Manolo Blahniks, and instead were knock-offs from Payless. Her interest in me waned considerably. She halfheartedly showed me their sapphire ring collection, which ranged from $20 to $120. I thanked her for her time and moved along to Kay Jewelers.

As it turns out, Kay is a subsidiary of Shaw’s (or vice-versa) and I had a very similar experience there. Next stop; Zales.

Dennis had purchased a beautiful bracelet for me from Zales a couple of Christmases past, so I was looking forward to checking out their ring collection. I once again explained that I did indeed understand the importance of a diamond engagement ring (important? Really?) but strongly preferred a sapphire. I was shown a ring that ran about $300 and had a nearly opaque navy blue sapphire set deep in the band. The woman (Jessica, I believe), explained that the darker the sapphire the higher the quality and that this sapphire was very highly rated. I smiled politely while sighing deeply in my brain. Jessica further explained that this ring would be a good starter ring and that I could come back and get a nice big diamond when we were “more established.”

I could hardly maintain my polite smile at this point. I was offended and annoyed. A shallow, snide side of me wanted to whip out our pay stubs and show her just how “established” we are. I bit my tongue, thanked Jessica for her help, and returned to Dennis. I told him about my adventures and what I had found. I realized how much I had appreciated Hunter at James McHone Jewelry. He had been honest, open-minded, and patient. I felt I could trust him with my engagement ring.

The next morning, on the way out of town, I stopped at McHone and talked to Hunter. He agreed to order in some sapphires for me to look at and check into prices and designs for a palladium setting. I would hear from him in a few days and set up a time to return to choose my gem stone.

Two weeks later Dennis and I returned to the Shenandoah Valley to look at the sapphires that Hunter had ordered. He showed us three different gems, of varying size, color, and clarity. Dennis liked the larger, darker stone, but I was drawn to a smaller stone with a beautiful crystal clear quality. I chose a simple, 6 prong solitaire setting. It was exactly what I had been hoping for. Dennis also chose his ring that day. Hunter walked him through the process, determining the size, thickness, and style Dennis preferred. We ordered and paid for both rings and headed back to D.C.

I’m so glad we decided to go with a smaller, more personal jeweler. Our rings arrived a couple of days ago and they are perfect. Dennis has decided to wear his even though we aren’t married yet (tradition be damned) and I’ve been showing off my sparkly blue sapphire to everyone I meet. Sometimes I just stare at it. I am a very lucky, very spoiled girl.

My ring.

4 Responses to “The Ring(s)”

  1. Dennis October 3, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    You didn’t tell me about your new friend Jessica. She sounds lovely!

  2. Kelly October 3, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    It’s beautiful!

  3. CoCo October 12, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Beautiful ring! And your nails always look great. 😉

  4. Ruth March 11, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    Interesting story, principally the part about Jessica. I love diamonds myself, but I like your ring, even though is not a diamond. Your taste, your choice!

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