It's generally accepted that when betrothed couples pick out their wedding bands, they do it together. Now, the same goes for engagement rings.
The days of popping the question and surprising the potential bride-to-be with a sparkling diamond ring are quickly fading.
The majority of couples decide on the engagement ring together, jewelers from six jewelry stores in Los Altos told the Town Crier. And after the couple chooses a specific design, it's typically custom-made.
However, when a suitor does buy an engagement ring on his own, he usually already knows what his beloved wants, said Ida Marcel Galati of Marcel Jewelers. That's because most women drop hints about their likes and dislikes.
Overall, the general consensus is: Don't purchase an expensive diamond ring for a woman unless you know exactly what her taste is. Most women would prefer to have a say in choosing the design of the setting and cut of the diamond, by far the most popular gem for engagement rings, jewelers said.
"Ninety percent (of women) want a diamond. And it has to be a large piece, nothing small," said Galati, who has worked as a Los Altos jeweler for 30 years.
Not only has the method of buying a ring changed, so has the knowledge about diamonds and settings that most customers bring with them when they consult a jeweler.
Leona Baciocco, a certified gemologist appraiser for Dean's Designs, has been in the jewelry business for 25 years. She observed that these days, most customers are more knowledgeable than customers from a decade or two ago, which she attributes to the rise of the Internet.
Couples surf the Web and educate themselves before visiting a jeweler, she said.
"They're most specific about what they desire in a diamond," said Ellen Yamane Flanagan, gemologist and owner of Yamane Jewelers. "We carry a wide variety of diamonds so that we can accommodate that."
Baciocco has also noticed that the man out to surprise his possible fiancee with a ring has become "more of a rarity."
"With most of our clientele, it's not a single person making that type of decision," she said.
But for the suitor determined to surprise his beloved without offending her taste, there is a safer option than purchasing the whole shebang.
He can pick out the diamond or gemstone and have it set in a simple mounting, said Gina Campi of Gleim Jewelers.
After he has popped the question, presented the ring and had his offer accepted, his bride-to-be can return to the jewelry store and pick out a mounting that suits her taste.
"If a gentleman wants to spring a surprise, he will come in alone and we will set (the diamond) in a simple setting which we will exchange back toward a setting that the bride will pick out herself," Flanagan said.
"Chances are a woman has a definite idea in mind," Campi said. "We help him surprise her, but either way, she definitely has an idea of what she wants."
Rachel Spivack, in charge of public relations for the Diamond Broker, said most couples are looking for a one- to two-carat diamond when they visit the First Street business.
She agreed that the Internet has changed how couples purchase diamonds.
"Today, the clientele truly is educated," she said. "What used to be the mystery behind a diamond is no longer."
She explained that a jeweler still sits down with a couple and explains all the facets of what determines whether a diamond is highly valued. There's the four Cs (carat, color, clarity and cut), but to ensure a quality diamond, consumers should purchase a diamond accompanied by a certificate from the Gemological Institute of America. The jewelry industry recognizes GIA grading as accurate and unbiased.
"It's a diamond's birth certificate," Spivack said.
If a couple expect to pick from a display of hundreds of engagement rings when they visit any Los Altos jewelry store, that expectation probably won't be met because Los Altos stores generally cater to customers who want handmade, custom-designed rings and those who have had a ring or precious stone passed down through the generations that needs a new mounting or to be reset.
One exception is Yamane Jewelers, which in addition to making custom-ordered rings, carries a selection of 100 engagement rings.
"We have a vast selection of wedding rings and wedding bands," Flanagan said, "because customers generally like to try on and feel what the rings are like."
Harold Yan, owner of Harold's Jewelry, calls himself a family jeweler. Unlike Yamane Jewelers, he has a limited stock of rings because most of his clients commission him to custom-make them.
"It's a local, old-fashioned business," he said. "Quite often, when people come in, they already know what they want. I help them in that direction."
Yan compared creating a specially made ring to building a house. First, you pick the stone.
"Each person is different, each ring is different," he said. "I custom-make the ring to fit the personality."
See jewelry store locations and contact information on page 43.