How to buy an engagement ring is as important as popping the question

"We've created the ultimate experience for the love and engagement shopper," says Glen Schlehuber, managing director and vice president of Tiffany & Co.

"I haven't seen anything else like it ... we wanted to create an enormous sense of space. And it's the best conditions to look at diamonds rather than under artificial light."

We're in the "Hepburn" room at the newly launched Tiffany flagship in Sydney, named after the actress who made Breakfast At Tiffany's a household name.

The room is one of several chic private salons in the new boutique. You're allowed to try things on.

"Tiffany is an inviting brand, people are not intimidated to come into our store, and if they are that goes away quickly," says Schlehuber. 

Classic cuts

Chief among the huge selection of engagement rings is the Tiffany Setting. It has been the jeweller's best-known creation since 1886. But twinkling also is the Tiffany True ring which was introduced last year. It's a fancy cut diamond with a minimalist aesthetic. 

For Schlehuber, the most important thing about any diamond ring is the cut. Best not, he says, get too tangled up researching the other C's we've all been drilled on: clarity, colour and carat.

"The diamond should be the hero," he says of the enduring popularity of the six-prong setting.

"It shows the diamond's brilliance. The cut is the most important thing. A good cut will make that stone radiant. [Tiffany] cuts for brilliance rather than size."

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True sustainability

Luxury brands continue to grapple with the sustainability question. It's now not so much an 'if' for brands but when and how. Last year Tiffany & Co. announced it would declare the provenance of all of its diamonds. What this means is that Tiffany & Co. has full transparency on all of its diamonds and supply chain.

Along with the jeweller's long-standing commitment to environmental issues (last year via its philanthropic arm, the Tiffany Foundation, the jewellery house donated $1.4 million to the Great Barrier Reef) it's been some 20 years in the making.

"You can't do this overnight, it takes years to do," says Schluehuber.

"Sourcing and sustainability didn't just come on the radar, it's part of our DNA."

The millennial question

Much has been made of late about Tiffany & Co. wooing millennials. But do millennials, that avocado toast munching, iPhone wielding, eco warrior demographic even care about diamonds anyway?

According to a provocative article from The Economist, no. But De Beers, yes, the company who taught us to want a diamond engagement ring in the first place, says this isn't true. 

In any case, Schlehuber doesn't want to overplay millennials. 

The thought generation

Though he is interested in their wokeness.

"What makes millennials unique is that they are very aware and vocal about social and environmental issues," he says

Research suggests millennials are more likely to make a purchase when it aligns to their values, or when it offers them an experience or has a sustainable or ethical bent. Millennials are set to have enviable purchasing power, but they think about luxury differently

Schlehuber also knows that this generation will see right through you if you're faking it. ​

"It's most important to be authentic," he says.

What love looks like now

In 2015 Tiffany & Co. launched its Will You campaign, featuring a same sex couple. It was roundly praised, but you'd hope that in 2019 this kind of casting would barely raise an eyebrow.

"Love comes in so many different forms, and [Tiffany] was one of first to celebrate that," says Schlehuber.

Another form of love the brand is seeing more of is self-love. 

"Self-purchasing has been a big trend for a number of years," he says, noting men are buying more jewellery. Case in point, Schlehuber is wearing two Paloma Picasso for Tiffany & Co. knot bracelets, a black coated steel Tiffany T bracelet, and one of the new Tiffany True gold bands, "if I'm wearing jewellery more men are definitely wearing jewellery," he says. 

Put your own ring on it

But women aren't waiting around for gifts either. 

"I think the modern woman is strong and independent and wants to come in and reward herself, for a special occasion or a  promotion, or just because," says Schlehuber.

He then shows me a 10 carat ring a female customer is eyeing off for herself. It's almost blinding in the late afternoon sun, promising a whole other kind of life.

"Everybody can dream, right?" says Schlehuber, stating the obvious. 

How to buy an engagement ring

According to the Australian Wedding Industry Report 2018 Australians spend about $5134 on an engagement ring. Make sure you buy well. As CHOICE notes, a reputable jeweller will have diamonds graded by an independent lab such as the Diamond Certification Laboratory of Australia (DCLA).

Diamond shopping is all about the four C's: cut, colour, clarity and carat.

Colour

Diamonds are rated on colour according to how little colour they actually have. So a "D" diamond, i.e. just about clear, is a better quality diamond than an "R" which would have more yellowish tones.

Clarity

This refers to any imperfections in the diamond. All diamonds will have them, but a flawless one is counted as not having any visible under a jeweller's loupe. Diamonds are rated by how many flaws, or "inclusions," are visible - a VVS1 has inclusions visible under a loupe, while S11 and S12 have flaws visible to the naked eye.

Cut

This is purely personal preference. One of the most popular cuts is the round brilliant cut, but there's also cushion, emerald, square and most fun of all: "fancy," among many others.

Carat

This refers to a diamond's weight. But as Schlehuber mentions, size isn't everything. A good cut and colour matters more. 

Or you could add a little extra colour and invest in a sentimental piece that will also go the distance. An engagement Rolex perhaps?