I have many hobbies and interests, one of them being perfume of course, but another is gemology. I’ve mentioned this before.
And, I rarely share everything or that much of what I know about almost anything in my posts or in one place or time in general and I think it’s hard to if you have any genuine interest in something and don’t want to bore people with details they may or may not care to hear about. At least, that’s the way I approach my reviews and many other things – I don’t want to bore people and I’m not sure how much people really want to hear me go on and on about certain things. There are blogs and reviews like that and they do it well. Maybe I should try more? But I like how I do my posts, etc. for the most part.
But that being said, I would like to share a bit more about gemstones as I considered being a trained gemologist years ago, with an emphasis on grading diamonds if I could advance far enough in the profession. It started with a minor fascination as a young lady with gems but, when I was shopping around for an engagement ring late in 2010 and 2011, I became totally enamored with gems. I am a curious person and I love to research and analyze things so I researched gemstones and diamonds in particular for months and months. Eventually, I even started collecting loose gemstones (with some possible intention of putting them in settings).
I’d like to share what I’ve learned over the years.
First of all, there are a lot of ideas in popular culture about gemstones that are incorrect. People often have the impression, for example, that diamonds are the most expensive gemstones you can buy. That is somewhat true, but there are other gemstones that are actually rarer and more expensive. Furthermore, as much as Diamonds are genuinely amazing, of course, there’s a lot hype in the diamond industry and oftentimes companies will use different marketing techniques to sell their diamonds that are somewhat deceptive, or at least their claims shouldn’t be taken at face value alone. It’s not uncommon for major sellers to brand-name their diamonds and tout their superiority regardless of what the GIA might actually grade them as. You are always best off with a genuine GIA report for your diamond (or other gemstone) over what some salesperson says to you or however a diamond is otherwise labeled. Always. And the truly best jewelers won’t bat an eye (or shouldn’t) if you ask for a GIA certification for your diamond (especially if you’re from the US).
Anyhow, here are two stories from my life that allow me to further discuss what I mean. And let me say, again, that diamonds are not the only engagement ring options… At all.
I love sapphires and I decided that I wanted a sapphire as my main stone in my engagement ring (although my preferences have changed off and on). So, we went to several jewelers and eventually decided that, although it’s a “mall jewelry store” Helzberg was where we wanted to buy our custom made ring. They just had really excellent customer service and the stores felt casual but nice and cheerful. That was in 2011…
Now, we found a setting that we liked and that could be easily modified and we weren’t terribly particular about the much smaller diamonds they used in the setting (less than 1/4 ct each) because we knew that they would be at least ok and for diamonds that small I wasn’t going to go to the trouble or ask them to go to the trouble necessarily, but we wanted them to definitely GIA certify the center sapphire as it was going to be natural and we wanted to make sure it was good quality. And…sadly…as much as I loved Helzberg for their customer service and otherwise experience, they had trouble with our request to certify the sapphire because it was outside their norm – they are a “mall jewelry store” after all. That was not acceptable to us though, of course, and we eventually gave up on Helzberg for my main ring. Although, I still love that store and for lab created stones it’s one of my favorite places to start looking, at least. We even bought a white gold and lab created sapphire ring there that was a replica of Princess Diana’s ring as a quick substitute engagement ring for our Vegas wedding (since we didn’t have the custom ring ready yet before we took off to get married). The replica ring cost about $500 and was actually fairly fabulous. A ring of similar perfection (lab created stones are real but cheaper because they’re man-made although they are theoretically perfect) and size with natural stones would have cost tens of thousands of dollars and been much harder to find. It was delightful, fairly carefree as far as rings go and it was right there in stock to buy. It just had to be fitted. (we bought a white gold diamond wedding band in Las Vegas) Helzberg sadly no longer sells that ring though…
That being said, again, I do think Helzberg was a good experience overall (at least back then) and as much as I would never recommend asking for information, advice or for repairs from a “mall jewelry store” like Helzberg for or about vintage or antique pieces (I’ve said that before) I don’t snub my nose at them entirely and I would never suggest that people should. If you can’t buy what you want there (ie a certified natural stone) then that’s a problem but they do sell some lovely pieces and there are some well trained and qualified people who work there, especially if you go to a nicer “mall jewelry store” in a nice mall. And, frankly, unless you are prepared to do some serious research (or have someone do it for you) and shop on eBay, Etsy, or etc. for your engagement ring or other jewelry (and always require genuine GIA certification from the seller, etc.) then you might be best off shopping at a “mall jewelry store” if you are on a budget less than $7,000 for an engagement ring. Discount jewelers are not something I would personally recommend… Also, not all smaller jewelry stores are created equal and there is something to be said for the corporate standards stores like Helzberg have to maintain. Those rules are not always a bad thing… They can control quality for the better on occasion. Also, as compared to online stores, you can try on the items you are looking at…
Frankly, if I had had a budget less than $7,000 for an engagement ring I would have likely either ventured to eBay or Etsy very carefully or I would have gone to a store like Helzberg and just found something in my price range that I liked (with GIA certification). There are a lot of very pretty rings that don’t cost more than $1,500. Truly. And when it’s about the love behind the ring anyway, the price isn’t the point. If you can afford something more, great and if you can’t it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying yourself and finding something of some at least ok quality that’s truly lovely. Also, it’s about the experience too and stores like Helzberg are still very fun to shop at (all those beautifully displayed gems shining and sparkling behind the lights on velvet).
“I shopped around” a ton though. Truly. And I loved it! But one of the most interesting experiences was when we were in London. We stopped at several jewelers before deciding on Bentley and Skinner (where of course everything was certified, etc.) and one of them was a small store that specialized in vintage and antique jewelry. They had some lovely emeralds but the assistant informed us that in order to buy any good natural emerald of a decent size (ie not just as an accent or at least as big as the equivalent dimensions of a 1 to 2 ct. diamond) you would likely find yourself spending upwards of $25,000. Most natural emeralds have many flaws… Finding ones that are less flawed entails higher than “average” cost. And, after my research, I knew that was true but it came as a bit of a surprise to my husband who is far from uniformed or unintelligent, but again, you see, that’s the way it goes with perceptions of gemstones. I’ll say it again: Diamonds are touted as the most expensive and the best (in the US especially). People don’t realize that emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and etc. can actually cost much more than a comparable diamond if you buy them natural and of good to high quality. Or at least can cost as much.
But, I didn’t want an emerald because emeralds are too fragile for my use. I needed something like a sapphire or a diamond. So we bought a diamond flanked by two smaller diamonds at Bentley and Skinner. Although, I lost (they ended up in the ocean, etc. although I never sold them) most of my rings and I no longer have many of them including the one from Bentley and Skinner. But that’s a subject for a different post… 😂 …Anyhow, one of the only ones I’ve kept with great intent (and worn on my left hand in place of a wedding ring) was not even from Mark but one I bought myself (the Art Deco ring I’ve discussed before). That ring I bought one year from an antique jewelry dealer after some research and for a good price. Mark is remedying my lack of a ring from him though, right now, permanently.
And…that brings me to the details.
Any time you start researching the basics of diamond buying you run across articles explaining that you want to focus on the four c’s: Color, cut, clarity and carat weight. Now, the GIA covers all that for you by experts who meticulously grade the diamonds. However, you have to decide what’s best for you among the ratings. Personally, I’ve always required at least the second or third highest rating in color, cut and clarity unless it was a very vintage/almost antique or truly antique stone (an Old Mine Cut diamond from the 1920’s I had for example) but then I did give up on larger carat weight on occasion as I didn’t want to overspend on jewelry (I think that regardless of how much you have to actually spend you should always have a budget or you’ll overspend and make a mistake). Of course, I am always willing to pay for quality but to me quality doesn’t mean going larger than necessary (ie I would never wear a diamond engagement ring over 3 carats center stone – I don’t like how larger diamonds than that look on my smaller boned hands). For some people carat weight has to be bigger though, of course, or they don’t like the piece. So, for those folks, perhaps they either just have to spend more or they have to find a way to sacrifice quality in the other c’s just enough to compensate without buying a diamond that’s clearly flawed or…they have to buy something with a lot of smaller diamonds creating a larger tcw or the illusion of more weight.
Just to illustrate my thoughts further and because I truly love looking at and analyzing gemstones I’ve decided to link to a few examples of rings that I love at “mall jewelry stores” that vary in price range under $7,000. These are just pieces I would choose for myself depending on price range and are not meant to be taken as endorsements or anything of that sort. Thanks for reading and here they are:
$2,000-$4,000: Ring No. 1 Ring No. 2 (I would need to have this and the others GIA certified for the center stone at least, if they aren’t already and it would have to be at least moderate, ok quality )Ring No. 3
Here are the rings I talked about:
This is the diamond solitaire flanked by diamond accents in platinum made by Bentley and Skinner. This was lost in Seattle down a drain.
This was the setting we picked in 2012 at Helzberg and that center diamond was going to be replaced by an emerald cut natural sapphire. The sapphire would have had to have been raised slightly… But, of course, it was never made.
This was my Old Mine Cut center diamond with side diamonds 1920’s/30’s platinum ring. It was lost in the Pacific Ocean…
Here is the Art Deco natural sapphire, diamond and platinum ring I bought myself:
And this is the Helzberg replica white gold and lab created (real but man-made sapphire) ring I used for my wedding (the first photo has the diamond wedding band too). The wedding band was lost down drain in Duluth and the replica was lost in London (and by lost I don’t mean stolen, traded, sold, etc.):