How to Buy an Antique Engagement Ring (in London)

Immediately after, with my leaf!

Immediately after, with my leaf!

We’re engaged! Yay!

Pleased as I am with my engagement leaf, we chose a ring together. This is a statement about our relationship in terms of equality in big decisions, but also the most practical option. There is nothing to stop a couple from deciding to buy the ring together in 2014. This way, I got exactly what I wanted (which also happened to be the least expensive option). Of course, if you’re a more traditionally-minded partner you may wish to surprise them with an antique ring. More power to you, as long as you know that’s what they want! 

This article will help you to buy an antique engagement ring in London, and beyond. It will also tell you about why you don’t want to buy from the regular shops, and why alternatives like laboratory stones can be great.

I always knew I wanted an antique ring, in part because of my consignment-only experiment and subsequent lifestyle changes (currently on a no-new-clothes until Spring kick after gorging in the US on our holidays). It makes me uncomfortable to think of such an important purchase, and one that symbolises my relationship and love, as having an unethical background.

Blood diamonds are real. The impacts of the mining industry are widespread and nasty both in human and ecological terms. Worst of all, nearly all jewellery can be certified ‘non-conflict’ under the industry standard Kimberley Process. This is because the definition of ‘conflict diamond’ is too narrow by far; the only ones that are included are those that fund internationally-recognised rebel groups like Kony’s LRA. Human rights abuses do not typically fall under the category, and this allows most mainstream jewellers to sell ‘ethical’ diamonds without recognising the violence and exploitation at their origins. (Don’t believe me? In 2011 the advocacy group that helped start the Kimberley Process quit the group, citing exactly this problem.)

The decision was taken together, and early on; we would buy an antique (second-hand) ring, or we would have one made with a laboratory stone. Yes, it’s true that second-hand rings might also have unethical origins, especially since they were made in the age of imperialism. But by buying an antique ring, you mess with the thing that matters most to diamond sellers and companies…their wallets. You decrease demand for new diamonds, and don’t buy into the cheap and easy ‘ethical’ stances they take.

First off, we looked online. There are a lot of lab-based purveyors of engagement rings, and even companies that strives for ethical practices like Brilliant Earth. Unfortunately, their beautiful rings are simply not in our price range.

So beautiful! But holy shit the price!!!!

So beautiful! But holy shit the price!!!! Courtesy of Brilliant Earth

Etsy has beautiful rings, and many are made from diamond alternatives like Herkimer Diamonds. A lot of them have a great handmade feel to them, but looked a little…rough…for our standards. We wanted to incorporate trees or leaves into the ring when we first started looking, but found that harder than we’d thought.

Herkimer Diamond engagement rings, courtesy of Etsy

Herkimer Diamond engagement rings, courtesy of Etsy

I’m lucky enough to be living in London, where there is a thriving antiques trade. The ancientness of the city makes it easy to find things in flea markets, but there are also dedicated shops. Hatton Garden is well-known around the world for its diamond and jewellery trade, but it was unclear whether this meant a second-hand ring was possible. Several blog posts on dodgy sites from years ago suggested that you could get an antique ring in Hatton Garden for around £450.

We went on a Saturday before my night shift at the bar, not expecting to buy anything.

It was so easy. Maybe I’m just an atypically decisive and frugal bride, but we literally went to two shops. Up the road, past the glimmering bespoke jewellers and the inflated price tags ‘cut in half’ by SALE signs is Greville Street. There are several shops specialising in second-hand jewellery, but by far the most magical is Andrew R. Ullmann, Ltd.

It just fits the part perfectly. Family owned and operated, full of antiques that are not simply engagement sets. Prices ranging from a few hundred pounds to many thousands. We went through and found some beautiful rings, and the daughter of the owner helped us out by telling us the details of each. They had so many Art Deco, Old Mine, Mid-Century, and even older rings from the 1800s! They have unique things like antique Russian wedding bands, and a huge selection of beads.

We looked at a few, and tried a few on. The one I ended up picking is an Art Deco (1920s-1930s) daisy, with older cut diamonds. It might be indelicate to broadcast on the internet, but even with the resizing my antique engagement ring cost only £280 ($472)!

Ullmann box.

Ullmann box.

We asked them to resize it, and within two days we had my ring. After we left the shop we went for craft beers.

So how does one buy an antique engagement ring in London?

Step 1: Decide you want an ethical ring. Decide your budget. 
Step 2: Decide the ethical ring you want is an antique one. 
Step 3: Check out online sources as your budget permits. Many of the Etsy shops that sell antique engagement rings are based in London, and you could arrange for a meeting. 
Step 3: Go to Hatton Garden and look for second-hand jewellers. 
Step 4: Try on some rings. 
Step 5: Get the ring re-sized as necessary. 
Step 6: Get nice beers to celebrate! 

I realise that my wedding choices are not going to be the same for everyone else, but I want to provide a necessary counterpoint to the silliness that is all over the internet and in your face as soon as you get engaged. Practicality, frugality, and easy-goingness are virtues. Not all brides want to be a princess. Not everyone wants to spend 20K on the wedding. Do your thing, and be who you are. It’s just a day.

Tell me what you think! Did you have an antique engagement ring? What do you think of buying the ring as a couple? Is it acceptable to propose without a ring?

I’ll be writing more about the wedding process here!

Spitalfields, Necklaces, Materialism, and Makeup

Found at Spitalfields Market near Whitechapel

Found at Spitalfields Market near Whitechapel

I don’t go shopping these days. With my master’s course and trying to keep up with the big city, it’s just too much to ask for time to spend looking at clothes and jewellery for myself. Not to mention the money scarcity almost all those in graduate school deal with. Thanks, I’d rather buy food an dust wear my years-old, hole-y clothing.

Now the first term is over. I cannot believe how quickly it’s passed. Everyone says that about time’s passage. We are an ill-equipped species when it comes to time perception. But already the bizarre double effect of time is apparent, in my early-onset nostalgia for the beginning of September. So fast, thank goodness. So slow, what an effort. I am deliberately avoiding my work for the start of term two this week. So I found myself at Spitalfields Market, near Shoreditch. It’s in the neighbourhood of my favourite pub in London, the Pride of Spitalfield (which I affectionately refer to as ‘The Cat Pub’ because of it’s lovely cat mascot, Lenny). 

Despite the occasional blunder, I’m not one to be much of a hipster. This is deep hipstering territory, complete with prints of John Lennon with LSD-induced colours splattered over him, pointless felt hats that all seem to be in tiny sizes, and a whole lot of ‘vintage’ stuff that’s actually made in China. Sadly, I bought a skirt and a necklace. But I love them. So, that makes it okay, right? Right? Ugh, I got caught up in the holiday maelstrom of materialism. So sue me.

IMG_1506

New bag!

I went to Collectif, a lovely little shop with non-vintage, vintage-style clothing. It suits my recent desires to go back in time, and be a bit of a pin=up girl. Wonderfully, they have plus sizes! They make no big deal of it, but include those
of us who fit a size 16-18 without qualms. For those of you in the US, that’s a 14-16 (isn). Yes, US sizes are a whole size bigger at the very least than those in the UK. I’m firmly in the plus-sized range these days. I went through a couple attempts at crash-dieting and cutting out all…everything (dairy, gluten, meat, caffeine, alcohol, and happiness)…this year. It made almost no difference at all. I’m slowly making my peace with a bigger body in favour of eating delicious foods and drinking beer.

I truly enjoyed shopping in the little store, and almost everything fit. Such a difference! I lusted after a skirt at French Connection for a few weeks, looking at it every day as I passed on my way to classes. Imagine my frustration when I went to buy it as a reward for the end of term and found they didn’t carry my (apparently too fat) size! My money is better used elsewhere.

Whole foods, all the way in London!

It’s a tradition of mine to go to Whole Foods occasionally, to spend a bit of money and enjoy the beauty of food there. All problematic aspects of Whole Foods aside, it’s like my food cathedral. I go ‘on pilgrimage’ only once or twice a year. That’s all I can afford.

It was wonderful to go to the Piccadilly Circus Whole Foods. I got some organic body wash and a bunch of beautiful food. And a fermented ginger ale. Money well spent.

As I get some time (ok, a lot of time) to sit around the house, I am messing around with makeup and hairstyles. Since I started messing around with Pintrest a few months ago, I’ve had a bunch of great ideas and no time to try them. On Saturday we’re going out for our yearly present to each other, a steak dinner in the city. I tried out a new look for it on Tuesday, hoping to perfect it by the weekend. The lashes and makeup are all fairly green and not tested on animals, even if one of the companies is named ‘Bourjois.’

Eyebrows filled in, for the first time ever.

It’s strange to notice that I wear far more makeup than ever before here in London. Might be due to how much I see on other women.

I plan on writing more about London (and better) soon. Sorry about this being such a disorganised post!

What’s Wrong With the United States? Part Two

Yesterday I started a series of blogs dedicated to the noticeable problems that I’ve observed since returning to the States. The complex underpinnings of our food culture and their encouragement through commercialization of food and the degradation of traditional eating patterns slowly leading us to collective suicide aside (mouthful!), there is a further extension of the glorification of quantity over quality. This extends to all areas of American consumer life.

The most influential and highest-grossing store in the United States is Wal-Mart. They blow other competitors away on Black Friday, which is later this week (in case you hadn’t been bombarded with ads since before Halloween). Last year on this most thinly-veiled of all commercial holidays, this megastore saw a 30% increase in traffic as compared to previous years. Part economic recession, part clever advertising, and part extremely low prices on everything from underwear to electronics. No matter that the prices are slashed so low that they seem impossible…those Homer Simpson slippers were made with indentured labor in China and so they cost nothing to make. Wal-Mart could probably sell some of their products for a dime and still make eight cents of profit.

Anyone who’s ever shopped at the great Wal knows that the quality of the low-priced products is shabby at best. It will probably fall apart in two months and then you’ll have to go buy a new one.

And that’s the key. People in the United States (and elsewhere) have been conditioned into a culture of extreme consumerism. If something breaks or is out of fashion or doesn’t fit anymore due to our expanding waistlines, we stash it and then go buy a new one. The poor quality of clothing and other products that we buy is offset by their replacement. And that’s how you end up with five of the same sweater in five shades of beige.

A snapshot of her two-layered, 4000 package paper towel stockpile from TLC.Discovery.com

But I already knew that before living abroad eight months out of the year. What’s struck me as the next step in the insanity is TLC’s new show in their parade of the bizzare, Extreme Couponing. Just one look at the stockpiles that these people have amassed is enough to reveal a serious fixation on overwhelming quantities of household and personal products. They routinely are worth over $30,000. It’s true, those in these stories are probably clinically off-balance. Plus, they now have to eat the same chemical-laced soup that has enough preservatives to make it edible in 1000 years for the rest of their lives. If the prospect is not enough to push them over the edge, I don’t know what would be.

These people need help. - From TLC.Discovery.com

Just the fact that we have a TV show dedicated to this phenomenon is evidence of a serious cultural failing in the US. We want more and more and more until we can’t even possibly eat or use all the products that we’ve stockpiled. This valuing of quantity over quality puts pressure on companies to produce beyond their means. Then customers must buy beyond theirs in order to have “enough.” Then we need more space for all of our junk, and so we have to buy a house with a mortgage beyond our means. And two cars at least, and smartphones, and 50 pairs of shoes, and five giant-screen TVs….And all of that leads to the third cultural failing in the United States.

We are a culture of debt.

It’s undeniable. Our national debt has surged to over $15 Trillion this year, increasing by an average of $3 Billion a day, and leaving each US Citizen with $48,000 of debt if we divided it equally. Add to that the average of $20,000 in debt upon graduating university, and the average of $10,700 of household credit card debt, and each American owes around $78,700 personally. Americans carried $886 Billion in credit card debt and had an average of nine credit cards per household in 2006. That number went up to nearly a trillion dollars before dipping in 2010.

The fact is that Americans have bought into an economic system that requires massive debt to function. The average American cannot buy a house, a car, or even a TV without putting themselves in debt, but more than that, they cannot even be considered for a mortgage or car payment plan unless they are able to prove that they have a history of it. Credit checks force each and every American to take out a credit card if they want to be able to someday buy a house. Almost all of the traditional American markers for adulthood revolve around indebting oneself to a ridiculous degree. 

It’s no mystery to me that the national debt would be so high when personal debt is not only accepted but unavoidable. Just across the Atlantic, a credit card is a rare luxury. True, the countries in the European Union also have their fair share of problems with debt. But in sheer numbers, Greece’s debt is $498.3 billion. That’s 30 times smaller than that of the United States. Dividing it equally to compare to our personal burdens in the States, each Greek owes $45,000 in national debt. And yet their debt crisis nearly brought the Eurozone down and caused international panic.

In the United States, individuals must take action to reduce their consumerism and to actively oppose a culture of debt. How? Abandon the traditions of the American Dream that do not serve this generation. Join an Occupy Wall Street movement. Pay off your credit card and live only within your means. Shop for fewer articles of better quality. Repair your broken clothes and recycle them into quilts or pillows. Take a  challenge (ahem…) and commit to changing one spending/shopping habit.

Better yet, take a stand this Black Friday by refusing to participate in the commercial feeding frenzy. Buy absolutely nothing that day. Spend the time you’ll save  volunteering, being with family, reading, or making your own holiday presents by hand. And then take the money you would have spent and support local, quality businesses on Shop Local Saturday.

Check out #BlackoutBlackFriday and #ShopLocalSaturday on Twitter for more information!