Sunday, June 10, 2007

Proposal Story Part I

Generally speaking, I think of myself as a confident, knowledgeable consumer, but when it came to shopping for an engagement ring, I was clueless. I started my ring search at Tiffany & Co. as they make it easy; there is an implied quality in their product, and as a consumer, you needn’t know much to be assured that you’re walking away with quality. This worked well for a novice like me! I snuck away during a few visits home with Andrea to meet with the salesman there, and more or less had narrowed down the parameters of what I wanted to a particular size range (and associated price range).

Somewhere along the way, I stumbled onto, a website and forum dedicated to buying diamonds. There was detailed information and links describing all aspects of how diamonds are graded, and what makes a diamond sparkle. I found the whole thing interesting, but the volume of information was a bit overwhelming. I read enough to know that T&Co. carried a substantial markup and to know that if I was going to buy from somewhere else, there would be a serious diamond learning curve.

I decided to take the easy way out (since time is never on my side anyway) and arranged to meet my T&Co. salesmen one weekday morning. I needed to keep this whole thing a secret from Andrea, so I invented a story about working in Bakersfield and instead headed north. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the T&CO store, they did not have the exact ring that I wanted. The ones that were brought in were either too small (I had an idea in my head of what size I wanted) or too big (I am not related to Bill Gates.) I went home empty-handed, and started thinking about Pricescope again.

I set up a secret email address that I could use for diamond-related business (since Andrea sometime uses my computer, and I am sure that an email titled “Your Diamond Ring Request” would have caught her eye). I am an engineer at heart, so I spent a lot of time learning about diamond mathematics, preferred angles, color, clarity, and cut. I was amazed at the various tricks that a diamond cutter can use to make diamonds weigh (and cost) more but sparkle less.

After some time, I was confident in my knowledge of diamonds and felt ready to make a purchase (from someone other than T&Co.). I contacted a few internet diamond vendors and while on a trip to Houston, decided to meet one of them to check out their stash. I made my way down to a nondescript jewelery building in Southwest Houston (not very flashy, really – I guess fitting for an internet vendor).

When the elevator doors opened, had a few butterflies in my stomach. I walked out into a long hallway with cameras and locks on all the doors. On the inside, I poured over loose diamonds with the VP and selected the perfect center stone and matched pair of side stones for Andrea’s new ring. We looked at the selection of settings, and while I saw some components of rings that I liked, there was no ring that jumped out at me as the one. I told the exec just that, so we decided to design a custom ring instead. He took out a pad of paper and we started to design a ring. Together we worked out the prongs that would hold the diamonds, the shank around the finger, the relative heights and taper of the three stones, and other details.

A few days later and back in California, I saw the ring take shape for the first time. I received two CAD-generated images of what the ring would look like. They were a bit crude, but they certainly showed that the ring would come out how I wanted. I decided at this point to go for the custom ring! I did the paperwork to arrange for payment for the finished product (had to pay by wire transfer – a new experience for me), and made a few minor design changes that I had considered after my meeting in Houston.

About a week later, I got an email that the ring was ready. It included photos of the finished product, and I was sooo pleased. They also informed me that if I had no problems, it would be shipped out the next day. I made a special trip down to the FedEx station in SLO to pick it up, and as soon as I got back to my car with the box, I tore into it so I could see it with my own eyes. It was exactly what I wanted. Now, I just had to keep it a secret for the next few weeks while I planned the proposal….but that’s another story!


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