The Expert: Paul Pastor
President of Chas Schwartz & Son Jewelers at the Mazza Gallerie & Willard Intercontinental Hotel.
What's the most popular cut of diamond for an engagement ring?
It's still the brilliant cut—the round cut. However, there is also a strong emphasis on the cushion cut, which is shaped like a pillow. It has soft shoulders and is very brilliant. The Asscher cut is also popular. It's a cut-cornered square diamond developed by John Asscher in 1908 and perfected in 1920.
Any suggestions for buying a vintage ring?
For vintage-style rings, you should start with stores that carry estate jewelry. You'll find many unusual styles, and many times the stones have been repolished and certified to satisfy the quality issue. There are manufacturers out there who reproduce vintage mountings. A few that come to mind: Whitehouse Brothers, Ritanti, and Michael Beaudry. But if you see something in a magazine that you like, many times, that style can be reproduced by a fine jeweler.
Are there good alternatives to diamond engagement rings?
The top candidate would be a sapphire—even one that's pink or yellow. Rubies are also popular. But people buy all kinds of stones for engagement rings, with varying degrees of success. Someone once bought an alexandrite stone, which isn't exciting and is actually a brownish, purplish green. About six months later, the bride-to-be returned it.
Pink diamonds are very popular but expensive. Are lab-made pink diamonds a viable alternative? You can certainly get pink diamonds in several color variances, which will affect the value of the stone, so you may be able to find something in your price range. As far as lab-created diamonds, I don't want them anywhere near me. They have absolutely no secondhand value whatsoever. If you pay $10,000 for a lab-created diamond, it has no value.
What is the best way to get a "blood-free" diamond [stones mined or sold under unethical conditions]? The easiest way to avoid any concern involving blood diamonds or conflict diamonds would be to purchase a Hearts on Fire diamond. They are guaranteed to be conflict-free. For the true skeptic, there are also diamonds mined and cut in Canada, and certified by the Gemological Institute of America.
How about some engagement options for non-ring people? We've had a number of couples come in over the years looking for a commitment piece of jewelry or something non-ring related. Try a bracelet and have the wedding date engraved on it. Pendants are also a good choice. One time, we even had someone get a belly ring.
This interview first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2009 issue of Washingtonian Bride & Groom.