There are no rules when it comes to planning the perfect proposal (apart from not doing it at someone else’s wedding). But if lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that life is unpredictable and, ultimately, there’s no such thing as ‘perfection’.
Despite the stress of lockdown and hard-hit wedding industries, experts are predicting this year and 2022 will be bumper years for weddings. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make people take stock of what’s important in life, resulting in a number of low-key lockdown engagements and equally understated nuptials. In fact, restrictions have proved a handy excuse for couples wanting to keep costs down and do things their own way with more unconventional or intimate ceremonies.
KEEP IT PERSONAL
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, popping the question is likely to be on many minds. Ideally, a proposal should be an intimate experience that reflects the couple’s personality — as opposed to a series of overblown romantic gestures and Instagram Stories. According to luxury jewellers at The Royal Exchange, the all-important ring should also reflect the recipient’s character and, crucially, not break the bank.
‘What matters is choosing – or creating – a ring that tells your story, reflects your personal taste, and suits your budget and lifestyle,’ says a representative from Vashi, a contemporary jewellery house which is on a mission to ‘demystify diamonds’ and make bespoke fine jewellery more accessible. The Royal Exchange boutique features an on-site workshop, giving couples the chance to have a true hands-on experience when creating their ring. Even in the current circumstances, Vashi is offering virtual appointments so that couples are involved in every step of the journey.
Searle & Co jewellers, which has been operating in the City for over 125 years, has a similar ethos when it comes to engagement rings. ‘Generally my thoughts are that the design should reflect the couple’s personality, the ring should suit the recipient’s finger, and the purchaser should feel comfortable with the price,’ says managing director Nigel Bird.
The notion that one should purchase an engagement ring equivalent to three months’ salary is an old fashioned one. Similarly, these days it is far more common for couples to shop for a ring together. Using their highly bespoke service, many of Vashi’s clients design their rings together from scratch, choosing everything from stone cut and position to metal and special engravings. However, many individuals still enjoy the experience of picking out a ring for a surprise proposal.
And even though shops may be temporarily closed, advice is just a phone call away. ‘There is never a question too silly; remember we deal with first time buyers all the time,’ says Reece Hounslow at Royal Exchange Jewellers on potentially nervous shoppers. ‘We are here to help you, even if it is just advice.’
THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
As for ring styles, the options are endless — although having too much choice can also be a minefield. Nigel at Searle & Co suggests asking your beloved’s mother, sister(s) and friends for tips, while Reece recommends picking a design based on her sartorial choices: a minimalist may favour a single stone ring, while someone with ‘busier’ taste may prefer a contemporary halo design.
Solitaire settings and cushion and brilliant-cut diamonds are enduringly popular, but jewellers are seeing increasing demand for more unique styles and coloured gemstones. When Princess Diana eschewed tradition by choosing her own ring from a catalogue (as opposed to having one custom made) and opting for a large oval sapphire, it was a divisive move.
Today, sapphires, emeralds and coloured diamonds (in particular yellow and pink) are hugely popular. Ariana Grande’s irregular, Toi et Moi-style pearl and oval diamond ring is typical of the millennial generation’s desire for one-of-a-kind jewellery that still holds sentimental value (the pearl is reported to be from her late grandfather’s tie pin). Traditional jewellers, such as Searle & Co and Royal Exchange Jewellers, have vast experience in remodelling family heirlooms into entirely new pieces using the original metal and stones.
Another trend, particularly among eco-conscious couples, is to go vintage, which also satisfies a desire for more unusual styles. ‘Pre-owned rings of any age are a great way to contribute to sustainability, but I think the appeal of older pieces, particularly from the late Victorian era to the end of 1930s, is the almost infinite variety of design,’ says Nigel.
Antique jewellery is inherently sentimental and tells a story, but buyers need to be aware that many vintage rings were designed for ladies who didn’t lead such busy lifestyles, and can therefore be very delicate. Superstitious shoppers may be wary of second-hand jewellery but, as Reece from Royal Exchange Jewellers points out, diamonds and gemstones are ‘millions of years old in the first place’.
But no matter how left-field our tastes have become, there is one stone that continues to outshine the rest.
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
Diamonds are the number one choice for engagement rings. Iconic New York jeweller Tiffany & Co., whose trademark blue boxes have been presented to everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Priyanka Chopra Jonas, are one of the world’s leading diamond specialists and synonymous with rom-com engagements.
‘Every diamond, like a human fingerprint, has certain distinguishing characteristics,’ commented a representative from Tiffany & Co. ‘The 4Cs — colour, clarity, cut and carat weight — are the globally accepted standards for assessing the quality of a diamond. At Tiffany, we only accept .04% of the world’s gem-grade diamonds. Taken by itself, carat weight does not determine a diamond’s value. For example, two one-carat stones can vary widely in price when clarity, colour and cut are taken into consideration. When that is understood, it is clear that large diamonds of peerless quality are rare.’
Another misconception about diamonds is that they have always been the stone of choice for engagement rings, when in fact their ubiquity is relatively recent. ‘While engagement rings have been around for centuries, diamonds are a fairly late addition to the party,’ Michael Wainwright, managing director of British jewellery house Boodles explains. ‘For many years, there simply weren’t all that many diamonds on the world market, so diamond engagement rings were pretty rare.’
The tradition of engagement rings can be traced to ancient Rome – but diamond rings only became popular in the 1940s, thanks to Hollywood advertising campaigns. So given their relatively modern prevalence, why are diamonds so synonymous with all things love and marriage?
‘Diamonds have come to represent enduring love thanks to their actual strength as a stone,’ says Michael. ‘Both jewellers and geologists use the Mohs Hardness Scale, which rates stones on their hardness or durability, and a diamond is the hardest stone by a long shot.’
Whatever style of ring you opt for – whether you are choosing a ring solo, to accompany a surprise proposal, or together as a newly engaged couple – the piece you select will serve as a reminder of the strength and enduring nature of your love for one another for the years ahead.
The Royal Exchange celebrates its 450th anniversary this year. We look forward to welcoming you during 2021, for a considered shopping experience in spectacular and historic surroundings.
Please visit our boutiques page for regular updates on our retailers’ opening information and hours, as well as details about virtual consultations and appointments.