When I proposed to Lara, I did not have a ring ready. I didn't know her ring size, and asking her that would've been a sure tip-off. I also didn't want to stick her with something based on my own taste.
After the proposal, we each did a little ring shopping on our own. Neither of us really enjoy that sort of shopping. You have to deal with clerks, knowing full well that you probably won't buy there. Neither of us are jewelry experts, so we don't know what we're looking at. This delaying actually proved to be a good thing, as my mom happened to mention that she had a spare diamond that we could use.
The diamond is a bit of a family heirloom, belonging to my great-grandmother. It was taken from a ring which also supplied the diamond for my brother Jer's first wedding, and for my other brother Dave's wedding. As such, it was something special. Plus it meant we only had to buy a ring and have it mounted, which removed a lot of questions from the purchase.
So Lara and I head out one day to go ring shopping. We have a basic idea of what we want in mind. Something with grace, without additional gems, and something that doesn't have a claw holding up a rock that's sticking out. For practical reasons, we wanted something more flush. We headed out to L.A.'s jewelry district... only to find that stores with any class are closed on Sunday.
So we headed out again on a weekday. We went into a jewelry mall, checked at a couple shops and found some possibilities. The effort was not comfortable, so we switched to window shopping, and found a lovely setting. We head into Crown Designs, verified that they would be able to have our stone set in that setting, and got a price on it which was certainly within our planned budget. We tell the jeweler that we will probably be looking for a few days, but we'll keep this setting in mind.
After about ten more minutes of window-shopping, we realize that we are extremely happy with the setting we saw, and that we really aren't likely to improve our situation. Neither of us like the shopping process, as I said. We return to Crown Designs, and the nice Armenian gentleman who ran the place took a look at our diamond, measured it (showing us that it wasn't perfectly round, with diameters ranging between 5.15 and 5.35), checked it closely (it had a couple of chips, but fewer than expected for an old diamond), and took our deposit. I told him that we wanted to have the stone appraised (for insurance purposes, not with any illusion of it having vast value; the writing my mother included with the stone indicated it was .61 carats, mine cut). He recommended an appraiser, and I promised to bring the stone back soon. He estimated that we could have the ring on December 21st, which would be just in time for us to take it on our trip to visit Lara's folks over the holidays, but also noted that it could take a little longer.
I tried contacting the recommended appraiser, who directed me toward someone else. I decided to find a local appraiser, and with a couple calls made an appointment for the next day at a place in Pasadena. The price will be $75, which I balk at; it seems a large amount of money compared to the likely value of what's being evaluated. But I figure that we'll have this for a long time, so it's probably wisest to know. (Besides, I'm curious.)
The appraiser warns me right off that she can't give a full appraisal now, as insurers will only cover set stones, not loose gems. However, since I did bring the stone, she'll evaluate that now. It's easier to do it know than waiting until the rock is set.
She measured the stone, then started comparing the stone to a set of machine-verified stones in order to judge its color. (It's a K, whatever that means!) She heads into the back room where the scale is to weigh the stone, then lets me know it's .48 carat. I mention the .61 measurement Mom had scrawled down. . The appraiser does some calculations, and they bother her, because they're telling her that the stone should be about .63, not .48. She has someone else check her figures. This befuddles her. Then she measures the stone's depth again, and looks relieved (and a little stupid) when she comes up with a significantly shorter figure. Calculated in, that comes to a figure much closer to .48.
She also says it's not a mine cut, it's a round brilliant diamond. I wasn't sure where Mom had gotten her info, but I'm shown a drawing of the round brilliant design, and then shown the stone. I pretend to know what I'm looking at.
With that part done, I prepare to pay her now for the full appraisal, but she tells me to hold off until the whole thing is done. I take the stone and drive back to Crown Designs. I talk to the guy (and his coworker, who I believe is his wife), and mention what the appraiser found about the weight (in case that makes a difference.) He takes a look at the stone, thoughtfully, then throws it on the scale. Point four nine. He looks at it, and lets me know that she was right, it is a round brilliant, which is not an antique cut. Without saying a further word, he measures the diameter with a micrometer. I can see it's an exact 5. He rotates it. An exact 5 again. Once more, same figure.
He doesn't have to say it. I know: this is not the same stone that I'd brought in the day before.
When I note that and rant a little, he responds that there probably wasn't an intentional switch; this stone is not significantly less valuable than the one I had (it's lighter, but more perfect and a better cut.) Still, that was a family stone. My blood is boiling. I take this wrong stone and head right back to the shop where I'd gotten the appraisal. All the way, I'm thinking that I'll likely have to call the police if they don't admit to the switch.
The appraiser is still there. (I'll later learn that she's only there once a fortnight.) "The stone that you gave me is not the stone that I brought you." She takes this seriously. When I explain that it's a new cut and has different measurements, she tries to explain that the first thing she told me was that it was a round brilliant, a new cut. (It was far from the first thing, and she never explained that round brilliant was a new cut.) Given the seriousness of the accusation, she calls the manager of the shop over. They take some measurements, and verify that it is the measurements that they had written down about the stone. I point out that those were the corrected measurements, that there had been some problem with the measurements. They go look for some stones around the scale, to see if there had been anything left there. Nope.
And then I spin my theory: the stone got switched accidentally with the master stones used to judge color. The manager weighs the stone that I brought back: .48 carats. To avoid potential confusion, he brings that stone back to me before weighing the K stone from the master stone box.
Point six two carats.
They look at the stone from the master box. It's an antique cut. She measures it. It matches the original measurements she had taken. This is clearly my great-grandmother's stone.
The appraiser becomes very apologetic. She claims that in the ten years she's been doing this, this is the only time that this has happened. The biggest error she'd made previously was misplacing the box someone had brought an item in. She shows me the two stones side by side, and tells me how much they look alike. I don't know diamonds, but even to me they look different. She tells me that the appraisal will certainly be free (I mutter "at the very least"). While she does a work-up on the proper stone (with me looking on carefully, and asking her to shut the master stone box so there are no other diamonds visible to make me nervous as she works), she praises how calm I am in this whole matter.
I guess my poker face is better than I realize. On the list of things that I am during this situation, calm falls well below wealthy and only slightly above Asian.
She works it up. I take the correct stone back to Crown Designs. The jeweler measures and weighs the stone. It's the original rock. He also mentions that he might be able to have it set a little earlier than planned.
On December 7th, I get a phone message. The ring is ready.
I pick it up on the 8th, and it looks gorgeous. He has me examine the diamond through a magnifying glass, noting that I should be able to recognize this diamond because it has a small table (the flat area on top.) I take the ring to Lara at work, where apparently she'd been having a tough day. This surprise seems to cheer her up nicely.
If anyone in the Los Angeles area is reading this message and is considering buying jewelry, let me recommend Crown Designs. Throughout this matter, they: