OK, so you’ve done your research on her style, you know how much you want to spend, you are aware of the common mistakes (and you’re not going to make them), but before you dive in, you need to identify where to go for the best advice and information for your needs.
As I said before, there is a lot of information out there. Some is good, but quite a bit of it is either misleading, conflicting or just irrelevant to the real job in hand, which is to find the perfect engagement ring for the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. So, how will you know who to trust?
• With so much information, you need a trustworthy filter and interpreter
• High street chains, jewellery quarters and high-end brands have the substantial costs of capital investment in stock, advertising and premises, for which you will pay
• Their products are standardised, mass produced and of variable quality
• Buying expensive jewellery online is always a gamble
• Independents have a local reputation to maintain and an interest in long term client relationships
• Trust works both ways.
Read on - or Download Chapter 5 as a pdf to read at your leisure.
THE OBVIOUS PLACES
As a man buying an expensive and important piece of fine jewellery for the first time, you may feel a bit like a lamb going for slaughter, or at least somewhat confused. What you want is expert advice, so where do you go to find an expert? Well, you go to the obvious places, because those are the only ones you know about.
The obvious places include locations like London’s Hatton Garden, the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, Glasgow’s Argyle Arcade, the High Street chains, Tiffany, Cartier or other big brands, and, of course, our good friend Google.
These are fine for general research, but you can be overwhelmed with ‘diamond ring fatigue’. Many of my clients have suffered just that before they come to me. In total desperation to get the whole thing over and done with, you could end up falling for the pitch of the next persuasive sales person. Whatever you do, do not succumb. Do not buy from any of these places unless, and until, you truly know what you want, and what you are doing.
JEWELLERY QUARTERS AND HIGH STREET CHAINS
So, what are the issues with the obvious places? Well, stock for one thing, staff sales incentives for another, and relative anonymity for a third. These are all linked. Unlike most independent jewellers, many of these retail outlets do not expect you to be a repeat customer so they have no incentive to consider your immediate interests over their own.
Stock and the cost of capital. The obvious places carry masses of valuable stock (inventory). Stock ties up capital.
We all know that capital has a cost in the form of interest, and this applies to all the capital invested in a business.
Think about how much you are charged for a bank loan.
Guess who pays in the end for all that money tied up in a company’s inventory? This is a really old fashioned and inefficient way to supply jewellery. It does not add to the value of your ring, and with the wonders of modern technology it doesn’t have to be like this.
Sales incentives and commissions. Retail staff in most jewellery companies are paid sales commission. Unless there is a commitment to building long term client relationships, their interest is to sell you the ring which will generate the biggest commission or the most personal benefit for them. Surprisingly, this may not necessarily be the most expensive ring. Because holding stock is an expensive business, the greatest benefit to the sales person might be to shift a ring which has been sitting in stock for ages because no-one wants to buy it.
Sales staff are often given extra price flexibility and an added incentive over their normal commission rates to sell that immovable object. Saturdays are favourite days for this tactic, and staff are trained to be brilliant at it. This practice is not confined to the jewellery industry, but it is common within it.
Anonymity, customer relationships and trust. In retail, as in most business, the most important objective should be to build a long term relationship of trust with your client or customer. The objective is one of mutual benefit – the client receives exceptional service and an excellent product and in turn becomes a loyal customer, referring friends, family and even strangers. So a good jeweller wouldn’t palm you off with old stock just to get rid of it. If not your future business (which they would of course hope to secure through trust and good service), a local or independent jeweller has a wider reputation to think of and would not jeopardise this hard won asset for a quick engagement ring sale.
THE BIG BRANDS
OK, what about Tiffany, Cartier and the other big brands? They do have reputations to maintain.
I agree. So what’s the problem there?
As well as their reputations, they are keen to make their product appear exclusive and somehow even more special. How do they achieve that? Well, they spend a small fortune on PR, brand awareness, lifestyle advertising, and premises in prime retail locations. And, in the words of the old Stella Artois adverts, they keep their prices ‘reassuringly expensive’– a strategy employed by all ‘high-end’ brands from lagers to limousines. For Tiffany and the rest, the high prices in part are necessary to pay for all the PR, advertising, premises and also to provide returns to their shareholders, but mostly they keep their prices high to create the illusion of exclusivity.
Does this add any value to your ring? I don’t think so.
You will undoubtedly get a good quality ring from Tiffany, Cartier and the like. You would not expect otherwise. But this is not like comparing an Aston Martin, Mercedes or Rolls Royce with a Ford, VW or Toyota. When you buy a high-end car as opposed to a good mid-range vehicle, you know you are getting extras. The design, the build quality, the appearance, the ‘cachet’, (the insurance!) and everything about an Aston Martin One–77 (only seventy-seven ever built), for example, is remarkable, special and identifiably different. And it will continue to be so for as long as you own it, and beyond. No-one else can produce the same car with the same qualities, and that is part of what you are paying for.
This is not the case with diamond rings. Diamonds are standardised commodities, graded by a variety of certifying organisations of which the GIA (Gemmological Institute of America) is most respected. As I will reveal later, there is nothing very special about diamonds compared to other precious stones. Even for the best quality diamonds, excluding named monsters like the Krupps or Taylor-
Burton, there are always others which would be completely indistinguishable and interchangeable in an engagement ring. Any single one carat D colour VS1 clarity brilliant ideal cut GIA certified diamond (see Chapter 8 for what all that gobbledegook means) looks pretty much like another to everyone but the specialist, especially when set in a fairly generic 6-claw solitaire ring mount (see ).
And that is what you get. As much as any of the High Street chains and online bargain engagement ring websites, all the brands have their standard designs. They are not exclusive, they are not limited and they are not particularly special. Anyone can buy that ring design, and many other makers produce almost exactly the same thing. If you look at Tiffany’s website in particular, it offers pretty ordinary rings. They are well made, but there is nothing about them to justify a premium over any other well-made engagement ring of the same technical specification. They may have the maker’s name engraved inside, but the extra you spend on the name does not add anything to the ‘value’ of your ring. After all, she doesn’t wear the pretty blue branded box on her finger, and it’s not quite the done thing to remind everyone you meet that your ring is from ‘X’.
In which case, maybe you are thinking, I should just run an online search on ‘engagement rings’, buy from one of the big sellers and be done with it. For the bargain hunters among you, if you are not looking for something personal or individual, one of the big online diamond ring companies may well be your final destination – but read this first.
They are certainly cheaper than the brands. Their mounts are standard and mass produced with options for different stone sizes, and their business models enable them to offer a long list of diamonds. This is because they do not hold the stones themselves, but act as resellers for their partner diamond merchants. They often require their partner to supply these diamonds exclusively to them so that customers cannot compare the same diamond at another price on another website and have an independent means of verifying the quality of the stone or its market value.
There has also been some significant concern in the industry about ‘over-certification’ (see Chapter 8). This is where diamonds are certified as being substantially better than they really are. In my opinion, this is an inevitable consequence of the way online selling has developed and the commoditisation of diamonds. But it is not a problem only online retailers encounter.
It would always be wise, if taking the online option, to go for a higher specification diamond than you think you need, particularly in relation to cut and clarity (see Chapter 8). This is because there are different standards, even for certified diamonds, and as you usually do not have even a photograph of what you are buying, you cannot gauge the stone’s brilliance, symmetry, cut or whether or not it is ‘eye clean’.
Nor can you know if you are comparing like with like when looking at online prices vs your local independent jeweller.
One of the biggest online diamond engagement ring companies doesn’t make the product it sells, doesn’t see the diamond before it is set or the finished ring before it is shipped to you. The diamond can be supplied in one country, shipped directly to the manufacturer in another country, then the ring is sent on to you in the packaging of the online company from which you bought it. Rarely do you get to see a photograph of the actual diamond itself before you buy it, although you can view the certificate it comes with. You can always return the ring if you are not happy with it, but even when you have got it in your hands, you are unlikely to be able to appraise the stone yourself (which takes years of training and experience).
Online companies will provide appraisals (valuations) for their rings. These always ‘value’ the ring higher, sometimes much higher, than the price you paid for it as they have a vested interest in making you think your ring is ‘worth’ more than you paid for it. On the face of it, this appraisal is for insurance purposes, and partly because of the way the insurance industry works, insurance values are sometimes inflated (see Chapter 3). Such an appraisal is simply one person’s opinion of how much it might cost you to replace that same article with another identical ring; it does not reflect the ‘value’ of your ring – and the value of any jewellery is a moveable concept at the best of times. If the valuation is too high, you will be paying too much in insurance premiums, which is not helpful if you are on a budget, however good it makes you feel to believe you have a ring ‘worth’ more than you paid for it.
Buying any jewellery online is a gamble as you have no way of telling the real quality of the article until you hold it in your hand, and corners are often cut to keep prices down. It works for some people and not for others, as the wide range of satisfaction levels in online reviews attest. As with anything, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
SO WHO DO YOU TRUST
Personally, I would do my basic research and then find an independent jeweller I can talk to. These are the specialists in their field – they care about their subject, have studied it for years and know it inside out. Many have a bricks and mortar base, so you ‘know where they live’, and they have a reputation to maintain. They often also operate online, conducting personal consultations using Skype and other ‘face time’ applications.
You don’t have to spend hours on appointments, or make excuses to explain where you are going. With the use of screen sharing to discuss design options and CAD renders, you can see what the finished ring will actually look like.
New technology offers great potential for jewellers and, if they are embracing it as independents, you will get the best of both worlds. It brings bespoke within the reach of most people in the market for an engagement ring. The designs are created exclusively for you, so you get to choose the stones, set your priorities and determine your own budget. And an independent bespoke designer will offer much better value than a brand, plus she won’t be wearing the same ring as thousands of other women.
Remember, though, that trust works both ways. Be straightforward and honest with your jeweller and expect the same in return. You can let them know that you have done your research, discuss your priorities, their designs and ethos, then see what they can offer.
Many designers put considerable creative time and effort into each client enquiry. You should not expect them to
‘match’ the cheap online ring suppliers on price; you are paying for originality, and you have no way of knowing if you would be comparing like with like anyway (see above re price comparisons). If you are only interested in the price you can always buy online and take your chances.
But if you want something more than that – something of good value, better than the standard model, a guarantee of quality, good customer service, ethical sourcing and perhaps even a personal design, all of these are available from independent jewellers using modern design and production technology, whether they operate in your local High Street, online or both.
There is potential for information overload so you need a trustworthy filter and interpreter. High Street chains, jewellery quarters and high-end brands have similar costs of capital investment in stock, advertising and premises, etc. Some of these have little interest in developing lasting client relationships so have no incentive to put the client first. Products are at best standardised and at worst of poor quality. And buying expensive jewellery online is always a gamble.
An independent jeweller has a reputation to maintain and an interest in developing a long term relationship with clients.
If they also offer the latest in design and manufacturing technology, the client can benefit in all ways from the reduced overheads and increased choice and flexibility that bespoke design offers.
Read On – Chapter 6 runs through a very brief History of the Engagement Ring. It will give the tradition a bit of context and perhaps inform your choices for the better.