It’s a suburban myth circulated by Main Line jewelers. The scion of a well-known family was given his great-great grandmother’s engagement ring to bestow upon his intended bride. When the groom had the ring cleaned, the jeweler told him the diamond was, in fact, not a diamond. It was a perfectly cut, four-carat fake.
Unsure of who knew the truth, the groom decided not to tell anyone—not even his bride. The secret stayed between the groom and his jeweler. The bride loved the ring. The groom loved the bride. And they lived happily ever after.
As it turns out, faux diamonds are common in our area. “They’re called Wellington diamonds, and there are a lot more of them than you’d think,” says Joe Bucci, owner of Bucci’s Jewelry & Design in Conshohocken. “‘Wellington’ is their trade name—sort of the insider’s way of not using the word ‘fake.’ And the truth is, they’re cut very well.”
In fact, Bucci recently made a Wellington ring for a client. “His lady’s real one is over six carats, and he didn’t want her wearing it on a daily basis,” says Bucci. “I made it an exact replica. No one can tell the difference.”
Telling the bride the truth, however, is a must for Bucci. “You don’t want to get caught lying—either the jeweler or the husband,” he says. “A woman would feel betrayed if she found that out.”
And there’s something else that could be faux on an heirloom ring: the band. There were metal shortages during World War I and II. That, combined with the Great Depression, had jewelers searching for alternatives to gold and silver. Various alloys were used for wedding bands and engagement rings. And because so little of the metal was used in them, no one could tell the difference.
That in mind, the first thing a groom should do when given a family engagement ring is get its structure and value appraised. “You need to know what you’re dealing with to know how to care for it,” says Michael Cook of Walter J. Cook Jewelers in Paoli. “Make sure that the prongs are sufficient to hold the stone with some degree of safety. Look at the wear-and-tear and make sure it’s sturdy.”
If needed, the prongs can be re-tipped and the shank (the bottom of the diamond) can be replaced, Cook says. It’s a fairly simple process that takes two to three weeks. “The antique style is in right now, and a lot of brides like the look of an older, heirloom ring,” says Cook. “A tune-up might be all that’s required, as long as the ring is stable and the bride likes the diamond.”
Still, the cut of the diamond may not be to the bride’s taste. “Modern rings have what’s called a brilliant cut, which is done with lasers and maximizes the diamond’s sparkle,” says Cook. “An older ring might be a mine cut or a European cut. They’re from the 18th and 19th centuries and were done with the technologies of the day.”
There are plenty of mine-cut diamonds on the Main Line, because there are a lot of heirloom rings. They can be re-cut into the modern, brilliant style—Bucci has already done 15 this year—and the process doesn’t make it significantly smaller. In fact, it may add to its value. “Nine out of 10 times, the value skyrockets because it improves the cut, color and clarity,” says Bucci. “I had a 1.9-carat diamond last year that was worth $7,000 as a mine cut. I had it re-cut, and turned it into something worth $14,500.”
Something else that might not be the bride’s style: the diamond’s shape. “Many older rings have round or pear-shaped diamonds,” explained Brian Smaul, owner of Brian M. Smaul Ltd. in Strafford. “Round—or cushion—is very popular now.”
Smaul can create a new ring around the diamond that makes it look square-ish. “We create a halo of micropave diamonds around the center stone,” he says. “Unless someone looks very carefully, they won’t see a round diamond.”
Smaul mentions the episode of Sex and the City, where Carrie Bradshaw hates her pear-shaped diamond. “We can try to put it in an updated mounting and see if the bride likes it,” he says. “What’s passé for one person is new and exciting for someone else.”
Reality TV star Bethenny Frankel has a pear-shaped diamond. “And she just got that two years ago,” says Smaul.
Easily the biggest celebrity to score an engagement ring this year is Angelina Jolie. It was designed by Brad Pitt. And while Smaul applauds his creativity, he cautions other grooms. “Designing a ring or putting money toward restoring an heirloom is risky,” he says. “I always suggest that a groom get the bride’s input into the ring, because she’s the one who will wear it. Make sure it’s her style, her taste. Make sure that when she opens the box, she says, ‘Wow!’ not ‘Umm.’”