How to buy a diamond
Keys couples collaborate before the question’s popped

Photos by Josie Koler

You’re about to propose. But how do you go about buying a diamond – one of the four largest purchases a man will ever make besides his home, vehicle and in the Florida Keys, a boat?

Bling can solidify status and send your sweetie swooning. If you dive into the purchase with the same knowledge as you would a boat engine, you’ll be taking the plunge into marriage instead of renewing your subscription to

Key West Lovebirds 
“I like a cushion cut ring. It’s kind of like a princess, but it has rounded corners.”

Key West’s Kathleen Crawford has been dating her man for five years. She’s ready for him to pop the question. Only she doesn’t want to be surprised – then stuck – sporting a ring she doesn’t like.

“I like the idea of him wanting to be involved and creative, but I had my heart set on something else.”

What’s to be “wowed” about if you already know what is in the box is the way her soon-to-be-fiancé Daniel West explained his thought process to The Key West Weekly. He believes if his soon-to-be-bride sees the bling in advance, the element of romance is gone.

“It’s like when you have a baby. If you already know it’s a boy or a girl, there isn’t a surprise when it’s born. I’m one of those people who like the anticipation of not knowing. I think if a girl wants to know the specifics of the ring down to the dot, once you get it, you know it’s coming.”

Up on Big Pine
“The proposal was really exciting! I went home for the holidays, and he met me at the airport and did it right at the baggage claim! He met me there and started being all sweet and got all nervous and weird. The next thing I knew, he got down on his knees and said a bunch of sweet stuff. His friend was hiding in the airport catching everything on camera. There was a limo waiting and signs that read ‘Mister and Missus Perkins.’ We had champagne and then watched a five minute video of us making out at the airport!”

Radio station 104.1’s production manager Erika Bowman has the voice everyone recognizes if they spend any time cruising US 1. She voices the commercials for the popular radio station and wasn’t shy about voicing to her guy what she wanted in a ring. 

“I told him I like princess cut diamonds. I didn’t want it to look like everyone else’s ring. He got the princess cut and the compass setting. See the diamond is turned and has little diamonds going around. We had talked about the ring and becoming engaged, but he picked it out all by himself!”

The lucky guy? Andy Perkins, a graphic designer packing his bags in Lovi, Mich. about 20 minutes outside of Detroit so he can join his fiancé and start their new chapter together. Perkins doesn’t play down the purchase.

“Outside of my car, this was the biggest purchase I’ve ever made. I thought about it for a while. I wanted the ring to be a surprise; so, I didn’t go shopping with Erika and have her pick it out. I thought that cheapens the whole thing. Over the course of a year, if we were walking by, we’d stop and I’d ask her what she liked, what kind of style. I knew she wanted an art deco ring like the one of her grandmother’s she wore.”

Andy’s roommate also played a part. He worked at a jewelry store and was able to guide Andy through the nerve-wracking purchase.

“As far as the diamond was concerned, he told me the differences between them. High quality diamonds are certified. Less than two percent of the world’s diamonds are certified. I wanted the diamond to be really, really sparkly.

You can get a bigger diamond for less money. I bought the diamond months in advance then bought the setting and customized it. I wanted it to be unique and something you wouldn’t see on the cover of a catalogue. Those were all factors. She did say yes! And she seems to really love the ring!”

Down on Duval
The jewelry stores glimmer in the sub tropic sunshine. Nikky Gasche flows around the counters at Pacific Jewelry as gracefully as she did onstage for the production of The Nutcracker. She’s been there since 1996 and has seen and sold it all.

She’s proud to say right now, four or five fiancés of Key West Police Department officers are wearing Pacific Jewelry diamonds. She says no matter what profession you have, when you start shopping, start by knowing your budget.

“When they come in and see what we have in the window, a fabulous 2-carat 90 VS2 – it’s easily a $50,000 ring – I can take that same idea and either switch the setting or switch out the center stone to work with their budget. As soon as they walk in, my question is, ‘How much do you want to spend? Tell me where you want to be.’ I will show you a variety of options.”

The average dollars being spent today on an engagement ring are between $5,000 and $7,500. That said, Nikky can easily work with a $200 budget.

“I have that. Absolutely. We have the sweetest Tiffany-settings and they have 15-point diamond.”

While Andy Perkin’s ploy to surprise his babe worked, Nikky says she does advise involving the other half.

“I don’t know about romantic, but it’s not romantic when you pull out a diamond she doesn’t like either. So, I would definitely let her have input. Shop around with her. Let her go in and show you ideas she likes. If she is the kind of girl who is going to leave it up to you, then that’s great. She may be the kind of the girl who knows exactly what she wants. We’ve been here since 1996, and we’ve seen them all. Nowadays, they want to have input on their ring. If it’s the guy who absolutely wants to surprise her no matter what, then we recommend getting the center stone in your budget. Then we’ll put it in a Tiffany setting – a timeless band. Then, you have the rock to propose.”

After your budget is established, Gasche makes a point to educate gents on color, cut and clarity. DEF means a diamond is completely colorless and will shine brilliantly.

Make-up, lotion and sunscreen will all affect a diamond’s appearance according to Gasche. If a man buys a stone, which is already dull, the diamond will not shine as brightly. Clarity indicates flaws. Many people want to be able to say they purchased a diamond without flaws. Cuts have expanded in the past few years with designers adding their own touch.

“People are coming up with a cut and putting their name on it, and marketing it as the ‘most brilliant cut’,” supplies Gasche. “We don’t get into that. We stick to the classic cuts – round, marquis, pear and princess.”

She explains a “certified” diamond, as Perkins picked out, has been sent to a gemology lab where 10 gemologists have graded the diamond. They they all concur their opinion of the stone.

“If it’s not,” she explains, “the owner of the company or the gemologist within the company says what the diamond is. This is another piece of paper that guarantees what the store is already saying. The other nice thing is, nowadays, they’ve taken it a step farther and use a laser to inscribe the number of the certification on the stone. This way if the stone is lost or there’s an attempt to sell a stolen ring, EGL (European Gemological Laboratory) can be called. It’s a great feature. A uncertified diamond won’t have that extra security.”

The hot trends right now are fancy yellows and colored gems surrounded by diamonds. Round and princess cut diamonds have held their own over time.

Co-manager Ashley Griffith notes lovebirds are always curious about what’s trending and what’s out there. There has always been an emphasis on Diana, Princess of Wales’ ring, a sapphire surrounded by diamonds.

“Now more so with the engagement of Prince William to Kate (Middleton). The style has been hot since Princess Di wore the ring. An engagement ring represents someone making a commitment for marriage and can cost $1,500 for the young couple who is struggling. Young professionals will spend up to $10,000. Just make sure you’re getting a fair price, a qualifying stone and you’re happy with the person you’re dealing with,” reiterates Griffith. “We can design and build the settings, cut our own stones, we can switch things around. If the couple has an idea, we can put something together!”

Key West Lovebirds
Daniel had a change of heart and showed Kathleen the 1.3-carat diamond he had picked out for her before proposing during the holidays.

“I could tell she hated it,” he says with affirmation. “I changed my mind and said let’s pick out what you want. It’s yours, and you’re the one who’s going to have to wear it.”

Just ready for the nuptials, Kathleen swears she didn’t hate the ring, but if she has to wear the gem for the rest of her years, she wants one she loves as much as Daniel.

“I just want to be engaged. I want to be married actually,” Kathleen shares. “There is a lot of research involved to find the perfect one. We’re still trying to find the right ring for me!”
Some say, if you’re going to marry a girl, you should know her well enough to pick out the perfect ring or bring her in to let her choose. Kathleen and Daniel live, work and own property in Key West. They’ve asked for their names to be changed since they are considering such an expensive purchase.

Now that Andy and Erika have their ring, they’re now debating where to tie the knot –  Florida Keys or Michigan!



Erika’s fiancé spent months asking for hints as to what kind of ring she’d love, choosing the diamond and designing a setting. 




Pacific Jewelry’s Nikki Gasche, Ashley Griffith, Issac Edens and Keith Miller brace for the most romantic holiday of the year and say whether you’re buying a diamond or another gem this Valentine’s Day, make sure you set a budget and know what will light up your lady’s life.





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