Read an Excerpt
Countdown To Your Perfect Wedding
By Joyce Scardina Becker
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Literary Productions
All rights reserved.
Savor the Proposal
PERHAPS HE POPPED the question along the azure shores of Hawaii. Or maybe you asked him while dining at one of the fanciest New York restaurants. Either way, a wedding always begins with the proposal.
I remember my first proposal from my husband, Dana. (Yes, there were two!) Dana was the best man at a friend's wedding. Flying home on a first-class upgrade from Seattle to San Francisco, the champagne bubbles must have pickled his brain. Unrehearsed, he proposed to me in flight! I was so excited that the second we got on the ground I called my best friend and asked her to be a bridesmaid. By the time we arrived home, all the bubbles had burst, and the proposal was withdrawn. Lesson learned: Savor the moment, but keep it private in the beginning. Three months later, exactly a year from the day we met, Dana proposed again over a five-star meal. This time, we didn't officially announce our engagement until a month later at a party we hosted together.
My advice, therefore, is to revel in your engagement, but don't tell everyone until you have had time to take it all in and discuss the details between the two of you.
If either of you has children from a prior relationship, set aside some private time to share the news with your children. News like this can be confusing to kids, especially little ones. It's important to assure your children that they will remain your top priority throughout your engagement and marriage.
Traditionally, a man first asked a woman's father for her hand in marriage before proposing. If you haven't exactly followed tradition, it is an excellent idea to share the good news with the bride's parents shortly after you've popped the question. It's never out of style to have good manners. If possible, make the engagement announcement to the bride's parents in person. If this isn't possible, a phone call is the next best option. (Don't even think about e-mail.) Be sure to tell the groom's parents soon after. If both sets of parents have not met yet, and it's convenient to do so, now's the time to get together and celebrate, perhaps at a dinner or family weekend.
Beyond that, this is enough notifying for now. I get into the "complete" announcement of your engagement a couple of chapters down the road. If the weekend is approaching, head out of town to a favorite destination you enjoyed while you were dating and chill out. If you can spare the vacation time, take a couple of workdays off, too. It's time for you simply to savor the moment and celebrate your engagement quietly together. There will be plenty for you to do in the coming weeks. For now, just enjoy yourselves and your new engagement.
Select an Engagement Ring
ALTHOUGH MANY OUTDATED wedding traditions have vanished in the twenty-first century, one that may endure forever is the engagement ring. When your friends and relatives find out you're engaged, it is the first thing they ask about and want to see. If you feel the need to make a statement about your engagement, this is your big chance. (Incidentally, this step often comes before the previous one, which is why I put them back-to-back.)
Another enduring rule of wediquette: It is still the groom's responsibility to purchase this symbol of love for his lovely bride. But guys, unless you are clairvoyant or have a perfect understanding of your future wife's taste in jewelry, you may not want to take on the burden of buying the ring without consulting her first. (After more than ten years of marriage, I can honestly say that my husband still doesn't have a clue when it comes to the kind of jewelry I like.) A more contemporary approach is for couples to shop for the ring together, have the bride identify her favorites, and then let the groom make the final purchase on his own.
Let's say you're a guy who's big on upholding tradition, and you want to pleasantly surprise your gal by springing a ring on her as you pop the question. What's the best way to pick one out that you know she'll love? Brian Merkley, owner of Merkley Kendrick Jewelers in Louisville, Kentucky, suggests seeking the assistance of close friends of your bride-to-be "who can be trusted to keep their mouths shut."
Regardless of how you choose to approach the buying process, it's important to educate yourself about engagement rings before opening your wallet. After all, this is one of the most significant purchases you'll ever make.
Let's take a look at the kinds of engagement rings that couples are buying these days. While most jewelers offer a mind-boggling array of choices, Marilyn Monroe's famous refrain is likely to live on forever — diamonds truly are a girl's best friend. According to Mel Wasserman of Zwillinger & Company in San Francisco, diamond engagement rings outsell all other types by 20-to-1 (sapphires and rubies come in a verydistant second and third). Given this overwhelming popularity, I address diamond rings exclusively in this chapter, although many of the general concepts regarding diamonds can be applied to other precious stones as well.
A Diamond Primer
UNLESS YOU'VE JUST crawled out from under a very large rock, you have probably already heard about the "4 Cs" of diamonds — carat, clarity, color, and cut. But what does this mean to you, the purchaser? Simply put, the 4 Cs, taken together, determine the overall value and beauty of a diamond (and should determine its price as well). If you focus on just one or two Cs while searching for your perfect engagement ring, you may end up with a diamond that isn't worth its weight in cubic zirconium. So it's definitely worth your while to study the 4 Cs before you start shopping.
This is simply the weight of the diamond. A 1-carat diamond weighs 200 milligrams. To complicate matters, jewelers invented a "points" scale as an alternate measurement of a diamond's weight (mostly for stones weighing less than 1 carat). There are 100 points to a carat, so a diamond weighing 3/4 carat is a 75-point diamond. Without trying to sound like your high school algebra teacher, let me summarize: 1 carat = 100 points = 200 milligrams.
Don't confuse the carat weight of a diamond with karat, which is a measurement of the purity of gold. (Notice the difference in spelling.) I talk more about karats later.
If you are out shopping and want to verify a stone's carat weight, ask the jeweler to weigh it while you watch. First, make sure that the scale registers zero when there is nothing on it. Then, after the unmounted stone is placed on the scale, take the number of milligrams indicated and divide by 200 to get the number of carats. Don't make the mistake of looking for the biggest rock at the smallest price. You will likely get a stone with substandard clarity, color, and cut — and it will probably look cheap, too.
Clarity is a measure of the number and extent of the flaws in a diamond. In general, the fewer the flaws, the more valuable the diamond. Since the word "flaw" has a negative connotation, jewelers and gemologists cameup with a pleasant-sounding euphemism: They refer to flaws as inclusions (as in, there's other stuff included in this rock besides pure diamond).
There are several methodologies used to measure clarity, but the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has developed a scale that is the most widely used and respected. The GIA scale rates diamonds as flawless (FL), internally flawless (IF), very very slightly included (VVS), very slightly included (VS), slightly imperfect (SI), and imperfect (I). There are further subdivisions within these grades, which are intended to provide a more precise definition of clarity. Here are practical definitions for each category:
FL Completely flawless, very rare and worth a king's ransom.
IF Internally flawless; only external flaws are present, which can be removed by further polishing the stone.
VVS1 and VVS2 Only a trained gemologist can detect inclusions with a 10-power microscope. If an expert can see an inclusion from the top of the diamond, it is classified as a VVS2. But if an expert can detect flaws only when viewing the bottom of the stone, then it is a VVS1.
VS1 and VS2 The average consumer can see flaws with a ten-power microscope, but it takes a while to spot them (around ten seconds or so).
SI1 to SI2 The average consumer can immediately see flaws with a ten-power microscope but not with the naked eye.
I1 to I3 Flaws can be seen with the naked eye. For stones rated I2 and I3, a minor league umpire can see the flaws, even without his glasses. Consider avoiding these diamonds.
To get a better understanding of clarity, ask a jeweler if you can look at several diamonds under a microscope before making a purchase. A reputable jeweler takes the time to show you different stones under the microscope and is even willing to point out their flaws so you can learn how to detect them by yourself.
According to Brian Merkley, there are several tricks of the trade that disreputable jewelers may employ: They use a loupe to demonstrate clarity characteristics. Clarity characteristics are much harder to see with a loupe than a microscope. Or they use the improper magnification level to demonstrate clarity characteristics. Inclusions should be viewed at ten-power magnification. If viewed under a lesser magnification, they don't seem as significant.
Another pitfall to avoid is the "clarity-enhanced" diamond. This is an artificial process used to fix the flaws on an otherwise good stone. Although a clarity-enhanced diamond can be made to look nearly flawless, the enhancing process makes the stone more brittle, reducing its durability and therefore its long-term value. Be sure to confirm with your jeweler that the stone you are considering is not clarity-enhanced.
For Brides on a Budget
In some respects, clarity is the least important of the 4 Cs when purchasing a diamond. Since an SI2 diamond is indistinguishable from a VVS1 to the naked eye, consider a Lower-clarity diamond as a cost-saving alternative. After all, when you are showing off the ring to family and friends, it's unlikely that someone will whip out a microscope to check for flaws.
The color of a diamond refers to the degree of "yellowness" that can be seen. A perfect diamond is completely colorless, which also makes it the most expensive.
The most widely used and accepted system for measuring color was developed by the GIA. With the GIA scale, color is alphabetically rated from D (totally colorless) to Z (yellow). In order for a diamond to receive a prestigious (and expensive) "colorless" designation, the GIA requires that it receive a D, E, or F grade. The average color for engagement ring diamonds in the United States is G or H; colors ranging from I through L are more affordable. Grades of M and below should not be considered for engagement rings.
To judge the color of a given diamond, jewelers place the diamond in question alongside a reference set of stones with known color grades. The jeweler then makes a qualitative assessment by determining the closest match. When shopping for a diamond, it's a good idea to ask the jeweler for a reference set of stones so you can judge the color for yourself. To do this, it is crucial to see the diamond unmounted. Place the diamond you're interested in next to the reference stones, facedown on a white piece of paper, and compare the color of the stones until you get the best match.
The type of band and setting you choose for your engagement ring can greatly affect your selection of color for the diamond. If you decide to mount the stone on a platinum or white gold setting, consider a diamond in the D–G range, because the yellowness of lower grades will be more noticeable. Conversely, according to Alex Angelle of the GIA, the appearance of a diamond of a lower color grade, which might otherwise show a tint of yellow, could be improved by mounting it on yellow gold.
Cut is probably the most important of the 4 Cs. That's because, according to the American Gem Society (AGS), it can affect the value of diamond engagement rings by 25 to 50 percent. However, cut can also be the most confusing of the 4 Cs, since it sometimes refers to the shape of the stone, its proportions, or the workmanship of the actual diamond-cutting process.
There are two basic types of cuts: the step cut and the brilliant cut. (There are also many variations within those two basic cuts.) The step cut has parallel facets that usually span the length or width of the stone. If the facets are rounded off on the corners, this is a variant of the step cut called the emerald cut. The step cut is often preferred by women who want a more glassy, elegant look.
Round shape, brilliant-cut diamonds are the most popular today because they provide the most "sparkle" when sized properly. This cut has triangular facets that surround the stone and a flat top called a table. In a properly proportioned brilliant-cut diamond, all of the light entering the diamond reflects within the stone and is cast back through the table, giving it maximum brilliance and fire. If the stone is too shallow or deep, some light escapes through the bottom part of the diamond, giving the appearance of shadows.
For all diamonds that it inspects and grades, the GIA issues certificates that contain data about the physical characteristics of the diamond, including color and clarity ratings, and statistics concerning the cut. Two important statistics are the table percentage and depth percentage. These are ratios comparing the depth and table to the width of the diamond. An appropriate table size should be between 53 and 64 percent of the width, and a proper depth percentage ranges between 58 and 64 percent. Anything outside this range means the diamond is too deep or too shallow. When checking out diamonds, you want the GIA certificate to give at least a "Good" rating for both statistics.
WHILE THE EMPHASIS on engagement ring shopping is rightfully placed on the stone, you can't properly display your dazzling diamond without choosing an appropriate setting. Most brides select a prong-style setting to maximize the diamond's sparkle. The most important choice in selecting a prong setting is whether to get four or six prongs. Four prongs show off more of the diamond, but six prongs hold the diamond much more securely. If you plan to wear the ring all the time, six prongs are highly recommended to avoid losing the stone.
There are many other types of settings that do not use prongs. Some use pressure to keep the diamond in place, while others form a "channel" where the diamond is inserted. Your personal sense of style should guide you in selecting any of these alternative settings.
THE FINAL ELEMENT of your engagement ring is the ring itself. By far, the most common materials chosen for engagement bands are platinum and gold. Although your choice is ultimately a matter of personal style, here are a few facts about each metal.
For ages, gold has been the most popular metal in jewelry making. But because pure gold is soft and bends easily, it is usually alloyed with nickel, copper, and/or zinc to make it stronger. The purity of gold is measured in karats. A 24-karat ring is made of pure gold, whereas a 14-karat ring is 58.3 percent gold. Most gold jewelry sold in the United States is 14 karats, while 18-karat jewelry is more popular outside of the United States
Platinum is rarer than gold and costs four times as much. To many people, however, platinum is worth the added expense because it is an extremely "hard" metal, and it will never tarnish. A three-digit number marked on the band indicates the purity of platinum. For example, "950 platinum" means the band is made of an alloy of 95 percent platinum and 5 percent other metals (usually palladium or iridium).
When Money Is No Object
If you can afford it, choose the highest quality diamond you can find — one that scores high in each of the 4 Cs. Couples with unlimited budgets often place added emphasis on size, picking a diamond that is 3 carats and above. And they select a platinum band for its added durability, unless they prefer the look of gold.
NOW THAT I'VE covered the basics of engagement rings, I want to offer some suggestions on how to make the purchase like a savvy shopper.
Where to Shop
Although online shopping has become more popular, even for diamond rings, I recommend going to brick-and-mortar stores for this purchase. Every diamond is unique, and you should have the opportunity to see and feel a purchase this important. Also, most reputable jewelry stores have an "upgrade policy" that allows you to trade in the diamond you buy for a more valuable stone in the future. Most Internet sellers do not offer this policy.
Excerpted from Countdown To Your Perfect Wedding by Joyce Scardina Becker. Copyright © 2006 Literary Productions. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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