I'll be honest: I used to buy my jewelry at garage sales and bargain stores. My idea of "bling" included fake gold hoops, plastic bracelets, and gaudy costume pieces. My first engagement ring was a cheap silver and mother-of-pearl monstrosity purchased from a streetside vendor in Austin, Texas. The engagement proved to be as misguided as the ring, and both lasted only a few months.
But that was before I discovered the mouth-watering joy of fabulous jewels. A few years ago, a friend who worked at a high-end jewelry store convinced me to try on necklaces of sumptuous black pearls, vintage diamond bracelets, and, of course, rings. I soon discovered there is nothing quite like the feeling of a cool band of platinum sliding down the length of your finger, settling in comfortably as you gaze, slack-jawed, at a glittering spectacle of light refracting off immaculately cut angles, blinding you with the radiance of a rock distilled for millions of years in the earth.
Before setting out to be bedazzled, any serious visit to check out engagement rings should begin with a realistic yet open-minded look at your budget. Most stores have financing available, either through the store or a local bank. And don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Jewels have their own language, and any good salesperson will help you understand the ins and outs of the "three Cs": carat weight, clarity, and cut. Armed with information, don't forget to enjoy yourself! Whether you are seriously searching for the perfect expression of love and devotion, or whether you are just getting ready to entertain the thought that you might want to wear someone's ring someday, looking for an engagement ring is a breathtaking experience-if you know where to go.
Downtown Santa Fe hosts a mouth-watering array of jewelry stores, featuring both local and big-name designers. For a truly elegant experience, visit Romancing the Stone at 133 West San Francisco Street. From the moment you step inside, you'll know you're somewhere special. The store is lined with enticing wooden jewelry cases sparkling with sumptuous pieces, and features a round central gallery flanked by bronze silk curtains that can be drawn for private showings. In the back is a brocade sofa on which many a romantic proposal has taken place. (Rumor has it that one couple got so enthusiastic, the staff had to draw the curtains around them for fear of seeing something they shouldn't!) It's no wonder that celebrities like Jessica Simpson are fans of Romancing the Stone, but the store caters to locals too, and even offers incentives for Santa Feans.
And then there's the jewelry. European-born designer Danuta has been making and designing jewelry for twenty-five years, and she specializes in to-die-for limited-edition platinum. If you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of some of her large, one-of-a-kind pieces in between national tours with Saks Fifth Avenue. It might be hard not to be distracted by a waterfall of enormous emeralds perfectly dripping from a gold necklace-but the rings will catch your attention soon enough, and if you don't see exactly what you want, Danuta will custom make the ring of your dreams.
A sampling of rings on display when I visited included a 2.5-carat princess-cut diamond set in a diamond-encrusted platinum double band for $26,000-the quintessential engagement ring-and, for those on a stricter budget, a lovely .5-carat solitaire set in platinum for $5-7,000. But diamonds aren't the only choice for engagement rings. More and more couples are choosing colored gemstones such as yellow or pink sapphires. One of the most unique rings in the store was a cognac-colored cushion-cut Hessonite garnet. At 9.37 carats, set in platinum and flanked with 2.58 total weight (TW) diamonds, this is a true collection piece, listed at $20,700. Another highlight: a 17.5-carat champagne-colored cushion-cut morganite, a truly unusual stone from the beryl family, retailing for $16,000.
Just down the street on the Plaza, a different yet equally mesmerizing experience awaits at JewelMark. Walking into the long, narrow store decorated with Southwest touches, you'll immediately be struck by the sheer volume and quality of the pieces offered by owners Michael and Rita Linder. With experience handed down from many generations of jewelers, the Linders specialize in European designers such as Cartier, Kwiat, Luca Carati, and Doris Panos. If you're looking for established names and indisputable quality, this is your place. The high percentage of repeat customers, both tourists and locals, attests to the attentive level of service and excellent selection of big-name jewels.
When I asked Rita to show me an unusual engagement ring, she proudly displayed a John Beuchner piece that made me weak in the knees: a nearly four-carat cushion cut orange diamond, flanked by trapezoidal white diamonds and set in platinum. The price tag for this extremely rare gem? $90,000. If you don't have that sum sitting in your bank account, check out the very sweet Christopher Design "Criss cut" (oblong) .25 carat ring, set in 18 carat white gold, for around $2,000. Or upgrade to a carat for about $6,000. You can also tailor a ring to your desires by matching any stone to a mounting and have it created for you in the on-site workshop.
Finally, head to Queen's Ransom in the DeVargas Mall, making sure to budget at least a couple of hours for a decadent boutique experience. It's no accident that this unique store has been featured in national magazines like Time and Glamour. It resembles the home of a rich and slightly eccentric collector, stuffed with luxurious antiques, one-of-a-kind designer clothes, rugs, furs, leather-and, of course, jewelry. At least one of the three owners-Scott Stark, Bret Houston, or Suzanne Culbertson-will be on hand to greet you and settle you in on a comfy leather sofa while they serve refreshments and cater to your every whim. Their many years of experience in all aspects of the jewelry business, combined with genuine excitement at helping you find the ring of your dreams, is guaranteed to make your shopping experience memorable.
Once you're feeling suitably pampered, it's time to goggle at the fantastic assortment of estate and designer jewelry on hand, keeping in mind that some of the best pieces may not be on display. Ask what's available out of store, and try not to drool all over yourself when you hear that for maximum bling on an unlimited budget, you might select a 4.63 carat loose diamond, internally flawless, Type 2 (the best), color D (also the best). Rest assured that this lifetime investment will be worth every penny of the $250,000 you'll spend.
If your budget is a bit slimmer and you need a ring right away, consider a stunning 3.43-carat cushion brilliante flanked by two .6-carat diamonds, set in platinum, for $40,000. Or check out an exceptional non-color-enhanced purple sapphire set in platinum, flanked by two trillion diamonds, .54 TW, for $17,500. Finally, for some old-world glamour at a fraction of the price, you could choose an old European cut .5-carat diamond in a platinum filigree setting, circa 1930s-40s, for $1,800. Remember, if you don't see what you want, the owners can either get it for you or make it to order.
As you can see, there's a world of delight awaiting you when you begin your search for the ring of your dreams. Whether it's at one of these premier stores or another of Santa Fe's high quality vendors, make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience, take your time, and enjoy!