Ring shopping do's, don'ts


— Wedding and engagment rings represent the commitment between two people who have chosen to spend their lives together. Unfortunately, these romantic baubles can also represent another source of stress on top of the pre-wedding jitters - something no couple needs.

We asked several Whatcom County jewelers for tips on taking the pain out of the buying process.

Couples should stick together in sickness, in health - and in the jewelry store. Tom Borthwick, owner of Borthwick Jewelers, explains: "If the guy gets something she really doesn't like, then he can exchange it," he says. But that's not a foolproof plan. "Sometimes they don't tell him that they don't like it because they don't want to hurt his feelings."

Borthwick suggests the bride visit the jeweler first and select several rings she likes. That way the groom can get a clearer picture of her taste in jewelry.

Style is important, but so are comfort and practicality. "If you're a nurse, you'll want a low profile, no prongs setting," says John Neeter, owner of Bayside Coin and Jewelry. "If you want to show off your stone, you'll want it up higher."

Your wedding jewelry is an investment to last a lifetime. Choose a jeweler who has a reputation for quality, a knowledgeable staff and stands behind the merchandise.

Borthwick doesn't recommend buying rings from Internet-based jewelers. "They look fine," he says, "but then I fix them every three months."

Small independent jewelers need to keep their customers happy because they rely on repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals. "We'll get a higher quality because we don't want people to have problems," Borthwick says.

Neeter suggests diamond buyers learn "the four C's" of diamond quality: cut, color, clarity and carat weight.

Because a ring's sparkle comes from light refracting through the facets, cut is the biggest factor in determining a diamond's brilliance, followed by color and clarity. Carat weight, or size, should be chosen based on the couple's budget. Ring buyers can get burned when they try to get too much flash for their cash.

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but the bride who wants a ring as colorful as her personality has plenty of other options.

The key when choosing non-traditional stones is to choose a gem that will hold up to daily wear. Sapphires, rubies, amethysts and garnets are all good choices, according to Terri Krantz, owner of teravintage antiques. Emeralds, pearls and opals are too fragile to be worn every day.

From Victorian to art deco, vintage styles are growing in popularity, but buyers need to make sure a prospective purchase is sturdy enough to go the distance.

"I would recommend taking it to a regular jeweler to make sure the prongs are in good condition," says Krantz. If the ring doesn't already fit, she adds, have your jeweler check to see if it can be resized.

You'll be making financial decisions together your entire married life. Think of this as practice.

"The most common mistake I've seen is people getting bogged down in debt to buy a ring," says Krantz. "Figure out what you can afford to spend. Don't be swayed by the payment plans. You can always upgrade later."

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