“Generally, there will be a bigger budget for the anniversary,” says the Antwerp sightholder Shmuel Pluczenik. “So it can be a question of price points. But it’s also about the message, and in the U.S. the majority does not start with a three-stone. So the challenge for us is to find other urges for the ring, other fascinations.”
With the introduction of “Journey” as an alternative anniversary product, as well as a recent revival of the eternity band (itself originally an anniversary product) the trade has looked to design for those urges. With that shift, the importance of the side stones and their relationship to the centers has become huge. In a nutshell, “The three-stone ring has evolved into the three-stone plus sides,” says Elliot Tannenbaum of sightholder Leo Schachter, New York. Whether accentuating the cut or size of sides, adorning designs with melee or other small stones, or varying the angles and depths of sides as they frame the center, “it has breathed new life into the category,” he says. “I’d say it even reinvented it. The three-stone had definitely hit a wall a few years ago.”
From the start, when customers brought in solitaires for retrofitting as three-stone rings, a mini-industry for loose dealers and cutters has grown around the category: well-matched sides. “But matching isn’t just millimeter and color grades,” says Abraham Fluk, chairman of Israel’s YEI, whose “Perfectly Matched” program earns top honors for diamond matching. “You can take two stones of identical sizes and colors and hold them in front of your eyes and nothing happens.” All Perfectly Matched stones, 10 to 50 points, are guaranteed at 58-60 percent tables, 59.5-61.5 depths, and crown angles of 33-34. “And it really kicks in when you’re buying the matching earrings or tennis bracelets.”
Well-matched sides are so effective, in fact, that designers and retailers alike have found a good pair can allow them to drop a grade or two in the main event—so long as cut is good—enabling price points otherwise unachievable. “At cost,” says Eric Mor of New York’s Abe Mor Diamonds, “it’s a 25 percent jump up to eye-clean for the center. So you can imagine the jump at retail. It’s the cut that’s most important. I’d say colors can be within two grades and the ring still works. A very big selling point for us, is that we give exact weights for each stone—the retailers find that particularly effective when they’re presenting. And as a bread-and-butter item, stock balancing and returns are no problems at all. I can always take it back, because I can always resell it.”
For a designer like Jill Zvaigzne of Ze Bridal, a guild division of Newport, Kentucky, jewelry manufacturer I.B. Goodman, the sides offer a solution to the three-stone’s most difficult challenge: “Individuation. There’s such a calling for three-stones, as a category, that to differentiate without losing the three-stone look and concept is very tricky.” She’s tackled it in a number of ways, always with price points in mind. I.B. Goodman is all about affordable luxury. Design details, from pavé to illusion settings outlining the three-stone, show diamonds with a bigger, fresher look.
One that catches my eye, with an east-west oval-shaped head and a big diamond look, began neither as a three-stone nor as a diamond ring. “It’s based on a pink tourmaline ring,” says Zvaigzne. “I liked the shape of the head, and when I saw it allowed room for sides, I realized it could become a three-stone diamond ring.” It’s at a low price for a high-style ring: $1,419, as a semi-mount. As with all Ze Bridal products, it has a matching wedding band as well.
“The semi-mounts have definitely grown sales over the past few years,” says Alex Reubel, of South Daytona, Florida’s Frank Reubel Designs. Known for colored gem designs, the firm first “wandered into diamonds with the three-stone,” says Reubel. The “Art of Romance” collection originally stocked roughly equal measures of semi-mount and finished, though one little design detail may have swayed the balance. “We call it the peek-a-boo diamond,” says Reubel, pointing to a small stone at the apex where the two cleaves of the head join the shaft of the ring. The 1 carat total weight, richly pavéd semi-mount he shows me wholesales for $3,075 in 14k white gold. “It was just a whim, but it became a signature.”