Once upon a time, a highly distinguished lady wished to purchase an exquisite diamond ring for her grandson to give to his fiancée. After selecting three rings at Van Cleef & Arpels' Place Vendôme boutique, she asked the salesperson to bring the rings to her house the following day so that the young lady could choose one. On arrival, he was surprised to find other salespeople – from Chaumet and Boucheron – present. The great lady told them all that she would give them her decision the following day. Disappointed, the Van Cleef & Arpels salesperson prepared to leave before being struck with inspiration: he left his gloves behind on a chair. Returning later to collect them, he had all the time he needed to convince the lady to choose a ring from Van Cleef & Arpels – and she did.
There is nothing like the story of a romance, and perhaps the greatest embodiment of this is the proposal, the ring a gleaming heirloom of a tale of love to be told, cherished and worn throughout the generations. The first recorded diamond engagement ring in history was presented in 1477 by Archduke Maximilian to Mary of Burgundy. It was a classic solitaire with round brilliant, still the most popular model today.
Even when it comes to solitaires the possibilities are endless - brilliant-cut, emerald, cushion, oval, pear-shaped... It all depends on the cut of the stone, one of the requirements of the 4Cs grading system. Harry Winston takes these standards beyond the 4Cs expertly selecting each gem and handcrafting each ring in a shank that best matches the radiance of the stone. You can choose from a simple yet elegant platinum band, one with baguette side stones or, the recent favourite, a micropavèd band. Though do keep in mind the width of the shank, with the addition of the wedding and eternity bands, the jewellery can become very heavy on this finger. In fact perhaps due to popular demand, the jeweller to the stars has recently created the new bridal line 'Belle' a combination of a round brilliant-cut diamond set in a micropavèd bezel with matching shank - embodying the label's timeless elegance.
And when it comes to diamonds, Tiffany & Co. shines a light entirely of its own. With standards that go beyond the norm, each Tiffany Diamond is meticulously graded for cut, colour, clarity and carat weight. The stone is then preciously uplifted to glow in all its radiance in the Tiffany Setting – occupying a heartfelt place in many a tale since 1886.
For while flamboyant gems such as purple and padparadscha sapphires and exceptionally rare coloured diamonds came into vogue last decade, the classic tastes à la mode require more traditional stones and cuts. Diamonds are still very much the gem of choice, and white the overarchingly popular colour, although De Beers Diamond Jewellers report that more mature couples – those aged from their thirties upwards – increasingly opt for more adventurous yellow and pink fancy diamonds, as opposed to young couples in their twenties and solo gentleman proposers, who play by the book with white diamonds.
I'm at the new Bridal Boutique of Cartier in Sloane Street, selecting an engagement ring via their 'Set For You' service. Increasingly, the number of couples, and even brides-to-be, selecting the ring to last a lifetime is equalizing the old-fashioned gentlemen who buy the ring in anticipation of popping the question. "They're very well-researched. Often, they've been thinking about it for several months, have gauged their beloved's taste and fit, and have a specific occasion and venue in mind at which to propose at," says my consultant. I'm shown a selection of rings – from the classic 1895 solitaire to the super-bold and contemporary Love solitaire. I select the Ballerine model with a paved shoulder, before I'm guided through choices of colour (graded from D-Z: anything below H is yellow), clarity (look for internally flawless stones graded V, VSI, VS2, VVS1 or VVS2), cut (very good or excellent cuts are what you should be aiming for), size (1 carat is the most popular for engagement rings) and pricing (the sky's the limit!). Legend has it that the 'ring finger' was so chosen because it is the least-used finger or, more romantically, because of the 'vena amoris' - the vein said to run from this digit direct to the heart.
The most expensive engagement ring ever given is thought to be the $5 million 18-carat emerald-cut diamond set on a platinum split shank by Lorraine Schwartz gifted by Jay-Z to Beyonce. Five years later and the ring that sealed the king of bling's union still hasn't been topped. This is followed only by the 23-carat white diamond engagement ring given by Paris Latsis to Paris Hilton, estimated at $4.7 million. Love may not always last forever, but diamonds are eternal.