A jeweler who makes custom engagement rings took me behind the scenes in a diamond workshop - and it totally changed my opinion of people who spend 6 figures on rings

nicole wegman ring conciergeKatie Warren/Business InsiderNicole Wegman in her office near Manhattan's Diamond District.Katie Warren/Business Insider

  • Ring Concierge is an NYC-based luxury jewelry company founded by Nicole Wegman that sells customized engagement rings and other jewelry.
  • Engagement rings start at $10,000 and go well into the six figures.
  • I visited Ring Concierge's office to get a consultation and see inside one of their Manhattan bench jewelers that assembles the rings.
  • Afterward, I have to say that I understand why people pay six figures for the personalized, curated experience of buying one of Wegman's engagement rings.

 

On a recent afternoon leading up to Valentine's Day, I took a trip uptown to Ring Concierge, a jewelry company in New York City that sells customized engagement rings ranging from $10,000 to well into the six figures.

Millennials have somewhat different jewelry-buying habits than past generations, as Business Insider's Aine Cain previously reported. Kay, Zales, and Jared all reported weak holiday sales. But with its popular Instagram account and jewels designed by young women, Ring Concierge seemed to me like a fresh alternative that would appeal to my demographic, so I decided to check it out.

I spent about two hours with Ring Concierge, trying on diamond rings, learning the ins and outs of the "four C's," and getting a peek into the workshop of one of their jewelers. 

It was an eye-opening experience that gave me a newfound appreciation for diamonds, which didn't particularly interest me before. I totally get why people will pay well into the six figures for a Ring Concierge engagement ring, even though the average American spends $6,324.

Here's what it was like.

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Founded by Nicole Wegman, Ring Concierge is a NYC-based company that designs and sells customized engagement rings and other jewelry.

Founded by Nicole Wegman, Ring Concierge is a NYC-based company that designs and sells customized engagement rings and other jewelry.

Source: Ring Concierge

Ring Concierge is not far from Manhattan's "Diamond District," a bustling block on West 47th Street lined with jewelry stores. Wegman says Ring Concierge sets itself apart from the chaotic Diamond District by offering a personalized, curated experience for people shopping for engagement rings.

Ring Concierge is not far from Manhattan's "Diamond District," a bustling block on West 47th Street lined with jewelry stores. Wegman says Ring Concierge sets itself apart from the chaotic Diamond District by offering a personalized, curated experience for people shopping for engagement rings.

Source: The Diamond District BID

"We're a private jeweler," she told me. "We're luxury. ... it's a one-on-one, we pull in an assortment that is curated just for that client, and each setting is custom-made for the diamond they pick."

Ring Concierge's Instagram account has more than 187,000 followers, and Wegman says it's one of the main ways clients discover her business.

On a recent afternoon, I took the train to Midtown Manhattan to visit Ring Concierge's new office and get a mock engagement ring consultation to see what it's like for their real clients. The office was tucked away behind a plain, gray door ...

On a recent afternoon, I took the train to Midtown Manhattan to visit Ring Concierge's new office and get a mock engagement ring consultation to see what it's like for their real clients. The office was tucked away behind a plain, gray door ...

... but stepping inside felt like stepping into a minimalist, pastel-toned oasis.

... but stepping inside felt like stepping into a minimalist, pastel-toned oasis.

The space was full of mirrors and glamorous gold accents ...

The space was full of mirrors and glamorous gold accents ...

... as well as thoughtful touches such as fresh flowers ...

... as well as thoughtful touches such as fresh flowers ...

... and macarons.

... and macarons.

Glass-doored display cases displayed some of Ring Concierge's non-engagement ring jewels. The space was minimalist and serene — definitely the kind of atmosphere I think someone would want for picking out an engagement ring.

Glass-doored display cases displayed some of Ring Concierge's non-engagement ring jewels. The space was minimalist and serene — definitely the kind of atmosphere I think someone would want for picking out an engagement ring.

In addition to customized engagement rings, Ring Concierge sells earrings, bracelets, necklaces, anklets, charms, and other jewelry that starts at $100.

In addition to customized engagement rings, Ring Concierge sells earrings, bracelets, necklaces, anklets, charms, and other jewelry that starts at $100.

Source: Ring Concierge

Their most popular range for non-engagement jewelry is between $500 and $1,000.

Their most popular range for non-engagement jewelry is between $500 and $1,000.

In addition to Wegman, the founder of Ring Concierge, I met Taylor Lanore, a diamond consultant and the PR director for the company.

In addition to Wegman, the founder of Ring Concierge, I met Taylor Lanore, a diamond consultant and the PR director for the company.

We stepped into Wegman's office for my mock consultation.

We stepped into Wegman's office for my mock consultation.

She set out an array of rings for me to look at and try on, ranging from $12,000 to $80,000. Wegman told me Ring Concierge's average engagement ring price was about $30,000 in 2018.

She set out an array of rings for me to look at and try on, ranging from $12,000 to $80,000. Wegman told me Ring Concierge's average engagement ring price was about $30,000 in 2018.

But some fall on the much higher end of the spectrum. These three rings each cost between $150,000 and $200,000. The left stone and center stones are 5 carats and the right is a 7 carat. I don't think I'd ever seen diamonds of this size up close before. "These are three shapes that are really commonly asked for because they're all elongated," Wegman said.

But some fall on the much higher end of the spectrum. These three rings each cost between $150,000 and $200,000. The left stone and center stones are 5 carats and the right is a 7 carat. I don't think I'd ever seen diamonds of this size up close before. "These are three shapes that are really commonly asked for because they're all elongated," Wegman said.

Wegman showed me the grading scale of the the Gemology institute of America, or GIA, a third party organization that grades diamonds based on the famous "four C's:" color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. "Depending on what shape you're looking at, different things become a priority," she said.

Wegman showed me the grading scale of the the Gemology institute of America, or GIA, a third party organization that grades diamonds based on the famous "four C's:" color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. "Depending on what shape you're looking at, different things become a priority," she said.

"For example, in emerald cuts, they're really glassy and geometric and you can see right through them, so you'd want to stay higher on the clarity grade," Wegman said. Clarity is the measure of any inclusions in the diamond.

"Inclusions are little imperfections," Wegman told me. "Basically, any diamond that's not flawless or internally flawless, will have little, tiny inclusions that were formed during the creation of the diamond. It could be like there's a speck of nitrogen that got in there." Most inclusions aren't visible to the naked eye, so Wegman had me look at a 5 carat diamond through a magnifier.

"Inclusions are little imperfections," Wegman told me. "Basically, any diamond that's not flawless or internally flawless, will have little, tiny inclusions that were formed during the creation of the diamond. It could be like there's a speck of nitrogen that got in there." Most inclusions aren't visible to the naked eye, so Wegman had me look at a 5 carat diamond through a magnifier.

I spotted a few tiny bubbles, but I couldn't believe that these tiny, invisible imperfections made this diamond less valuable. "It's almost good that they're there because if they weren't, now we're talking about a $300,000 diamond," Wegman said.

I spotted a few tiny bubbles, but I couldn't believe that these tiny, invisible imperfections made this diamond less valuable. "It's almost good that they're there because if they weren't, now we're talking about a $300,000 diamond," Wegman said.

Wegman used a pair of tweezers to place the 5 carat diamond into an empty setting on my hand. Lanore told me they set loose stones in settings like this to give the idea of a completed ring look. Once a client decides on a look, they go back to hand-select accent stones to match the main diamond. The setting is then handmade.

Wegman used a pair of tweezers to place the 5 carat diamond into an empty setting on my hand. Lanore told me they set loose stones in settings like this to give the idea of a completed ring look. Once a client decides on a look, they go back to hand-select accent stones to match the main diamond. The setting is then handmade.

One of the GIA's four C's is color, which measures whether there is any "warmth" or yellowness in the diamond. Ring Concierge only deals with colorless and near colorless diamonds. Most clients don't want to pay the premium for colorless, so they go down a couple levels to near colorless, Wegman said, "which to the untrained eye, is going to look colorless, but they're going to save so much money we can reallocate towards carat weight."

One of the GIA's four C's is color, which measures whether there is any "warmth" or yellowness in the diamond. Ring Concierge only deals with colorless and near colorless diamonds. Most clients don't want to pay the premium for colorless, so they go down a couple levels to near colorless, Wegman said, "which to the untrained eye, is going to look colorless, but they're going to save so much money we can reallocate towards carat weight."

Many clients come in asking for a colorless, flawless diamond, Wegman said. But the Ring Concierge team tries to "hone in on the different characteristics that should be focused on, because what we really like to do is get them the most bang for their buck."

Many clients come in asking for a colorless, flawless diamond, Wegman said. But the Ring Concierge team tries to "hone in on the different characteristics that should be focused on, because what we really like to do is get them the most bang for their buck."

"If we can go lower in some of these grades that you can't see and focus on the ones you can see — like carat weight, which is what most women care about — we like to play with that," Wegman said. This 2.5 carat diamond is a J on the GIA scale, which falls under "near colorless," but I personally couldn't see any warmth or yellowness in it.

"If we can go lower in some of these grades that you can't see and focus on the ones you can see — like carat weight, which is what most women care about — we like to play with that," Wegman said. This 2.5 carat diamond is a J on the GIA scale, which falls under "near colorless," but I personally couldn't see any warmth or yellowness in it.

Beyond the diamond itself, clients have to consider the setting, which includes the band, prongs, and any additional rows of diamonds, as can be seen on these two rings. Each setting is custom-made for the diamond the client picks.

Beyond the diamond itself, clients have to consider the setting, which includes the band, prongs, and any additional rows of diamonds, as can be seen on these two rings. Each setting is custom-made for the diamond the client picks.

One of Ring Concierge's signature ring settings is the Whisper Thin, which Wegman said was their most popular setting in 2018. This 3 carat ring costs $38,000.

One of Ring Concierge's signature ring settings is the Whisper Thin, which Wegman said was their most popular setting in 2018. This 3 carat ring costs $38,000.

The ultra-thin band and prongs "make it look like the diamond is floating on your hand," Wegman said. This particular ring only fit on my pinky finger, but I liked how the minimalist design looked on my hand. Despite its delicate appearance, Wegman said it's "surprisingly sturdy."

The ultra-thin band and prongs "make it look like the diamond is floating on your hand," Wegman said. This particular ring only fit on my pinky finger, but I liked how the minimalist design looked on my hand. Despite its delicate appearance, Wegman said it's "surprisingly sturdy."

During a typical consultation, Wegman and the team at Ring Concierge are trying to narrow down the client's preferences. "And it does take some time, because we really do only pull beautiful diamonds and then it's hard to pick because you're like, 'They're all so pretty,'" Wegman said.

During a typical consultation, Wegman and the team at Ring Concierge are trying to narrow down the client's preferences. "And it does take some time, because we really do only pull beautiful diamonds and then it's hard to pick because you're like, 'They're all so pretty,'" Wegman said.

I could definitely see how it would be difficult to choose. Wegman says if a client has always loved a certain diamond shape but is considering taking a chance on a different shape, she usually steers them back toward their initial preference. "You want to be consistent about your preferences," she said.

I could definitely see how it would be difficult to choose. Wegman says if a client has always loved a certain diamond shape but is considering taking a chance on a different shape, she usually steers them back toward their initial preference. "You want to be consistent about your preferences," she said.

"We want to make sure it's something you've always loved and something you're always going to love," she added. One of the most requested diamond shapes at Ring Concierge is oval.

Unsurprisingly, even more than cut, color, or clarity, Ring Concierge clients tend to be most concerned with carat weight. "We're in New York City," Wegman said. It is what it is."

Unsurprisingly, even more than cut, color, or clarity, Ring Concierge clients tend to be most concerned with carat weight. "We're in New York City," Wegman said. It is what it is."

After my mock consultation, we headed outside to visit the workshop of one of Ring Concierge's jewelers, just a two-minute walk away.

After my mock consultation, we headed outside to visit the workshop of one of Ring Concierge's jewelers, just a two-minute walk away.

I was struck by how small and ordinary-looking the workshop was. In this room, five jewelers were working on jewelry, each with a different specialty.

I was struck by how small and ordinary-looking the workshop was. In this room, five jewelers were working on jewelry, each with a different specialty.

The jewelers were often looking through microscopes for the delicate work.

The jewelers were often looking through microscopes for the delicate work.

Armen Tashchyan is a diamond setter, which means he has the crucial job of setting the diamonds onto a piece of jewelry and securing them in place with tiny prongs.

Armen Tashchyan is a diamond setter, which means he has the crucial job of setting the diamonds onto a piece of jewelry and securing them in place with tiny prongs.

Diamond setting comes near the end of the engagement ring making process, just before polishing and any possible engraving. Tashchyan let me watch over his shoulder while he worked, and I couldn't help but think that I definitely would not have steady enough hands or the patience for this type of meticulous work.

Diamond setting comes near the end of the engagement ring making process, just before polishing and any possible engraving. Tashchyan let me watch over his shoulder while he worked, and I couldn't help but think that I definitely would not have steady enough hands or the patience for this type of meticulous work.

Greg Baharyan, the master jeweler, showed me the CAD software they use to design the rings. Ring Concierge works closely with their master jewelers on each design. As the jewelers have already mastered Ring Concierge's signature settings, Wegman and her team usually communicate the design verbally in addition to using photos and specific millimeter measurements.

Greg Baharyan, the master jeweler, showed me the CAD software they use to design the rings. Ring Concierge works closely with their master jewelers on each design. As the jewelers have already mastered Ring Concierge's signature settings, Wegman and her team usually communicate the design verbally in addition to using photos and specific millimeter measurements.

"We are all involved in every step of the production process to ensure the design and outcome is exactly as we want," Lanore told me. "We typically only use CADs if it's a completely new design where it's beneficial to have a visual of the piece before it enters production."

"We are all involved in every step of the production process to ensure the design and outcome is exactly as we want," Lanore told me. "We typically only use CADs if it's a completely new design where it's beneficial to have a visual of the piece before it enters production."

The making of a Ring Concierge engagement ring has seven steps.

The making of a Ring Concierge engagement ring has seven steps.

The seven steps of crafting a Ring Concierge engagement ring:

1. Design
2. CAD or hand carving
3. Printing the wax mold
4. Casting (changing the mold to medal)
5. Jeweler
6. Diamond setting
7. Polishing and finishing. If applicable, the final step is any engraving.

Before we left, Baharyan let me hold this gigantic jewel: An 80 carat vivid yellow diamond worth about $10 million. This one was not for Ring Concierge, but I had to get a picture of it anyway. It was definitely the first time I had $10 million held in one hand — and probably the last.

Before we left, Baharyan let me hold this gigantic jewel: An 80 carat vivid yellow diamond worth about $10 million. This one was not for Ring Concierge, but I had to get a picture of it anyway. It was definitely the first time I had $10 million held in one hand — and probably the last.

After visiting the workshop, we took a stroll down the stretch of 47th Street known as the Diamond District, which claims to be "the world's largest shopping district for all sizes and shapes of diamonds and fine jewelry."

After visiting the workshop, we took a stroll down the stretch of 47th Street known as the Diamond District, which claims to be "the world's largest shopping district for all sizes and shapes of diamonds and fine jewelry."

Source: Diamond District BID

The east coast location of the GIA (Gemology Institute of America), which only has two locations in the US, is on this block. The other is in Carlsbad, California.

The east coast location of the GIA (Gemology Institute of America), which only has two locations in the US, is on this block. The other is in Carlsbad, California.

Source: GIA

Jewelry stores were everywhere I looked.

Jewelry stores were everywhere I looked.

The bustling Diamond District made a stark contrast to Ring Concierge's serene, private office. They would be two very different environments for picking out a ring, and I have to say, I would definitely prefer a private, curated consultation over hunting for a ring in what looks like a shopping mall.

The bustling Diamond District made a stark contrast to Ring Concierge's serene, private office. They would be two very different environments for picking out a ring, and I have to say, I would definitely prefer a private, curated consultation over hunting for a ring in what looks like a shopping mall.

Before my visit to Ring Concierge, I wasn't too interested in diamonds. I thought engagement rings were sort of old-fashioned and boring. But seeing some modern designs — designed by young women — and getting a peek into how they're made changed my perspective.

Before my visit to Ring Concierge, I wasn't too interested in diamonds. I thought engagement rings were sort of old-fashioned and boring. But seeing some modern designs — designed by young women — and getting a peek into how they're made changed my perspective.

I left my tour with a newfound appreciation for our culture's most precious gemstones, and understanding, for the first time, why New Yorkers are shelling out six figures for rings.

I left my tour with a newfound appreciation for our culture's most precious gemstones, and understanding, for the first time, why New Yorkers are shelling out six figures for rings.
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