How an engaged groom actually becomes an engaged groom

I’m trying really hard to not just make my posts a reaction to the two or three wedding blogs I read but, man, some of them make it really really hard. I can’t wait to start talking about trying to find a photographer (which is something I should start doing) because, damn, I’m feeling the urge to snark.

Anyways, so I mentioned that I’m an engaged groom. I stole that phrase from a book titled, amazingly enough, The Engaged Groom. The book, which is a very general outline about weddings in general is OK. It’s not actually what I wanted, or need, frankly. I’m not clueless when it comes to weddings – I’ve gone to a couple, I watch tv, I’ve read all the blogs that call weddings a big mass produced worship ritual of mass consumer idolatry. I’ll review the book once I’m finished but I did like the phrased “an engaged groom”. It’s one of those perfect little labels that make sense.

So how did I get to be an engaged groom? Well. I probably should relate that story so I can do what I always enjoy doing – which is talk about myself.

I’m liberal. I hug trees. I recycle. I sign petitions to legalize gay marriage. I’ve protested. I suffer white guilt even though I’m only half white. I am, for all intents and purposes, your typical New York liberal. And how does your typical New York male liberal suppose to react to engagement rings? Easy. He waits for all his friends to forward him articles about how diamonds are a fraud, Debeers is evil, that money could be better used on a house, and all that nonsense. And then he waits for his more conservative friends to explain to him that 3 months salary, while traditional, is fake. What matters is the carat size of the diamond and that 1 carat doesn’t cut it anymore – you go 1.5 carat or you go home. Then there is a third set of friends who remind him that diamonds are ugly, gold is ugly, and that the only worthwhile engagement ring is from a cracker jack box. And then, his brother likes to remind him that when he got engaged, he didn’t have a job so that, technically, he spent an infinite months salary and that there’s no way that I can match up with that. Engagement rings, for all intents and purposes, is a competition. You have to compete with tradition, with society, with your family, her family, and all your friends. And you see all those ladies on the subway with rings the size of grapefruits? Yeah – you’re competing with them too. Or at least that’s how it seems.

But it’s all bogus. This pressure of competition is something that I, as an engaged groom, feel constantly while planning for my wedding and it’s something that starts at the very beginning when you realize “oh hell, I want to marry this girl”. The trick is not to make the mistake in assuming that competition automatically means fulfillment. You’re not here to compete with yourself, your family, your friends, the world, God or anyone. You’re here to fulfill something. And that’s what the engagement ring should be. Once you realize the woman who fulfills you, then you want to seal the deal, make your relationship backed before the power of the state and God, and you want to fulfill that woman’s ideal on what her engagement ring should look like. She might not want one. She might want one the size of a bus. She might want a diamond, a halo setting, a sapphire, or a ham sandwich. It doesn’t matter matter what she wants but I feel that as Mr Groom, it’s my job to meet that want and need. Or at least get as close as possible.

And I know that a rock doesn’t make a love more solid, or a relationship better, or solve the worlds problems. It’s not suppose to. But I do know that an engagement ring makes it external. The commitment and love I feel towards my fiancee is now set in stone for all the world to see. I’m make a statement that I want to marry this girl. And, really, that’s a pretty important statement to make. And if you can’t say it loud, then don’t say it at all. Big or go home. That’s how it should be done. So when a liberal New York is stuck in a place where half the world is telling him to go large and traditional, half is telling him to go small and different, and the other half is telling him you’re never going to match up with us, what does he do? He listens to the one person who really matters in this whole process.

Or at least tries to when she says, over dinner in a restaurant before Christmas, that me and her should get married. And then, right in the middle of her sentence, the music turns up loud and you stumble hearing her words and the first thing out of your mouth isn’t “I think that’s brill” but “what?” because you sometimes speak before you think and, really, that music didn’t have to be that loud. That’s how our marriage talk began. It wasn’t a specific question, there wasn’t a proposal, there was a simple statement. And there didn’t need to be a question because we were at the same place, at the same time, which is why our relationship works in the first place. Some people need the knee and ring before they can say yes. My girl didn’t even though some people can’t seem to understand why she didn’t want that. Remember what I said about competition earlier? It’s prevalent in everything and it’s not something that only the groom feels; it’s thrown onto the bride as well. Welcome to what it means to be engaged and getting married.

But you know what’s great about talking about marriage than having to propose? You can go ring shopping together. That makes everything so so so much easier. Not that I didn’t know what she wanted, mind you. I had a good idea – how else could I figure out how much money I needed to save during our relationship? That’s another trick, btw. When it comes love and marriage, there are those guys out there who wait until they feel it’s right to get married and then they marry the person they’re with. The problem with that little theory is that you probably haven’t been saving for a ring, you already have enough credit card debt to sink a small warship, and you suddenly realize that your love of Chipolte every day has made your debit card worn through. One solution to this problem is to suddenly, and without warning, tell your girlfriend that “you’d like to become frugal”, and hope she doesn’t get too ticked off when you’re eating ramen noodles and hot dogs every day. Or, you could have been smart about it, and realize when you were young that you’re an adult and that there are certain things in your life you want to do, like get married. Money is a big enough problem in life to let it stop you from being in love and getting married. So start saving early, even when you’re single. Keep a frugal lifestyle, brown bag your lunch every day. Buy used, only own two pairs of shoes, and stop taking taxi cabs from your house to the laundromat down the street. If I had to label something a wedding hack, that would probably be my first one. Learn to save and start early. Don’t waste time because of money if you don’t have to.

So my fiancee and I went diamond ring shopping. Well, scratch that. I first had to talk to her parents to get permission to marry her (which I did which was just as strange as deciding to get my love a diamond ring. You think buying a diamond causes your friends to look at you funny – asking for a father’s permission makes your friends assume you’re a two headed alien from the 1950s but I digress). First rule of ring shopping is don’t go to Zales or Jareds or any store that is in the mall. If you go into a jeweler and a big chunk of their diamonds are rated by a scale “i.e. from F-I” rather than one specific letter, leave. You’re gonna buy a crappy stone for way too much money. There’s a reason why they’re cheap and it has nothing to do with economies of scale – it has to do with being able to get a bunch of guys to be complete suckers when it comes to diamonds. Don’t be one of those guys! Please! The only way these people are going to vanish is if we stop giving them money. Every kiss does not begin with K – it begins with your wallet being stolen behind your back. So research, research, research – which is what I did. What follows isn’t extensive but should be general enough for any of you guys out there who want to be an engaged groom to actually do it wisely. And if you’re not aiming for a diamond ring, then stop reading this and wait for my next post tomorrow. It’s going to be a good one.

Anyways, I’m going to go against the grain and say that the first thing you should think about when buying an engagement ring is what your wedding band is going to be. Not the brides. The grooms. Mine. I had to know what my wedding band was going to be. Isn’t that jumping the gun? Shouldn’t the wedding band be decided on by the couple? You’re completely right. I’m not talking about whether the band should be engraved or have diamonds in it. I’m talking about what metal it’s going to be because, and I might be in the minority on this, but I think all the bands of all three rings, engagement, bride’s band, and the groom’s band should be the same metal. Different metals for different rings is just not my style. And I don’t care if someone won’t be able to tell the difference. White gold vs platinum is something that I would know and would squid me out a bit. Being an engaged groom doesn’t mean I can’t be vain.

I knew that the engagement ring would be platinum even before I knew it was her preference. I can’t wear gold because I’m allergic to zinc. Zinc is one of the metals that is mixed with gold to make gold hard (it’s naturally a very soft metal that can squish and bend easily). White gold is just yellow gold with more zinc in it. When I wear zinc (like in a cheap metal necklace), I break out in hives. It’s genetic (my father has the same problem) and it’s probably something I’ll pass down to my kids. It’s normal, about 15% of the population has it, but that little nugget of knowledge is why I knew that the ring had to be platinum. And even if she had wanted yellow gold, I’d have had to insist on platinum. When I said you’re suppose to fulfill her dreams, I said as close as possible and this is one of my “close as possible” moments.

So, with the metal down, then you need to figure out what setting she wants. Does she want the simple Tiffany style single stone ring? Or maybe one of those creepy and ridiculous halo arrangements? (Okay, that was a little judgmental but unless your fiancee is a huge Green Lantern fan, I don’t see the reason for that setting). Does she want side stones? Does she want a wedding band rather than just a single stone? The reason why you need to know this is because this is when your budget starts to come into play. If she wanted two stones flanking a large one, you need to pair down how big the middle stone will be to fit your budget. She might want the 1.5 carat stone in the middle but those .4 carats on the side are gonna eat into what you can afford. Simply pairing down the 1.5 to a 1.37 is definitely going to help you out.

So now that you have the setting picked out (my girl simply wanted a single Tiffany style solitaire), now it’s time to focus on the stone. You’ve probably heard of the 4 Cs, the different cuts of diamonds (rounds, princess, hearts on fire, etc) and you might not know what any of that means. Don’t feel overwhelmed – it’s not the complicated. All you need to do is break it down.

When a diamond comes out of the grown, it’s a little rock that’s ugly. It’s covered in dirt and looks more like quartz from the sidewalk than a shiny polished diamond. Now that slab of rock needs to be cut down from the ugly piece of mass into something more manageable and pretty. This is where the cuts of diamond come in.

There are many different types. You have rounds (which is your standard cone shaped diamond) to your princess (square), cushion (rectangle with rounded edges) to ridiculously named diamond cuts (hearts on fire) that are just modified rounds. If your love wants a diamond ring, she already knows what cut she wants. If she doesn’t, she’ll say she wants something “shiny” and “bright”. That’s code for “round”. If she wants a round, don’t get her a pear shaped diamond. If she wants a cushion cut, don’t get her a heart shaped diamond. If she wants you to “surprise her”, default to the round. It’s what movie stars wear and what pop culture defines is the ideal diamond so it doesn’t hurt to rely on society when you don’t have a clue one what to do.

Each cut has it’s value. Cushion cuts are an old style that are suppose to be the more romantic type of diamond – it was originally designed when electric lights didn’t exist so it was suppose to be the best at reflecting candle light. Cushions, however, are very thick and deep so the surface area on top of a cushion cut diamond will be less than a round. Since a round is a cone, the top looks much larger than it really is. A princess cut is also shallow like a round diamond but square and was made popular by Tiffanys back in the day. Etc Etc. Every diamond has a story and a reason for its existence (besides to empty your wallet). Your love will know what she wants and you can see, based on how much I talked about cushion cuts, which type my love wanted.

So platinum, Tiffany setting, cushion cut. That’s the large basics and you should know that before you go to the store. Stay with independent (or online) dealers, avoid mall stores, or, if you’re lucky, go to the diamond district in NYC. But when you go, come armed with more knowledge than just what you want. Did you know that diamonds, besides size, are also graded according to Cut, Color, and Clarity? This is where the 4 C’s come from and knowing what means what, and what costs what, will give you the most bank for your buck.

The first C is carat and refers to the weight of the diamond (i.e. how big is it). 2 carat is bigger than 1. 3 is bigger than 2, etc. The bigger the diamond, the more expensive it is. Up to 50% of cost of the diamond is associated with how big it is. So smaller is cheaper. The standard, as reported by life, is that a young woman won’t be happy with anything less than 1 carat but that’s nonsense. If you can afford bigger, go for it. If you can’t, that’s fine too. I keep bringing up money because you need to go into the ring shopping with a budget or else you’ll be eaten alive. My love knew what I budgeted and we worked around that. You haven’t been eating ramen for the past 4 months just to end up in huge debt. Work with what you have. This will help you immensely later in life when you have to nail down the wedding, kids, cars, a house, etc. Learn that budget skill now to save you a life of pain.

The second C is color. Color ranges from D, E, F, and down the alphabet. Color will be roughly 30% of the cost of the diamond. Color determines how white or clear the stone is. A D color stone is completely white – it means that when the light reflects through and passes back to your eye, it sparkles and you don’t see any color. D,E,F are the top tier when it comes to color. When you get down to G,H,I,J the color turns a little yellow but it’s really hard to tell in real life. And if you want to make sure your stone is a little brighter down on this color level, make sure it has a slight florescence. What’s florescence? It means the stone glows a little. The best stones have none because it means that the color returning to your eye is enhanced by some color in the stone itself. And the florescence can be blue, white, or other colors. But a light florescence works wonders in this 2nd tier of colors. It lowers the price of the stone, makes it shine a little more, and lets your stone look like a higher color grade than it really is. Playing with color lets you make up for it with a bigger stone. You lower the color a step and the carat size you can afford goes up. This helps you maximize the stone without suffering in a drop in quality too much.

The next C is called clarity, it represents up to 20% of the cost of the diamond, and it’s all about whether there are little imperfections inherent in the stone (i.e. black marks, scratches, etc). The business calls these pieces fancy names like “crystals” or “feathers” but it just barrels down to the fact that the stone wasn’t perfectly in nature. But the great thing about this is that most of these imperfections can only be seen by a magnify glass and won’t cause too many problems when it comes to making your diamond sparkle. So if your budget cautious, this is where you can play even more than you did with color. The scale ranges from F (for flawless) to VSS1, VSS2, VS1, VS2, SI1, SI2, and farther down. A flawless stone will be very expensive as will a VSS1 and VSS2 stone. When you drop down to SI1, SI2 that means that the imperfections are clearly visible under 10x magnification (and possibly visible to the naked eye under certain conditions) but you mostly likely won’t see anything. It’s what is called “eye clean”. The diamond still sparkles, it looks bright, and you can’t see anything wrong with it. When all of your fiancee’s friends look at the ring, and shove it to their eyeballs going “oooh” and “ahhh”, they’re not going to see any imperfections. Her friends will love it and be incredibly jealous which is part of the fun, right? So stay in SI1 or SI2 land to let you increase the size of your stone.

And, finally, we’re down to cut. Everyone grades cuts differently but I’m going to say that you need to follow this one rule: go for high quality cuts. Ideal, extremely good, very good, etc. If it says something like that, then you’re good to go. If it says anything else, avoid it like the plague. And why? Because cut, while not the most expensive bit, is going to be a big deal when it comes to how the diamond reflects light and sparkles. Don’t sacrifice here. Make sure it’s a very good cut, high quality, and will reflect the light nicely. When the Giants won the super bowl, they wanted a ring that could be noticed at the restaurant ten tables away. That’s what cut gives you.

So that’s what I knew when my girl and I went shopping. We went to the diamond district, to old Blauweiss/Berkowitz, made an appointment to see some stones, picked one and were very happy with the results. Don’t go to a jeweler who pushes something at you. If they are, they’re trying a hard sell and there’s a good chance you won’t get what you want. Rather, focus on your research and knowledge. Ask them to explain things to you without technical jargon and, above all, be able to walk away. If she falls in love with the stone, you might be stuck but if not, then you’re at a good place to find a good deal on a good engagement ring. I got one and, in a way, I made my statement. I’m not claiming my fiancee as my own, per se – I’m just putting my money where my mouth is, which is what an engagement ring should be.

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