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February 13, 2011

Day 5 of 30: Super duper discount on gorgeous antique wedding rings?


A few months back, I outlined the terms of The Wedding Asking Challenge: Try to negotiate every essential component of the grand fete. Exceptions will be made for exceptional values. Money saved will be invested, not turned into sangria the weekend after the wedding. (Actually, that does sound tempting...) Bottom line: I refuse to pay the bridal premium -- to the best of my ability. For, like any lass in love with dusty rose and silk organza, I may end up springing for a few little luxuries just because it's my wedding.


A recent objective has been to find wedding rings. I looked online and in department stores including Bloomingdale's. I stepped inside a few insipid chain stores and made a rapid u-turn (Whitehall, Zales and the like) and I spent a good 10 minutes inside one super mega discounter. The lowest price I could find there was $450 for his n' her simple yellow gold bands. Online, Overstock and Amazon had some sets for around $350 with the width and carat that worked. But while Mr. A liked the idea of expedited shipping, I wasn't convinced.

Then Alex, who is half of a fantastic couple Mr. A and I have befriended over the past year, told me where she found her stunning white gold Edwardian wedding band.

The man with the treasure box.

There this antique store in Ocean Beach, a neighborhood in San Diego lined with second hand delights, where a nice man has a treasure box  FILLED with gorgeous rings. Antique rings, diamonds and silver and ruby. 

For INSANELY low prices.

If she were typing, I bet Alex would have used ALL CAPS to convey her devotion to and enthusiasm for this place. So I think it's fair to do the same.

Today, I went in with Mr. A, and her words rang true. It was AMAZING!!

Ken, the ring man, took out the solid little box that must have contained around 300 rings. He told me to take a handful, put them on the counter and sort them into "no" or "maybe." I couldn't believe what I was seeing: An exquisite gold and diamond band for $65. A delicate garnet solitaire on a 14k gold band for a pittance. One ring from the 1890s which I won't describe because it was so beautiful. And so cheap. And so mine. Wait. Wedding bands. Self control. Self control.

Mr. A started valiantly by my side, but after about 70 rings he took off to check out the vintage telephones and gadgets.

Meanwhile, I went through the box and ended up setting aside about 20 "maybe" rings. I separated those into "Not really" "Maybe maybe" "Possible" and "Probable."

Next we looked for matching rings for him, and that further narrowed the options down. All were yellow gold and simple, with at most a milgrain design on the rim.

As I was trying them on again, Mr. A found something unbelievable: a ring from 1880. Inside, the worn inscription read "June 30, 1880" beside two sets of initials.

"I love the 1880s!" I exclaimed. (It meant it. Of all the decades of the 19th century, I have a strong preference for three: the 1830s, the 1850s and the 1880s. For aesthetic reasons, mostly. And a few technological / legal / political reasons, too.)

"My friend in Spain lives in a house from the Roman times. The walls are Roman and the roof was from 1650. So he'd say 1880 is like new. But for these parts, that ring has history," Ken told us.

That ring was also more expensive than the rest -- $195. It still cost less than most rings of that size and weight I'd seen anywhere else, but more than the others in this store. Mr. A found an almost identical band (which would have to be resized, adding an another $30 or so) and we agreed it was time to make the purchase. Which meant it was it time to ask.

"Can you give these to us for a better price?"

"No. I absolutely cannot. On gold, I don't negotiate one bit."


Ken!? Kenster, Kenerino, my buddy, my friend? We'd been talking for at least an hour about rings, and design, and history, and weddings, and married life, and male/female ring choosing rituals. (FYI: Women spend hours imagining what each ring will say about them, about their relationship, how the ring will sit on their hand at age 80. Men just grab the simplest thing they can, as fast as they can, and hit the door.)

That was the last thing I expected, in the heart of Ocean Beach. This was negotiation central! I'd bargained down things left and right in this neighborhood, for years! But come to think of it, the shopper right before me tried to get the price down on another ring by asking to pay cash and skip the tax. Ken refused.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I just don't negotiate for gold or silver. My prices are already lower than anything else you'll find."

Indeed, as I was inspecting the rings, he mentioned that whatever he pays for an item, he doubles to set his price. The standard jewelry retail markup is five times the wholesale purchase price, not double, said he. "I keep my prices low because I'm not like the other guys. They want to sell you one big ring, once in your life. But me, I know there are anniversaries. And birthdays. And babies coming. I want to be the place you come back to again and again."

Ken seemed to really know his business and love his work. And when he looked into my eyes to answer questions, his gaze was unflinching. I trusted Ken. I wanted to buy my wedding ring from him. I could tell Mr. A felt the same way.

We stepped aside and conferred. There was another set of rings, also lovely, but without that patina. Those other rings fit us perfectly, so we wouldn't have to resize anything. Together, they would be $60 cheaper than the antique set. (Or $90 cheaper, if you counted the sizing.)

"What's $60 over the course of a lifetime? Get the one you want more," Mr. A told me.

"Yes, but marriage is also about being responsible, not giving in to whimsy."

"That's true too. But please, don't hold back because of the price."

I kept trying them on, asking him to try them on, even placing them on his finger myself to see which one slid more willingly, in preparation for that sacred moment in the church...  I just wasn't sure, I wasn't sure... but the more I thought about it, the less I felt I wanted the old, expensive ring...

And then Mr. A shared one more thought: "Actually, I feel that if you want history, you should find it in your family. We will make our own history."

With that, we purchased the rings we preferred. No negotiation, but I am certain we made the right decision.

Closing thoughts:

1) Buyers: Before negotiating, distinguish between emotional/sentimental purchases and impulsive ones.

By 'emotional' I don't mean hormonal or impulse driven, but those that are guided by sentiment, nostalgia, desire, or any other warm and fuzzy feeling. Emotional attachment is worth something. Impulse, not so much.

If the age/year truly mattered in my conception of marriage, then that 1880 ring would have been worth the extra money. But Mr. A's probing comment made me realize what truly matters to us: starting something fresh. I can get something from 1880 -- a map or a book. It doesn't have to be my wedding ring when there's something equivalent in quality and comfort, for less money.

Same goes for any other purchase you ascribe a certain sentimental value to: your first home, the pen you'll be proofreading your novel with, the hotel you stay at the day you accept the Oscar (and other big moments we all routinely face): What matters, truly, and what's just impulse? What connection to that object, experience or service will give you a lasting dividend, and what will fizzle by dawn? Knowing this will help you know when to put your money down and when to walk away.

2) Sellers: When you offer something of true and legitimate worth, not lowering your price can make the buyer value you even more. 

This depends on how you do it. Ken spent a whole hour proving to me, in subtle and obvious ways, that his jewelry is worth every cent. Since he also knows his product is worth every cent, he refused to budge. In a way, that makes me prize the rings even more: I know I got a good deal, because I got a great value.

Lost: One negotiation victory.

Gained: Took one more step toward turning my treasure of a fiance into my husband.

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