The Pre-Planning … A Chicago Wedding Proposal!

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

A multi-part blog (part 2 – Buying the ring, pt.2)

I mentioned in the previous chapter that I got my start in weddings through proposals, they are still my favorite as. I love watching these men trying to make plans, I can get a decent judge of the guy by how much thought is put into the proposal. All the focus goes to the ring or the moment, rare is the man that nails both…without help. As a Chicago Wedding Planner, I feel very lucky compared to some peers in other cities. Chicago is such a treasure trove of options for wedding planners with such a melting pot of clients and vendors. All the various unique ideas from our very different clients have brought to us during their wedding planning constantly add to the creative maelstrom that is my brain. These ideas plus our experience of knowing what works and what won’t, allows me to bring new ideas and perspectives to future clients. [HIRE ME AND I’LL SHARE ALL THESE GREAT IDEAS.] 

Picking up where I left off with a quick recap before getting back into it: Do your research into Chicago Jewelry Designers – into your partner’s jewelry preferences and a jeweler you can trust working with. Getting help is always great! Set a reasonable budget based on the design you want and stick to it. Start working with the designer to put the polishing touches on your ring. 

Lab Created Stones Vs. Natural Stone

You met the designer; they took your design polished it up and put together physical sketch/plan. Great, the next step is to select all your stones, confirm the size, and run through the design on more time before actual production starts. Yes, you will be picking every stone for the ring at this meeting. Inspect each one carefully, it is a painstaking process because I do mean every stone from the center stone to the accents. Obviously, the ‘main attraction’ is the center stone so you will want to start so you can devote your ‘freshest’ set of eyes to it. This is the stone where the 4 C’s are the most critical and apparent; however, keep in mind that the accents still affect the overall look of the piece.  

Once the process has begun or to kick the process off you have a meeting with your jeweler to select your stone, this is a very important step, these are the actual stones for your ring. You should inspect each stone carefully, they will have ‘microscopic imperfections’ called ‘inclusions.’ Which determine grade, color, clarity, price, etc. so make sure you do your research, and if you don’t know ask questions! Chicago Jewelers are usually fantastic and always identify the major inclusions during your inspection. Unless you are buying a truly flawless stone which are VERY expensive, there will be some inclusions, they are almost like fingerprints for diamonds, the stone should look the same when you inspect the completed ring as it did when you picked it. If not, that could mean the stone may have been damaged or switched for a different stone! This isn’t to say you need to memorize every inclusion, lord knows I couldn’t, and I tried. Just make sure you look the stone over completely and if anything seems off or there are ‘large’ inclusions that seem different, trust your gut. As your new best friend and wedding planner fairy godfather I can tell you Chicagoland vendors are very reputable!

I mentioned I purchased a Lab created stone instead of a Natural one. I have met couples that are very holistic and very conscience of what they are purchasing, they were advocates for lab diamonds and educated me about the diamond industry, the blood diamond history. On the other end of the spectrum, I know far more people who are whole heartedly against lab diamonds. Stuck in the old school mindset that lab created stones are lower quality, which admittedly used to be the case. You may or may not be familiar with the reason natural diamonds/diamonds in general are so expensive: the brilliant advertising and marketing from early jewelers implying that diamonds are not just hard to obtain but very rare and limited. They are gorgeous but they aren’t rare, well some are. This brilliant campaign from a hundred plus years ago is still deeply rooted in the pricing of precious gems and metals. Lab created stones have always been a great way to save money, coming in a couple hundred if not a couple thousand dollars cheaper than natural stones.

Modern techniques have greatly advanced the field of lab created diamonds from where they first got that unfortunate stigma. It has advanced to the point that a ‘trend’ for loved ones that have passed is to have their ashes turned into diamonds. I have seen this done and the results are surprising. Both my fiancé, who is a certified gemologist, and I can speak from experience that the quality of lab created stones is just as good as natural with the added advantage of a significantly much more reasonable price point.

Heirloom Stones & Breaking Tradition

‘White Diamonds are so 5 minutes ago, too traditional, this caught your eye better, right!?’ An actual quote from bride when I saw and complimented her ring during a meeting. Do not be afraid to break from tradition there is a world of stunningly beautiful precious gems out there. I chose a black diamond as the ‘center piece’ for my husband’s ring. While it doesn’t have the stunning effect white diamonds have refracting light, but hot damn is that sucker reflective. Against the vibrant rose gold band, the reflective black pops more than a traditional ring and once it caught your eye the accent white diamonds luster refracting light hooks them in for the awkward stare until one of you has to say something! Of course, black may not be your thing but other gorgeous gemstones can be used and each one has a different meaning behind it. Emeralds are a symbol of truth and love throughout time. Pearl is associated with innocence and purity. Amethyst is thought to ward off evil, and is associated with peace, balance, and courage. Opal is the symbol of hope and once thought to have the power to preserve life. Peridot was Cleopatra’s favorite and believed to bring the wearer confidence, luck, and health. There is also Ruby, Sapphire, Topaz, Tanzanite, and lots more.

Objects with sentimental value add a tricky variable, so my advice to you is if you do not LOVE the stone or band as is, DO NOT USE IT. Put it into something else for another special occasion or keep it and pass it to a child. Do not alter the object, you are likely to create a mob of angry relatives or soon to be in-laws. However, if you find the right skilled professional ask there are instances, they can find some interesting or creative way to keep the item as is and create a ring around it. In my case, my husband had heirloom tanzanite from his late mother; a pear-shaped stone which I was like ‘No thank you,’ to me that shape screams my grandmother’s jewelry. He also had a Marquise cut stone, which I liked better but, in my head, I couldn’t see how this could be fashioned into a masculine styled ring without becoming like my high school class ring. The designer saw the answer staring me in the face, and this is where their experience comes in to play: she turned the stone sideways, so it is ‘part of the band’ wrapping around my finger. 

Buying the Bing: Tips from a Wedding Planner for Making the Purchase

I am almost positive the price tag is the part you are most worried about; it is a very large, terrifying number, and you are still haunted by the archaic stigma that you are selling your soul to afford this token of love, 3 months’ worth of your salary. I remember I had planned to prepare myself to spend much more money than the ring ultimately cost me, and my husband absolutely loves the ring. He still loves showing it off to people like we just got engaged. Despite having a wildly higher expectation in my head, knowing the price ahead of time, and having saved literally twice the necessary amount; my jaw still dropped when the words came out of the jeweler’s mouth and she put the invoice in front of me. I have noticed that money is only every written down if the amount is going to make you ecstatic or horrified. I had to constantly remind myself ‘it isn’t one lump sum I have to pay.’ 

To go from a design to a finished product, for me, was about a month; your timeline may vary depending on the complexity of the design. I had a fairly straightforward, simple design: 18K rose gold band, 1.5 Carat black diamond center stone, with 6 brilliant cut white diamond accents.

First Impressions are important

You were probably raised to ‘never judge a book by its cover,’ well in this case, judge, judge hard! Not just the exterior of the ring but also the establishment you are choosing to do business with. Is it in a part of town you don’t feel comfortable in, is the building dilapidated (inside and out)? There will be certain factors beyond the business’ control if they don’t own the building. However, there are things like the state of their signage, clean windows, how their displays look, and other factors are great indicators of their situation within the business.

‘The key is to be firm but polite’ – Niles the Butler, The Nanny

First impressions for the business are important but also the first impression you make with the business. They have the right to refuse you service and I know of places that have if the designer doesn’t think that the project is worth the cost. The key is to radiate confidence, even if it is all fake. When you are dealing with the designer be firm but polite with what you want, you should not be wishy washy about anything at this point. You know the design and stick to your guns, within reason; the designer is a professional that has experience. If they say something can’t be done, listen to them and work with them to create a compromise you are satisfied with, but again this should have also been taken care of in the design phase.

Never pay with Cash! 

Always use a plastic, credit over debit, this provides you with an extra layer of security in the slim chance you need it. Say something happens and you never get the final product because the business closed, or on a much more extreme side if the ring turns out in a way that isn’t what you wanted, and the jeweler is being obstinate. I’m a silver lining kind of guy so a silver lining you can take away from the pandemic is that the businesses that survived now have this unofficial badge that shows potential customers they will be in good hands. They have such strong business practices, people are giving them business when budgets are tight, staff is remaining loyal probably because they are taken care of, happy employees produce better results. They survived in a time when something like 43% of businesses in the US were closing, you will get a great product. What if you realize, for whatever reason, it is time to take your business elsewhere; rare but happens, if you paid with cash, you are never going see that money again. Paying with a credit card gives you an extra level of security because you can contest the purchase through the credit card company, they can launch a full investigation. Granted this isn’t a 110% guaranteed system but you have the creditor investigating. Leading me into the next 2 points, to build this security blanket.

Never pay without anything Signed

This should go without saying for any large transaction. Everything needs to be spelled out in black and white on a piece of paper, something that can be kept for records in some form. Subtotal, discounts, taxes, ALL fees, everything should be spelled out somewhere in an itemized fashion. This should be in one document not over a series of emails and other document, etc. Signatures and dates need to be present on the document to make them binding. Never pay until they counter sign, a great tip for any vendor during your wedding planning!

You need to receive an official, written, appraisal of the final ring from the when you pick up and make the final payment. The appraisal should be able to, and any wedding planner would recommend to always get a second appraisal.

Put the minimum deposit down

You aren’t accruing any interest in the price of the ring, but your credit card company loves interest. Use this, put the minimum down on the ring and ask about payment plan options instead of the basic 2 payment system: deposit and balance. Since it doesn’t normally take months of work to create a ring timing is tight, but installments allow you to lessen the overall impact to your finances. As we all know, the more credit on the card the higher your interest on each payment.

I know the knee-jerk reaction is to pay as much as you can up front so that is less later. I’m a wedding planner and I had that compulsion too. It is ‘added security’ less so an actual security measure and more just a way to minimize the dread you will feel if you do lose the deposit. Paying it off in increments instead of a large sum upfront will also less negatively impact your credit score.

Each buyer’s experience will be slightly unique so again these are just general tips from a wedding professional, just your friendly Chicago Neighborhood Wedding Planner! If you have questions, ask them, never be afraid or hesitant to do so, make sure you get exactly what you want!