Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Engagement Ring Shopping in Nashville: My Gorgeous Ring Came from a Shop that Sells Squirrel Underpants. And I'm Totally OK with That.

A lot of people have asked about my ring, so here's a post dedicated to engagement bling. Let's all look at big shiny rings, woooo! I have a lot of friends who might be shopping for rings in the next year or so (you know who you are... wink!), and they also like intricate, antique-inspired designs with filagree, milgrain, and maybe some colorful side stones. I'm hoping this info will help all you cute vintage-loving Nashville lovebirds.

On our second date, Keith asked me if I like garnets, because his family was willing to pass down his great-grandma's garnet engagement ring to the right girl. Yeah, we both knew kind of quickly that we're meant to be. I never saw it, but I loved the idea of having a sentimental family ring. I was sad when Keith found out that the ring isn't in usable condition. 
Antique garnets are so lovely. This ring is from the 1840s!
Since his great-grandma's ring wouldn't work, I decided I wanted a ring that either is antique or looks antique, and doesn't have any bad karma attached. Keith did so well: My ring is an antique reproduction setting by J.C. Blackburn, purchased from A.J. Martin, with a conflict-free center stone from Blue Nile. Since the stone came from Blue Nile, I named her Cleopatra. I call her Miss Cleo for short. Yes, it's silly. No, I don't care!
Miss Cleo's professional headshot 
Our ring buying odyssey began in November at Genesis Diamonds. It was so intimidating! A security guard buzzed us in, and the saleswomen immediately separated me and Keith. They're really good at what they do: In just a moment they sized me up and decided the quirky saleswoman with the blue-black bobbed hair would click best with me. She steered me to a dazzling display of antique style engagement rings by Saturn Jewels, set with monstrous full-carat center stones, and encouraged me to try them all on at once and look at my hands in a mirror.
I tried on this Saturn Jewels ring at Genesis and kept thinking they do know I'm a
normal human being and not a movie star, right? Why are they letting me wear this?!
While I was getting caught up in the sparkly fantasy, another saleswoman steered Keith to the other side of the store, where she asked him a lot of personal financial questions. What did he do for a living? How much was he looking to spend? How much could he put down up front? To hear him tell it, it was like an interrogation! I left with the same feeling I have when I leave Disney World: It was fun, but it wasn't real. We're casual and quirky, and we didn't feel completely comfortable at Genesis. 

That's NOT to say that they're a bad store. They have incredible quality, a broad selection, and their salespeople are very good at quickly understanding you and steering you toward designers that fit your taste. If you have a very large budget, or you feel comfortable in formal settings, I definitely recommend them. And if you don't have the hugest budget, the Genesis Designs line of ring settings is a great value compared to their designer rings. But they don't show you these straight off. You have to know about them and ask! I only learned about them later, after we'd visited the store.
This setting from Genesis Designs is $895 (price does not include the center stone).
I love this setting, and it was one of the better values we found while we shopped.
In December, we visited Walton's Jewelry in downtown Franklin. A good friend's engagement ring came from Walton's, so I was excited to go there. Walton's treated my friend's husband well, and her ring is beautiful. Unfortunately, we happened to visit Walton's during the most popular engagement month of the year, so the selection was picked over. OOPS. Umm... why didn't we think of that before?!

Antiques are in short supply. Antique rings that fit your taste are probably even more rare. I'd advise people looking for an antique ring to start looking very early, and visit the shops often. Also, don't do what we did and visit Walton's during a Franklin street festival! The store was mobbed, and the staff didn't have time to talk with us. I still think Walton's is awesome, but we didn't find what we were looking for because we didn't plan that shopping trip well.
A rockin' rock from Walton's Antique & Estate Jewelry in downtown Franklin, Tennessee.
Later that month, Keith bought a diamond from Blue Nile. That's something he did on his own, so I can't say much about it. I do know that their website offers a LOT of information for people who want to learn about the qualities by which diamonds are evaluated and priced. Have you ever heard of flourescence? Some diamonds glow on their own. What kind of awesome sci-fi shit is that?! Blue Nile's search features are easy to work with, too. As a librarian, I LOVE a good search interface. They have a huge inventory of rocks, and you can search by cut quality, price, color, clarity, and size to easily narrow down the selection. I love Miss Cleo, so I have nothing bad to say about Blue Nile.

At that point, we needed a setting. I found A.J. Martin online when I searched for "antique engagement ring settings Nashville." When we opened the door to the store, the owner's adorable little dog jumped up on me. I turned to Keith and said, "This place is our style!" A.J. Martin is crazy awesome, y'all. They carry a mix of antique jewelry, antique reproductions, costume jewelry, and hilarious random stuff like zombie statues, the Jesus Shaves mug, and squirrel underpants. Why? Because FUN!

THAT'S NUTS! Protect the world from squirrel nudity!!
Despite all that, the quirkiest thing about this place is the owner. She's like the Soup Nazi, but for jewelry. She greeted us with a sarcastic, "Oh! More lovebirds!" We stayed in her shop for about half an hour. During that time she lit up a cigarette while she stood behind the counter, gave us impeccable service and lots of personal advice, told us she was sick of us and that we should go home, ignored other customers so she could give us all her attention, and told me I wasn't allowed to buy a particular setting I kind of liked because another one was just "so much better." She cracked me up. I want to invite her to a party, just to see what she does.
Another example of JC Blackburn's work. Those sapphire side stones! That filagree! The milgrain! LOVE.
I quickly decided I wanted an antique reproduction setting by J.C. Blackburn. She was all, "My friend Julio makes those! He's so good. You can't buy these settings here in the case; they're just for show. Julio will make a setting that exactly fits your diamond and your finger. He'll scale the entire setting so it fits the size of your rock and doesn't make it look too big or too little." I was sold! I picked out a few settings I really loved, showed them to Keith, and put the decision in his hands. I wanted to have a ring I like, but I also wanted to let him make the final decision. I wanted to be surprised!
This is one of the rings I put on my very short "yes I'd wear that forever" list.
Then we waited and waited and waited. Fine custom-made jewelry takes time. Keith ordered the setting in January, and two months passed before he had the finished ring in his hands. It took longer than usual because he ordered the ring so close to Valentines' Day, and because the Chinese New Year delayed the shipping of precious metal from China. We plan to be together for the rest of our lives, so in the grand scheme of things, that's not a big deal to us. But if you're planning a proposal, and you want to time it so it coincides with a holiday or anniversary, this is good information to have, right?

When the ring was finally ready, it was perfect. Enough said. Have I mentioned that I'm really, really happy? Okay, but enough about me and my ring shopping reminisces. I hope this helps info anyone who's shopping for an antique or vintage style ring in Nashville. Do any of you have good jewelry shopping tips, or funny stories about when you got your engagement ring? I want to know! Let's tell stories!


  1. This was totally helpful! I will not be going to Genesis Diamonds anytime soon. Steve and I actually went to AJ Martin last fall and didn't get to meet this fabulous woman you speak of. There was a dude, he was nice, but not a real character. I think we need to go back!

    1. Yay, glad it helped. Aww, I like hearing that you two have been shopping. ;-)

      It sounds like you met the owner's assistant. Keith says the assistant is the organized one who you want to have take down your info, take your payment, keep track of your order, etc. She keeps a fairly small selection of JC Blackburn rings in the shop, but she can order any of them, so check their website and remember that ALL of those designs are an option, too.

      I couldn't believe it when she lit a cigarette while standing behind the counter!! If you go see her, tell me what crazy things she says to you.

  2. What a nifty story! It's always fun when rings have a good story, whether it's family related or something like this!


  3. This was actually extremely helpful. The whole concept of ring shopping is intimidating as hell bc I own no fancy jewelry and I'm not really fancy...nor is Jamie. Like I know what I like but have no clue how to verbalize it. I'm also hella cheap and easily intimidated by the process. Both of my best friends got their rings at genesis and had a great experience but I just can't imagine that being for me. It seems too cookie cutter

    1. I know, me too! Trying on rings made me feel like a kid playing dress up in their great-aunt's jewelry box. The nice thing about the woman at AJ Martin, aside from her VERY laid-back attitude, is that she knows her stuff and will help you find the words to describe it.

      She helped Keith develop a jewelry vocabulary. It was cool! He'd show her something he liked, and she'd explain the name, and they'd discuss the specific thing he liked about it so she could make more recommendations. He still talks about "gypsy settings," and he'd never heard of them before that day. Really, the customer service we got there was phenomenal.

      Genesis had very beautiful rings, but I understand how you feel. When I was in their store, I felt like an impostor! Like I wasn't a fancy enough lady to shop there. :(

  4. So much filagree! Drunk off gorgeousness. Did/will you get the matching band?

    1. Thank you! We don't have our bands yet. I like the matching band, but I'm hoping we can get it made with sapphires instead of diamonds. Color makes it fun!

  5. So much filagree! Drunk off gorgeousness. Did/will you get the matching band?

  6. You are making me rethink using my great-aunt's ring XD . I've always known that I didn't need a diamond engagement ring because I've already got a family heirloom ring that's got a plenty-big diamond for me, but the experience of getting your very own ring, picked out and made just for you seems so special and I don't want to miss out on that either. I love seeing this, especially since my jaw dropped when I saw the pictures on Facebook. Holy cow, did Keith do a good job! I can't wait to see Miss Cleo in person!

    1. Oh, but a family ring is SO SPECIAL. I wish we could've used Keith's family ring! But if you want to make the family ring your own, there are so many ways you could do that!

      1. You could use the antique diamond in a new setting. You're SO LUCKY to already have a family diamond! The diamond is the most expensive and intimidating part of ring shopping. :-p
      2. If you do that, you could have another pretty stone set in the empty antique setting so it would still be used and loved. Maybe an amethyst or something pink? I imagine that would look cute with your kawaii outfits.
      3. You could have the antique ring set with new colored side stones. That way you can make it your own.

      You should see Miss Cleo in person! I'd like to see you and Brooke. We can celebrate her engagement, too. What do you two like to do on weekday evenings?

  7. first, a belated congrats to you! i am SO BEHIND in my freaking reader and missed the big announcement! what a great post though! i picked out my ring when i was 18 at zales and i wish i had something cool and antique. i actually knocked the diamond out a few years ago, i wonder if i could get a new setting and then have something i'll actually where! currently i wear travis' great grandmother's wedding band, and then my actual wedding band.

  8. I never actually had to do any ring shopping, not really. Well, I think I browsed online for antique pieces, but that's about it. Our budget was close to zero, so I dont think I would have ever gotten engaged if I had to wait for my husband to afford a ring. Thankfully, I inherited a ring with quite a bit of history that fit my style perfectly -- art deco style, tiny diamond. So I always remind my husband how much he lucked out on the ring front :) It's even engraved with the initials and date of the original owner (1927, I believe)

    1. *sigh* Your ring sounds so perfect.

      Oh, I hear ya! We waited longer than I would've liked because Keith was more particular about the ring than I was. He wanted to buy something that he could show off and be proud of, and I was all "Can't we use the nice wooden ring you made for me from that tree that grew outside my library?" It all worked out in the end (we're getting married!), and I do love the ring, but waiting was hard.

  9. Your engagement ring is beautiful, I love the stone and the fact that it's set on gold. For those looking for abagain on diamond engagement rings though it's very informative to read this http://www.brilliance.com/diamond-buying-tips-infograph

  10. I was sad when Keith found out that the ring isn't in usable condition. jewellers dublin

  11. This was so helpful! I've been trying to find any store remotely not commercial and you had some great recommendations. I'm definitely going to check out these shops. Thank you so much! btw, you sound awesome. hahaha!

    1. Thank you! It's such a wonderful coincidence that you commented today; I visited AJ Martin today to order my wedding band. She's still so funny. I hope you have as good an experience as we did. Good luck!!

  12. I was sad when Keith found out that the ring isn't in usable condition. voltaire diamonds


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