For Buying Wedding Rings, Small Shops Can Help

Brides-to-be and their betrothed are expected to spend more than $62 billion this year on their wedding budgets, and small businesses are poised to participate.

Wedding Week 2008: Click for Special Report

Engagement ring spending alone is expected to total $6.1 billion in the United States for 2008 with an additional $2 billion spent on wedding bands, according to Wedding Report, a market researcher firm.


The Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of Tiny Jewel Box)

Smaller and specialty jewelers are forging ahead while larger chains are sluggish, according to data from retail association Jewelers of America. Although across the board, 2007 wasn't as strong as 2006 for jewelers, designer and custom retailers saw a more than 6 percent increase from 2006 to 2007 while independent high-end retailers grew 3.5 percent and saw greater profitability.

There's always a story behind the data, especially when it comes to weddings. Some couples spend months agonizing about where to purchase their rings while others take a more spontaneous approach, like what happened to me.

The car was overheating as my fiancé and I were stuck in beach traffic coming back from North Carolina. We were bickering about our wedding plans during the nine hour drive back home to Virginia. The one thing, however, we agreed upon was that we needed to get our wedding bands pronto.

The car idled in the hot summer sun and suddenly, the needle on the temperature gauge flew up, the car started steaming and I yelled "Just pull over, get off the highway, anywhere."

My fiancé (now husband) stepped on the gas and we lurched into a strip mall and parked the car.

After a conversation that started with whether my fiancé could fix the steaming car because "you're supposed to be an engineer" and devolved into an argument as to whether or not I can change a tire, we looked up and there before our eyes was a small jewelry store. And so we went in.

With the help of a very patient owner, we picked out our wedding rings, learned about metals and passed the time at the store, warily eyeing the car. We eventually got up the courage to turn the ignition. The temperature had returned to normal and the car begrudgingly took us home.

Buying wedding or engagement rings is always an experience. Small jewelers like to tout their customer service and deep historical knowledge of metals, diamonds and other gems. Here are a few small shops that are working to help couples navigate this marriage rite of passsage.

The Tiny Jewel Box, a Washington, D.C., institution, has been aiding men and women in their ring choices for more than 75 years.

"I think the key is taking the customer - who typically comes through the door armed with information and making that information simple and digestible," said Matthew Rosenheim, the president of the store and the grandson of its founder. Today the store has 40 employees. "Whether they want to spend less than $3,000 or more than $30,000, they all have the same issues with balancing the size of the stone with quality and the price of the stone."

Although his store is in downtown D.C., he has been seeing a lot of customers from the suburbs on Saturdays. "We've attempted to create a destination shopping experience," he said. "And just this morning I delivered wedding bands to a young man whose grandmother did business with my grandfather. It's wonderful to have generations return."

This type of repeat business has helped the store stay in business, said Rosenheim, even during poor a economy. "We were bracing for business to be tougher than it's turned out to be, but this isn"t the first time we've seen an economic shift and having a solid customer base that's been built up over generations helps."

Stop by Mystique Jewelers, an 18-year-old store in Alexandria's Old Town neighborhood and it's likely owner Liz Miller or one of her three employees will ask you to sit down for a glass of wine. It's one of the ways the small business feels it can differentiate itself from larger, mall-based jewelry store chains.

Stella Lowery, diamond director of Mystique, said Henry Hager, the husband of first daughter Jenna Bush, worked with the store's goldsmith to create a tiny diamond bracelet for Jenna before they were engaged.

"What makes us different is that most people want to sell what they have. We want to sell what they want," she said.

Share your ring-buying stories in the comments below. For more wedding related stories and tips, visit washingtonpost.com's Wedding Week 2008 special report.

By Sharon McLoone |  September 11, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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Comments

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Why would you marry a guy who can't fix a car?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2008 11:49 AM

don't worry, I can't change a tire either. that's why I have AAA.(no, I don't work for their either!)

Posted by: DeenaJR | September 11, 2008 3:54 PM

My wonderful husband (then fiance) was deployed to Iraq and knew that he wanted to propose shortly after he returned. He also knew that, while I think diamonds are pretty, I wouldn't want a conflict diamond and am a bit skeptical about the thoroughness of the Kimberly Process. He found a company online called Igloo Diamonds, which sells diamonds mined in Canada (i.e., not blood diamonds) and donates a substantial portion of the cost for each diamond to the U.N. Adopt-a-Minefield program. With your diamond, you get a certificate detailing how much land in Mozambique your purchase helped to clear of landmines (in addition to all the usual certifications for quality). My husband coordinated the whole thing via e-mail and phone from Iraq, and reports that the guys at Igloo were extremely helpful and friendly, and designed the ring based on a picture he sent them. Once he returned, an appraisal by a local jeweler confirmed that he got what he asked and paid for. And it's perfect. =)

Posted by: Jessica | September 11, 2008 4:07 PM

next time you write about my skills as an engineer, I suggest you take a look in the mirror and ask yourself the following question:

why does my husband (engineer) always beat me (journalist) at scrabble?

your husband

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2008 7:52 PM

My husband and I had our wedding bands made by Eric Margry who has a studio in the Torpedo Factory Arts Center in Old Town Alexandria. He was wonderful to work with and the price was very reasonable. The best part, to us, was the fact that our rings are totally unique. Also, my engagement ring came from Charleston Alexander in Falls Church and they were very nice, didn't pressure my husband, and have always been good to deal with since when getting the ring checked and cleaned.

Posted by: jnl2005 | September 12, 2008 8:57 AM

While the Tiny Jewel Box has lovely, lovely things, they are not for those with the limited budget.

The Antique Guild in Alexandria (on N. Fairfax, just two blocks up from Union on the north side of King) has a variety of pretty antique rings at affordable prices.

Sure, it may not be a lovely, catered shopping experience. But you can find rings in various prices and sizes - especially if you're not necessarily looking for a diamond.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | September 12, 2008 9:49 AM

I can whole-heartily recommend Moren Inc in downtown Silver Spring for all sorts of jewelry. Don't be fooled by the small shop, Robin Moren can make any girls dream come true (and has done so on several occasions for my wife) with the jewel of her dreams. No fuss, no muss and personal attention you won't get at bigger stores.

Posted by: Bill Reimers | September 12, 2008 10:13 AM

Don't just rely on jewelry stores.

We weren't shopping for engagement rings when we perused the Mount Vernon gift shop, but the rose gold engagement ring we saw in the estate jewelry counter literally stopped us in our tracks. It is one-of-a-kind -- I literally have never seen a woman with the same ring.

In addition to antique stores or estate sales, consider pawn shops, craft fairs or other resources.

If you take this route, educate thyself! (I worked in the jewelry industry for years.) Know what you're doing and what you're looking at. Ask questions. Reputable craftspeople and store owners will respect your need for information, documentation or appraisal.

Posted by: Chris | September 12, 2008 10:55 AM

hahaha regarding marrying a guy that cant fix a car!! Anyway, small stores are nice but I think the best prices you are going to get for a ring would be online stores. Like the site www.idonowidont.com. The rings are priced so well on that site.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 16, 2008 12:52 AM

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