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Diamonds are a girl's best friend, but how deep is that relationship?

August 2, 2004

BY LISA FRYDMAN Staff Reporter

They call it the most emotional purchase you will ever make. Your engagement ring. A symbol of a new beginning, infinite possibility. And no two stories of how it was placed on a bride-to-be's finger are alike. Flash forward.

Married 10, 20, 30 years. Your beloved ring, the ol' standard solitaire, needs a new look -- an upgrade -- to fit in with your present-day lifestyle. And you know what, you tell your husband, I deserve it. And you know what, he responds, you certainly do.

Trade-up time.

"Trading up is really in a sense bragging rights," says Penny Proddow, co-author with Marion Fasal of the upcoming book With This Ring: The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Jewelry. The duo also are contributors to In Style magazine.

"They say when you look at a diamond on your finger it shrinks over time," Proddow says with a laugh. "Trading up means bigger, better, bolder. Many people would rather have a diamond with more size than a diamond upgrade that is imperceptible to the naked eye. Trading up has a sadness to it. In a way it means the original engagement ring was not quite right for your entire experience as a couple."

Celebrities' diamonds really make the cut
Celebrities' diamonds really make the cut


Celebs know how to rock the register when it comes to engagement rings. Try these baubles on for size:

Promise cut
Hottie-hubbie Brad Pitt spent months with Italian designer Silvia Damiani creating Jennifer Aniston's $200,000 spiral ring, which is engraved with "Brad 2000" and has 20 diamonds. Yes, we all could use a Boy Troy of our very own.
Sarah Michelle Gellar's $100,000 3-carat gem proved Freddie Prinze Jr. to truly be a prince.
Ryan Phillippe gave Reese Witherspoon a 4.5-carat Neil Lane ring. Estimated cost: $300,000 -- no cruel intentions there.
Nick Lachey proposed to Jessica Simpson with a $200,000 4-carat diamond while yachting in Hawaii. Blonds really do have more fun, don't they?
Mary J. Blige's music producer husband, Kendu Isaacs, gave the diva a 7.5-carat number worth $750,000. Rock on.
Never to be outdone by anyone, Michael Douglas followed his basic instinct and proposed to Catherine Zeta-Jones with a 10-carat antique Fred Leighton ring estimated at $1 million.
Nothing but the best for Tony Soprano's little girl. A.J. DiScala proposed to Jamie-Lynn Sigler with a 6.5-carat diamond worth $500,000. Bada bling.
Material Mom Madonna got her 5-carat three-round diamond gem from her guy -- Guy Ritchie -- when she brought baby Rocco home from the hospital. Talk about a holiday. ...


On the other hand, adds Proddow, today's couples are much more savvy about choosing stones. They understand the four C's (clarity, color, cut and carat), and men do their homework. Now, when shopping for an engagement ring, there is less margin for error.

"The first ring will always be wearable, but perhaps there may be a desire as a couple evolves for a different type of ring to add to the first ring," Proddow says. "Perhaps the trading up experience will be another heart-beating situation: a renewal of vows, an anniversary, a first baby, a change of lifestyle.

"The bottom line: Nostalgia does not have to be lost -- it can still be incorporated into a trading-up experience."

Karen Zilberstein, a retired teacher living in the Chicago area, has been married 37 years and reared two children. "I had my original stone incorporated into a new setting, to which I added a couple of chanel diamonds," she says. "I tease my husband that I wore through my old band from too many years of scrubbing floors.

"I truly don't understand how anyone can get a whole new ring. The engagement ring for me has too many memories. It reminds me of the moment my husband and his father went to the jeweler together to pick out my setting, and the day he gave it to me. How can any woman ever let go of that?

"An engagement ring should not be viewed as a cocktail ring," Zilberstein emphasizes. "That ring is for show, this one is for meaning."

Cathy Elward, regional vice president of Tiffany & Co. in Chicago, says, "We do see couples making the decision to upgrade, wanting a larger ring or one of better quality. Our experience is that the consumer today is much more educated than ever before. But even if your engagement ring is not the diamond of your dreams, it is the one purchase you never forget. You always remember the process and the commitment at the time. However, if you do want an upgrade, at Tiffany's we emphasize quality over size."

But in most trading-up circles, size is what matters.

According to the Diamond Information Center, the trend is "bigger is better" -- the traditional 1-carat solitaire has now grown to 3 to 5 carats.

Tracy Silvia, spokeswoman for the Diamond Information Center in New York, says, "Our experience is that when someone's financial situation changes, she wants that big rock she's always dreamed about but still wants to maintain the sentimental value.

"The two most popular trade-up options we've seen are the incorporation of the original solitaire diamond into the trendy three-stone setting -- whereby the original diamond has a new stone on either side to symbolize past, present and future -- and the other option is getting a bigger diamond for your engagement ring and having your original stone set into a great new piece of jewelry."

Michele Goldman, a full-time mother living in Deerfield, married for 11 years, says she is in the process of "trading up," but adds the nostalgia factor of her 100-year-old engagement diamond is untouchable.

"My engagement ring was set in gold, and my taste has changed over the years. I really wanted a white gold or platinum setting. At the same time that I was looking for a new setting, my wedding band was damaged at the jewelers. So I had to figure out how I wanted to go about designing a whole new ring.

"I've added diamonds to the setting, but I would never change my original stone," she says. "It belonged to my husband's grandmother, and it has too much meaning. I could never ever give that up."


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