Thinking Outside the Jewelry Box

Here’s a primer on traditional wedding jewelry, but there are many more custom options now, too.
Tracy M. Laubach | Photography by Jax Photography - 2011

The letter C: It’s the humble third letter of the alphabet but carries a lot of weight when wedding bells are in your future. It represents the characteristics of the diamond ring you will wear from the time he asks for your hand in marriage through all the thicks and thins of your lifetime together as husband and wife. So when Mr. Right himself is searching for just the right bling to put on the fourth finger of your left hand, one thing is for sure—he needs to understand the importance of cut, color, clarity, and carat.

It was in the 1940s that the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) developed the “4C’s,” to provide a universal system to objectively grade, evaluate, and compare the quality of different stones. Whether the rock you’ll eventually wear is round or hails from the “fancy shapes” family (marquise, pear, oval, princess, emerald, heart, cushion, or triangle), its “4C’s”-rating will define value and uniqueness.

The cut of a diamond addresses proportion and symmetry. The best-cut gemstone pulls light in to the top and then reflects it outward, causing the stone to sparkle. The cut of any diamond is determined by brilliance, which is based on the total light reflected in the diamond, and scintillation, which measures the flashes of light that create “sparkles” when the diamond is in motion.

While diamonds naturally can be found in every color of the rainbow, the white range is most popular for engagement and wedding rings. The GIA rates diamond color in the white range on a scale from D (colorless) to Z (light yellow), with less color being the most ideal.

Clarity of a diamond defines the amount and location of flaws or blemishes in the stone when viewed under 10x magnification. Stones are rated at three levels from “FL” to “I3,” or flawless to imperfect. And as a general rule of thumb, the fewer inclusions, or internal flaws, the more beautiful the diamond.

And then there is the “C” people tend to be the most familiar with—the carat that reflects the actual size and weight of the diamond. As carat weight increases, so does rarity and, therefore, price. It’s important to remember, however, that two diamonds of equal carat weight can vary greatly, based on their cut, color, and clarity ratings.

For those in the market, there are a number of established, reputable diamond dealers in town, including a newcomer with an old name: In September, Tiffany & Co. opened a store in the Towson Town Center, offering a more convenient location for Baltimoreans than their Tysons Corner, Chevy Chase, or King of Prussia locations.

George Getschel, Tiffany’s director in Towson, says “there is something for everyone” within the store’s Legends Collection, featuring five diamond engagement rings with histories that range from two to 150 years and prices from $1,500 to $1 million. The Tiffany classic setting is the oldest and best-selling style, featuring a six-prong solitaire that is simple, yet sophisticated. The Tiffany Lucida, Novo, Bezet, and Legacy round out the collection, each featuring a distinctive history and style.

Once the engagement ring is comfortably nestled onto your finger, decisions about jewelry will remain on the to-do list, with the selection of his and hers weddings bands as a popular next step. Rhoula Monios, senior sales manager at Smyth Jewelers in Timonium, says that while the bride-to-be is usually focused on finding a band to complement her engagement ring, the groom-to-be typically makes his decision based on metal type, comfort, and weight. Those who still can’t seem to find what they are looking for among Smyth’s 16 engagement and wedding-band designer lines may choose to build a custom ring. In some cases, the “perfect” ring is created by fusing ideas from multiple designs together into a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry.

“We offer the more traditional gold, white gold, and platinum options, but also carry a diverse line of alternative metals that are appealing to the guys, including the Scott Kay Cobalt Collection, which is beautiful and among the most popular,” explained Monios. “Some want a band that is thin and lightweight. Others want something thick or with diamonds. We are here to help them determine which style is best and will be something they can comfortably wear every day.”

Smyth also specializes in traditional jewelry for your wedding party, with engraved bracelets or pearl or single-stone gemstone necklaces for the bridesmaids and engraved cufflinks for the groomsmen topping the popularity charts. And while you are thinking about gifts for the most important members of your wedding party, a jeweler with a good selection also may be the place to find the perfect present for your spouse-to-be, often exchanged between brides and grooms at the rehearsal dinner.

“A diamond pendant is a beautiful gift for the bride-to-be and is something she will be able to wear forever, as a way of remembering this special time if her life,” said Monios. “And for the groom, a watch is a popular and sentimental choice, as it symbolizes the meaning of time and the start of a life together.”

Searching for less traditional options? Designers like Bridal Jewelry by Lisa Ann specialize in custom wedding jewelry based on the style and personality of the bride.

“I ask every bride-to-be to give me a picture of her wedding gown as a first step,” says owner Lisa Ann Schultz, who works out of her in-home studio in Fallston. “And then I custom-design anything and everything she needs to finalize her look, from necklaces and earrings to headpieces, watches, and even footless sandals. Everything is inspired by the flow, feel, and structure of the dress.”

Also on the list of what Schultz can offer, and growing quickly in popularity: lariats. These simple but elegant accessories are most often worn with bridal gowns that feature a low-cut or draping back. They are commonly made of one or two strands of jewelry that hang from the bride’s neck, down her back to about four inches above the top of her dress.

Recent bride JoAnna Salas from Towson wanted personalized pieces for her wedding day, using a family keepsake: She wanted to do something special with a plate that she inherited from her late grandmother. So she hired Juliet Ames, owner of The Broken Plate Pendant Company, to break it into little pieces.

Yes, that’s correct, break it.

And from those pieces of the broken plate, Ames created jewelry for Salas and her husband to hand out to their bridesmaids and groomsmen on their wedding day. Necklaces for the gals and cufflinks for the guys, grinded, soldered and wrapped in copper foil from remnants of the sentimental plate.

“My bridesmaids were so excited and honored to receive such a meaningful gift, because they all knew how important my grandmother was to me,” Salas said.

Like the idea but don’t have a plate available to destroy? No problem—Ames stocks plenty in her studio for you to choose from, based on your wedding colors or theme.

“This is a way to give each member of your bridal party something that is unique and has meaning to you and your family,” said Ames. “It’s an alternative to the more traditional jewelry that’s out there, and it’s fun.”