…And buy an engagement ring.
Yes, dear reader, I’ve come to that milestone: My girlfriend and I have spent the last couple of months on the hunt for a ruby gemstone that will form the centrepiece of the engagement ring that I’ll eventually propose with. (In case you’re wondering, yes, we’re searched for it together – even though I haven’t planned the proposal yet. I know it sounds weird, but that’s how we roll.)
Guys reading this – I know how intimidating it is to walk into a jewellery store to ask about an engagement ring. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt from my search so far. Most of this should be applicable, even if you aren’t getting a ruby.
Girls – if you’re expecting that your dude is going to propose soon and you’re looking for something a little more customised than the usual store-branded ones (e.g Tiffany & Co, etc)… send him this article.
I write this not as an “expert”, but as a layman who picked up a few tips from dozens of people whom we’ve spoken to in our ruby quest. Some of my knowledge might be totally wrong. Some professionals might disagree with me.
But I hope it helps you anyway.
1. Don’t be afraid to be unconventional
Now, I know that diamonds are still the most popular stones for engagement rings, because “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” or whatever. But it’s also widely known that diamonds derive much of their appeal from a hugely successful 1938 marketing campaign by DeBeers. As this timeless article (“Diamonds Are Bullshit”) puts it:
We covet diamonds in America for a simple reason: the company that stands to profit from diamond sales decided that we should. De Beers’ marketing campaign single handedly made diamond rings the measure of one’s success in America.
Before I incur the wrath of 90% of you out there who bought / are wearing a diamond engagement ring, let me first say:
I get it. Great quality diamonds ARE beautiful, and everyone has different preferences.
For us, OUR preferences were that we didn’t want our engagement ring to be like everyone else’s. We didn’t care that DeBeers decided that diamonds should be a status symbol – we wanted a UNIQUE, beautiful ring that we could look at for the rest of our lives.
My girlfriend also didn’t want to get into one of those inane, meaningless conversations comparing carat sizes. Having a different type of ring makes it hard to compare, which is great since people are so influenced by how they stack up against others.
2. Know exactly what you want
It helps to have an honest conversation with your girlfriend about the kind of ring she wants. This isn’t being unromantic – you’re doing this to make sure that she’s happy with the ring she’s going to wear for the rest of her life. I have no aesthetic taste whatsoever, so if my girlfriend had left it up to me, I would have probably picked a shitty ring.
So sit your other half down, and get specific about what she wants. (Don’t forget to talk about the budget too). I was SUPER THANKFUL that my girlfriend had already done some research and decided on the colour, cut and clarity of the ruby she wanted. Big relief for me.
Why is specificity so important? Because jewellery and gemstone sellers are REALLY GOOD at convincing you that whatever they’re selling is the best for you.
Unlike diamonds, rubies generally have very few “official” standards on what a “good” ruby is. More carats aren’t always better. Colour plays a HUGE role in how valuable a ruby is, and even the most coveted colour – “pigeon blood” – has a range of reds within it.
We were also faced with trade-offs: Should we get a ruby with more “fire” but a glaring inclusion at the top? Should we get a Mozambique ruby with a better colour, or a Burmese ruby which is supposedly more valuable?
The search for your ring is highly subjective, so get specific about what she wants. It’ll save you a disproportionate amount of time and stress later on.
3. Beware of scammers
The crappy thing about going off the beaten path – away from the well-trodden jewellery stores of Orchard Road – was that we had to decide between sellers that were genuine and those who were just trying to take our money.
Our online research (see here, here and here) showed us the different tricks that sellers use to scam buyers: Things like filling a ruby with lead-glass to remove inclusions, or transporting rubies to Myanmar in order to pass them off as the supposedly more valuable Burmese rubies.
We were surprised that even in Singapore, we encountered instances where sellers tried to sell us crappy rubies for high prices: Those that were heat-treated, without a certificate, or just plain ugly.
Always ask for a certificate (the most reliable ones for rubies come from GRS – GemResearch Swisslab), and get the seller to measure your gemstone in front of you to ensure that it matches the cert. It’s not a foolproof precaution, but it helps.
Some sellers weren’t outright scammy, but they were pushy. A particular jeweller sat us down and proceeded to educate us about rubies even though she didn’t have any to show us that day. Half an hour later, she promised that she’d search for a ruby we’d like, and then demanded a 30% deposit on a ruby we hadn’t even seen yet!
Jewellers know how insecure we guys feel about this whole process and how we want it to be as simple as possible. They will use that to their advantage – DO NOT LET THAT SWAY YOU.
4. Don’t think of it as an “investment”.
This is the dumbest reason for buying a ring ever.
Be clear about your purpose: Your purpose is to buy an ENGAGEMENT RING, not an investment. Even if you choose to “upgrade” it later, it’s unlikely that you’ll sell your first ring to some random stranger 30 years from now.
A store tried to convince us to buy a Burmese ruby that was 2X the price of a Mozambique one, apparently because the Burmese ruby mines have all closed and rubies from there are expected to appreciate considerably in the next 10 years. But who cares? I’m not planning on selling it, so it doesn’t matter to me.
Also, when you buy any engagement ring – diamond or ruby or otherwise – it’s often at a 200-300% markup especially when you buy it from a retail store. Even if you do want to sell it in the future, it’s highly unlikely that you can make a profit selling it to a wholesaler.
The “investment” argument is the same ploy that insurance salesmen use to push insurance products like Investment-Linked Plans. Don’t buy into it.
Keep your purposes clear and separate: If you want to invest, buy an investment. If you want life insurance, buy a term plan. And if you want an engagement ring, buy a freakin’ engagement ring that you’ll want to keep forever.
5. Try not to fall in love (with the stone)
We often had times when we ALMOST purchased, because it was an “acceptable” ruby and within our price range. But we were suffering from a well-known psychological quirk known as the recency bias – where we were making our decision based only on the small number of rubies that we’d seen recently.
It’s also easy to look at a ruby from one seller, then go to another seller a few days later and forget how the first one looked like. Pictures don’t help very much because it’s hard to capture the “fire” and colour of the gemstone. So any rubies that we saw in the new store would usually seem more attractive compared to the ones we’d seen before.
For us, the best place to compare rubies (and where we eventually made our decision to purchase one) was at the recently-concluded Jewellery and Gem Fair at MBS. There, we could compare hundreds of rubies side-by-side and make our decision based on a larger sample size.
I’m happy to report that we found and purchased a ruby that we both liked 🙂
Now, we just need to find the perfect ring design to set it in…
Any thoughts about the (sometimes terrifying) process of getting an engagement ring? Let me know what you think!
Image credits: Philip Taylor IPT