Back in March, while explaining the work that goes into creating custom designs, I mentioned that I spent an hour on the phone with one guy discussing how he was going to propose to his girlfriend. Time to tell the whole tale and introduce you to John Muggenborg. He’s one of my talented product photographers, so you’ve seen his work all over my website and blog. You can see more of it on his website. John also contributed to my Kickstarter campaign for new ring designs, so I owe him a big thanks for that.
When John was getting ready to propose to his beloved Olivia, he brought the dramz to engagement-ring shopping. You see, Olivia is an industrial designer at Henri Bendel. She’s also worked with legendary ceramicist Eva Zeisel. Obviously, any designer is going to be very particular about something that’s going to be on her finger every day. But whenever John lured her into a jewelry store to get an idea about what she wanted, Olivia wouldn’t drop any hints. Despite that, he was determined to propose with ring in hand. I went through the whole checklist I mentioned in that custom-work post to try to get an idea of her style: her height, her coloring, her job, her hobbies, her other jewelry. After exhaustive study, John selected a classic, round, brilliant-cut diamond as the centerpiece for Olivia’s ring. That was the easy part. Now how to set the stone? I thought Olivia might like the sleek, modern look of a bezel setting, which is my preference too. But it’s less traditional for a diamond than a prong setting and therefore a riskier choice. There was no way for John to figure out what she would prefer — unless he asked her. I discussed this issue in my recent post on engagement-ring redesigns:
“I prefer that the woman becomes involved with the design. If she’s not personally meeting with me because the man is trying to maintain some element of surprise, I want him to come in with pictures she has torn out and/or specifics she has written down. My attitude is: let’s be adults. You two have presumably discussed your lives together. You should be able to discuss your ring options. Seriously, ladies, you wouldn’t have a man surprise you with a wedding gown that you only wear once, so why should he make a decision on an item you’re going to wear every day for the rest of your lives together? The fairy-tale moment of the surprise proposal is going to be ruined anyway if he opens the box to reveal something you hate.”
I tried to convince John to either ask Olivia outright about the ring before proposing or propose without the ring in order to avoid the Aidan-picks-an-ugly-ring-for-Carrie scenario. (Nine years ago, MrB and I managed to get engaged without an on-bended-knee proposal or ready-made ring, so I have proof that it works!) But John was absolutely determined to whip out a surprise ring, like Prince Charming whipping out a glass slipper. He asked about putting the stone in a temporary setting. Normally, I’m against temporary “presentation” settings because of two issues:
- You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
- Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
I learned about Issue No. 1 from Head & Shoulders commercials.
John put a hell of a lot of time into picking out a high-quality stone. Why detract from his choice by placing that stone in a made-in-China setting and creating a first impression of “That’s not the ring I dreamed of. Doesn’t he know anything about me?” Of course, because of Issue No. 2, the Mars/Venus communication problem, the typical woman doesn’t voice this first impression aloud. She imagines that her man put serious thought into choosing that setting. Even if he says, “You can change it if you want,” she so believes that the setting is emotionally symbolic that she insists on keeping it. Here’s a reality check, ladies! The typical straight guy has no idea what to get you. He picks the safest option and hopes for the best. He’s not emotionally invested in the ring setting, only in your happiness. If you tell him that you don’t like the ring, he’ll be bummed that he guessed wrong, but ultimately relieved when you have something you love. There’s no need to keep an A+ stone in a C- setting for decades … until you come to me for a redesign, at which point, your hubby says, “You should have told me 20 years ago! ”
As much as I like redesigning rings, I’d rather get them right the first time. But I figured I could safely make an exception to the “no temporary settings” rule because Olivia is a designer. I felt 99% sure she wouldn’t be shy about expressing her aesthetic preferences. I set John’s diamond in a standard, 14K white gold, four-prong setting and checked in with John one last time to make sure he wasn’t going to propose via JumboTron at a sporting event. I will give you a temporary setting if I have to, but I will NOT condone a JumboTron proposal. I have to draw the line somewhere.
John and Olivia took a lovely Easter-time trip to the Bahamas. That Bahamian Easter Bunny is fancy. Look what he left for Olivia!
As hoped, Olivia was eager to create a ring that was more her style. She even sent me a technical drawing! Talk about making my job easy. She opted for a bezel setting — woot! my initial guess — and switched from 14K white gold to 18K yellow gold.
I love this look, but more importantly Olivia does. She sent me the kind of email that I like to get:
“Thank you so much for helping create the ring of my dreams! It’s perfect & exactly what I always wanted. I’ve only had it for 2 days, but I feel like I will live with it forever, and still love it as much as I do now. Thank you, thank you- you did a GREAT job!
P.S. – I have already received tons of compliments! My friends especially say- it’s so ME.”
As for John, he successfully carried off the surprising, memorable, JumboTron-free proposal of his dreams. I look forward to the excitement of doing all of his anniversary, Christmas and Valentine’s Day jewelry.
Meanwhile, I’m working on an engagement ring for another gorgeous lady who happens to have a design background. Her fiance and I started it based on some preferences she’d tentatively shared. Then her guy decided to skip the surprise and check in with her. Lucky he did! What she has in mind now is unlike anything I’ve done for an engagement ring before, though it’s inspired by one my other designs. We would never, ever have guessed. I can’t wait to do something completely unique for her, knowing that it’s 100% what she wants. Stay tuned to see it … one of these days. Hey, I have to wait till the proposal to share these things!
READ MY OTHER POSTS ON CUSTOM-MADE ENGAGEMENT RINGS
Two wild and crazy ring redesigns
Simple and elegant Asscher-cut stone
UPDATED TO ADD: After reading this post, John sent me a link to this video of a failed JumboTron proposal at a Rangers game. Here are two more sporting-event proposal rejections, not involving JumboTrons.
- Rejected proposal on basketball court.
- Rejected proposal at a baseball game.
I’ll concurr about the surprise not being important and the fact that I feel bad changing my ring even 14 years later. Not that I would have known really what I wanted way back then. I’m actually thinking of a redesign now just to give my ring a fresh look. I might keep the old setting for sentimental reasons though.
I’ll have to ask the hubby to give his POV.
Ms. Smart says
a little bit of cupid + bad ass creativity + style for days + human insight + bright red lipstick = 🙂
LOL @ “I will give you a temporary setting if I have to, but I will NOT condone a JumboTron proposal. I have to draw the line somewhere.” I love how your jewelry designs have stories behind them, whether they’re about historical figures or present-day guys proposing to their girlfriends.
Vegetable Assassin says
I have to say, I’m not a big diamond person but even I would swoon over that final result. It is LOVELY. I actually love bezel settings, they’re so modern yet I think quite protective of the stone, certainly more so than prongs. Now if I could get a yellow gold ring like that with a citrine, emerald or sapphire stone I’d be in heaven.
What can I say, I’m pretty cheap.
another wonderfully informative post! congrats to john and olivia. the ring is wonderful and i’ve always loved that style, too. i didn’t trust Mister w/my ring (esp. since i wanted a very specific type of sapphire and he would have no clue where to start) so we shopped around together. it sounds unromantic but it actually was a sweet and special time – esp. when we saw the ring and instantly knew it was “the one”. he loves my ring as much as i do, i think. haha
Julia, the Thanksgiving Girl says
I love this whole story – perfect example of a very happy end, where the three of you end up being delighted 🙂 It’s most important that Olivia loved the ring, but it really doesn’t hurt when the jeweler is satisfied with the design as well! This is really a uniqie ring too – very sleek.
Make Do Style says
A great tale with the perfect ending!
And lol ref ‘throw up’ xx
Grit and Glamour says
I love hearing both sides of these kind of love stories! It’s so nice to read your insights, and know how deeply involved you get with your clients’ lives, in order to ensure the piece really is a perfect fit all the way around.
deja pseu says
Nice! I love the modernity of her redesign.
And I’m loving my redesigned ring more every day! I can’t believe how perfect for me it is!
The ring I got at the proposal was not what I wanted at the time, and would have appreciated a more open-minded discussion of what I actually liked as opposed to what was expected. That said, I wore it for 20 years at which point my DH gave me the ring I originally wanted, a bezel set emerald, and then we had my diamond reset into a bezel setting and now I am the luckiest of wives because I have two “engagement” rings I adore.
I love the way your design is part of a story. Stories are good.
Hence, why I will be asking you to design my upgrade!!! Less than 2 years to our 5 year anniversary. HOLLA! That is SO gorgeous Wendy! I just love bezel set pieces!
savvy gal says
W, it is gorgeous! I couldn’t pick a better ring for myself if I am getting married. : )
sharon rose says
Aaah, what a lovely ending to a gorgeous story, he did do so well initiating it and of course, the final design is just so perfect and stunning too, well done indeed! x
What a great story! And good to know that you are such a good keeper of secrets…
You’re lucky to be able to work with customers like that AND vice versa. (:
What a great story and happy ending. The design was absolutely stunning. Love it
As a proud member of the Wendy Brandes Ring Help Club for Men, I can attest with 100% certainty that her service works. September 25th to all the haters! (There are no actual haters. But I am getting married on the 25th.)
I still want to meet a guy who will propose with one of those giant candy rings!!
maya griggs says
You put so much into it! The ring is beautiful
Annie Spandex says
That is so sweet! I think this is really the way to go because, man, it is pretty much impossible for a guy to psychically guess what ring the girl dreams of and it’s a little unromantic for the girl to say, “Get me a ring like this,” (though practical!). This way leaves keeps the element of surprise and relieves the girl of having to act like she loves it when she really wants something else (a feeling I’m familiar with).
wow! that is gorgeous! giving me ideas for my ring!
Miss Janey says
AS the bride-to-be said, Great job, WendyB. Its gorgeous.
How wonderful that you get to be involved in making people happy this way. The ring design is beautiful, and you really made sure that everyone got what they wanted.
The story made me smile.
This post is fascinating! I actually love the initial setting. I guess I’m kind of traditional 🙂 I also like the second setting and I’m so thrilled that this woman felt comfortable telling you about what she prefers.
My husband designed my engagement/wedding ring (I wear one as both) and I think it’s PERFECT. I told him what I wanted and he got it made 🙂
Even if someone goes for a traditional setting, I’d rather handmake it in NYC if they can afford that, rather than use something that’s produced in the hundreds of thousands overseas.
i love this post. the ring you made is gorgeous. simply stunning. i love it so:)
Also, Dave did not surprise me with a proposal. In fact I was with him the entire step of the ring purchasing process. I hate surprises and he wanted to make sure that if he was spending good money on something I would wear forever that I liked it. I am glad that I was apart of the process-it adds to the fun memories. I am also happy that I knew when he was going to do the proposal. That way I wasn’t wondering when it was going to happen-like I said, I really don’t do well with surprises. 🙂
i wish wish wish that i could go to the conference on sept. 9th so i could meet you. i am so sad that i can’t get out of a huge important meeting on that day:(
I used to shop for jewelry with MrB and it was absolutely memorable and more fun than surprises!
That ring is BEAUTIFUL!!! I can’t wait to see the one you’re working on now.
And best believe…I will be checking in with you first. =D
You better, girl!
I thought for sure this was going to be a Grease-related post. A couple named John and Olivia! That’s wonderful. I could never be friends with a couple named John and Olivia because I would annoy the shit out of them with constant Grease references. Not that I don’t do that to everyone else I know anyway.
Nickie Frye says
Wow, that ring is gorgeous. And how nerve wracking, the whole idea of trying to come up with a design for someone who’s dropped no hints. Phew! I like what you all came up with in the end.
I love that the temporary setting went swimming and drank coffee! …Although I have to say this kind of personification makes me feel bad it was so short lived! ; )
Topaz Horizon says
True, true about just letting the girl just pick it out. Surprises when it comes to a lifetime event is not very wise haha. Well, as you know, I did pick out a sapphire ring for my engagement ring but Vince didn’t want that for me! Grrr.
This is so interesting! I mean that, respectfully. Olivia worked with Eva Zeisel? Wow! John’s an amazing photographer. I know you are thrilled to have him in your corner. And the ring is memorable, WendyB.