There’s no substitute for experience.
This morning I woke up, realised I’d forgotten to order the shopping, went online to Amazon and three hours later, my groceries turned up.
It was very nearly faster than if I’d toddled off to my local supermarket, wandered through the aisles, got distracted by a not-to-be-refused offer on fixative for dentures I don’t have, queued at the checkout and walked home again. It was certainly much more convenient.
In this way, the internet is brilliant. It’s also scary. But then, things that change the world often are, I’ve found.
In some ways, though, I miss the experience of actually going into a supermarket and handling the products. I like to see the offers, want to be able to pick fruit in the best possible condition, search for the longest sell-by date and be willingly seduced into buying on a whim something I almost certainly don’t need.
Yet the reality of modern living is that most of us would - and do - buy anything and everything online if we can. There’s a good chance some of the tiny pink bundles arriving screaming into the world as I write this sentence will never set foot inside a supermarket in lives that will be lived predominantly on a screen. And that’s a shame.
Experience counts for much. And that’s certainly the case when it comes to the best place to buy an engagement ring. Here in London, one of the things I hear often from my male customers are the words, ‘She hates her engagement ring!’ – and there are usually two reasons for that: one is that the gentleman in question hasn’t done quite enough stealthy research; but the second is that the ring was bought from an online retailer.
It’s not necessarily that an online shop won’t stock rings of a reasonable quality, though many don’t; it’s the fact that from a purely practical point of view, you have no sense of the quality of what you’re buying because no matter how good the photographs, they’ll never show you the true value of a diamond engagement ring.
The dislocated, impersonal online experience leaves a margin for too much error.
Fast forward 15, 20 or even 40 years and what stories about the day he or she proposed will couples tell their children and grandchildren? The proposal itself is one story. But you’ll be forever denied the opportunity to tell the story about the lengths you went to in order to find the best engagement ring in London.
It's one thing doing your weekly shopping online, but buying an engagement ring or wedding band ring has to be that one thing that you put in the legwork for - and the best place to buy an engagement ring is from a shop and from someone who has devoted his career to making and supplying bespoke engagement rings.
So, what should we look out for?
The chances are, you’ll do a lot of your research online. That’s perfectly all right (and if you do find yourself looking for tips, you might want to check out a brilliant book called How To Choose The Perfect Engagement Ring and Get It Right First Time, written by the best jeweller I know. Ahem).
Every website you visit will have information about the 4C's - the carat, cut, colour and clarity of a diamond. It will explain how to see inclusions (natural marks) in the diamond and the colour grading chart. It will also talk about the weight of a diamond (carat) and the basic symmetry of a stone (cut).
That’s great. But you'll be missing out on experiencing the diamond at first hand. You won’t see the lustre and scintillation, the beautiful kaleidoscope of colours as you hold the diamond in a pair of tweezers and inspect it under a loupe (the small magnifying glass we use to inspect and work with diamonds).
We are now a society of negotiators whose starting position is: "I've seen this cheaper online". That often works with branded, off-the shelf goods that are identical and can be compared from place to place.
But it’s not a winning strategy when it comes to the diamond business, where every stone is unique. They may be similar and even share the same classification, but the characteristics will be different from one diamond to the next – and you’ll only know that from seeing it.
This happened a little while ago when I was sitting with a client who claimed that the same diamond was available online for a few thousand pounds cheaper than what I was quoting him. By happy coincidence, I actually owned the exact diamond he had seen online and had the certificate to prove it. When I asked the client to ring the online supplier to see if it was available, the reply he got was: "Sorry, sir, that one has gone, but I do have a similar one which you can have".
In effect, the online retailer was advertising a diamond he didn't actually own and couldn't supply. Had my client ordered it online they would have sent him a diamond that had same characteristics, but it would not have been the same diamond, but an inferior stone.
And having received something that isn’t what you thought you were buying, what are your options? The diamond doesn't have its sparkle. The colour actually looks a bit off. Trust is what keeps diamond traders and jewellers in business. Like all industries, there are experts in the diamond market and when making a significant purchase - and for most people a diamond engagement ring is probably the third most expensive purchase they'll make after a house and a car - you need to know that you received the best advice and not just the lowest price.
What story are you going to tell your soon to be fiancée or fiancé? Will it be, “I searched all over London to track down the perfect engagement ring for you, darling.” Or will it be, “Yeah, I spent an hour online and got this baby ridiculously cheap”?
In today’s society, we all prefer to do business with someone we know, like and trust. Don't let buying an engagement ring be the exception to the rule. Enjoy the experience.