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You Should Know: Milton Doolittle

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The owner of Benold’s gives tips for a meaningful purchase.

By Allie Eissler, Photo by Sadie Barton

The purchase of an engagement ring is typically a man’s first venture in to that scary realm known as fine jewelry. Aside from the anxiety of whether she’ll say yes, it’s spending a whole lot of money on something he knows very little, if anything, about. (A word to the wise: In this context, a “solitaire” does not involve cards, and “halo” has no affiliation with Xbox 360.) Fortunately, there’s hope. Texas native and owner of Benold’s Jewelers, Milton Doolittle has more than 40 years of experience in the industry, and worked for Cartier and the Sakowitz Room of Real Jewels in New York. Doolittle sheds some light on current trends in rings, how to locate a reputable jeweler and picking out a band she’ll love, even on a modest budget.

Any tips for quelling the ring-buying nerves?

It is very intimidating. I just read a very interesting article about men and the psychology of shopping, and they listed the two types of stores men most hate to walk into. The first was a lingerie shop and the second was a jewelry store. But education is the key to alleviating intimidation. The more you know about what you’re about to buy, the more confident you’ll be.

Should men shop for an engagement ring solo or involve their bride-to-be?

A lot of couples shop together initially these days, and most ring purchases occur after the couple has at least had a conversation about getting married. That’s step No. 1. But most important is for the man to have a conversation with his fiancée about what she likes and doesn’t like, maybe go to the fiancée’s mother if that is possible.

How might he preserve that element of surprise?

Sometimes we recommend that the young lady pick out three styles that she really likes and then step out of the equation. She’s edited down what she likes, so it’s much easier for him not to make a mistake. He can further heighten the surprise by perhaps springing the ring on her at a time when she doesn’t expect it.

What are some popular styles of rings?

The most basic is a solitaire, a diamond mounted in a very thin ring. It’s classic, timeless and probably a win-win choice. Very popular right now is any ring with a halo around it: a row of stones that encircles the center stone and mirrors its shape. A halo does a couple of things. It can take a smaller stone and give it the appearance at first glance of being much larger than it actually is, and it’s also a great definer of shape. It can make an unusually shaped stone really stand out, for example. Also trending are rings with intricate wirework that is indicative of vintage styling. They harken back to a time when most rings were made by hand.

What are your thoughts on current trends in rings?

Let’s say someone is in her early 20s and she buys a ring that she’s seen in all the magazines, but that ring has some characteristics that, in four or five years, are going to go away. For something that you put on your body and wear daily for the rest of your life, sometimes trendy is the wrong decision. Classic, traditional design, whether it’s in clothing, furniture or jewelry, is called classic because it spans generations. It doesn’t have to be boring or vanilla and, normally, it isn’t. It’s just proven design that will be aesthetically pleasing to the wearer over decades of wear. We don’t want a situation where 10 years from now, a woman goes to her husband and says, oh, my engagement ring is so 2012. I want a 2020 ring now!

Any tips for those with a modest budget?

What drives the price up most of the time is the size and quality of your center diamond. So if someone has a modest budget, he should first look at center stones that aren’t quite so big. There are plenty of beautifully designed rings for under $2,000 with smaller, high-quality centers that are guaranteed to make his fiancée delighted. Some financing may also be in order, as it can make an initially off-putting purchase much more workable.

How do you find a reputable diamond dealer?

There’s a difference between a jeweler and a diamond dealer. The latter is what you’d find running ads in the classifieds for cheap diamonds. You want a full-service jeweler who is going to stand behind what he sells you. If a few years down the road, you need your ring sized or maintenance—say, perhaps, the stone has been knocked out—that jeweler is going to welcome you with open arms.

picks for every personality

Katherine James Collection $15,150, Calvin’s Jewlery 3818 Far West Blvd., #102, 866.794.1911

1920s Art-deco Replica $34,785, C. Kirk Root Designs 10000 Research Blvd., suite 126, 512.402.7738

Verragio Parisian Collection $2,600, plus cost of center stone, Benold’s Jewelers, 2900 West Anderson Lane, 512.452.6491

Heart shaped diamond ring $18,138, Cedar Park Jewelry 601 E. Whitestone Blvd., #113, Cedar Park, 512.259.9430

Artful custom ring $3,350, Clarksville 4001 N. Lamar Blvd., #550, 512.454.9079

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