Romantic wedding traditions are back, complete with religious ceremony, reception, honeymoon--and the diamond engagement ring.
"More than 75% of all brides now receive a diamond engagement ring. That's up 9% in the last two years," says Kae McCulloch, fashion consultant to the Jewelry Industry Council.
McCulloch discerns a trend toward unusual and individually-designed engagement rings. "The familiar round-cut Tiffany setting (a prong-set solitaire) is being challenged in popularity by new styles that emphasize curved and softer lines," she says.
One current fashion in engagement rings is for the stone to be inset in a gold or platinum band. Sometimes, small diamonds are added to provide more glitter. The diamond chips may be set in rows in what is called a channel setting or in an overall blanket formation known as a pave setting.
Framing the Ring
Another idea is to add a wedding band that frames the engagement ring and surrounds the diamond with a wider band of gold.
McCulloch says industry statistics show a 12% rise in total carat weight of new engagement rings between 1984 and 1985. Not surprisingly, the average retail price of an engagement ring also rose in the same period, by about 15 percent to a little more than $950 per ring.
Those in the industry believe that the popularity of more expensive rings is because couples are marrying later and they usually are more affluent. Second-time marriages often call for a larger engagement ring as well.
Market surveys show that repeat marriages account for almost half the dollar volume for wedding sets, which include an engagement ring and wedding ring.
McCulloch sees a resurgence of the popularity of matching wedding rings for grooms. Men's wedding bands have also been upgraded in cost and styling. Besides heavier-weight gold and textural designs, many now also have inserts of pave or channel-set diamonds.
Choosing the Jeweler
McCulloch says that since it is often difficult to judge a stone's quality with the naked eye if one is not an expert, it is a good idea to deal with an established, reputable jeweler who will stand behind whatever is sold.
Jewelers judge individual diamonds by cut, color, clarity and carat weight.
Cut refers to both the shape of the diamond and the skill and precision of the cutting, which determines how brilliant the stone will be. A perfect cut refers not only to the number of facets, which is standard, but also to their angles and proportions.
The ideal color is crystal clear. Such stones are rare and generally go for a premium since most are tinged with yellow or brown. On the other hand, definite color such as the blue Hope diamond enhances the value of the stone. Such stones are called "fancies."
Clarity refers to the diamond's internal quality. A flawless diamond shows up under a microscope, but 99 percent of the diamonds over half a carat have some flaws. These can range from a tiny white spot to dark carbon spots, nicks, cracks or cloudy areas. Like the slight tinge of color, these flaws lessen a diamond's value.
Carat measures the diamond's weight. A carat equals 1/42nd of an ounce, or 200 milligrams. The word carat comes from the carob seed of the Orient. The carob is so uniform in weight that it became the standard measure for diamonds.
If there is one large and several smaller stones in the ring, ask for the exact weight of the major stone rather than a total carat weight, McCulloch advises.