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Bling in the New Year

Bling in the New Year
Colored stones are a growing trend. (Le Vian pink diamond,$212,500)

There's no avoiding the Robbins Brothers commercials and mistletoe. 'Tis the season for romance.

Wedding-industry insiders have dubbed this time of year "proposal season" because November throughFebruary is the most popular time to pop the question. And as the merry propose to marry, jewelers and proposalplanning experts stand ready to deck the halls with diamonds.

"Certainly love is in the air," said Anja Winikka, site director of "Twice as many people are getting engaged during proposal season." A 2011 study by and found that 38% of proposals occur on or around Thanksgiving, New Year's, Christmas and Valentine's Day. Winikka attributes the uptick to the excitement of having friends and family in town, and also the flexibility of vacation time for those seeking a romantic getaway to remember. "Destination proposals are very popular and trendy now," she said. "It's not so much about doing it at home or the restaurant."

The proposal planner

A new specialty known as proposal planners have arrived on the scene to fill a largely untapped market: surprise engagement scheming. Want to ask, "Will you marry me?" while sky diving with a choir waiting below — surrounded by rose petals — to sing your first-date song? No problem, but it'll cost you. Also, you should probably book early: Holidays are prime time for proposal planners.

"It is a time for love and family, so I think it is natural that men feel that it is a good time to start their own family by proposing," said Michele Velazquez of proposal planning service The Heart Bandits. The company's services start at around $99 for supplying creative proposal ideas. Full-service proposal planning, which includes personalized proposal ideas, venue and vendor selection, and handling of all negotiations, contracts, permits and insurance, runs from $1,000 to $1,500, plus any charges by photographers, videographers, rentals and other extras.

For medical sales rep Darren Fernandez, 32, of Tampa, Fla., a wintertime proposal to girlfriend, Melissa Newman, 28, was the perfect fit. "My girlfriend and I live in Florida but love visiting New York City," he explained. "We went several years ago around Christmas and were enamored by the holiday spirit and decorations everywhere. For that reason, I thought it would be extra special to propose around the holiday season in NYC."

Needless to say, the proposal went off without a hitch and the look of shock and the smile on Newman's face, according to Fernandez, "made it all worth it." The couple plans to wed in November 2013.

To pull off something "extravagant and unique," he consulted with The Heart Bandits. For the recent Dec. 14 engagement, they planned a host of surprises including squiring his sweetie to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, where an a capella group greeted them singing Bruno Mars' "Marry You." Meanwhile, a hidden photographer was on hand to capture every moment. "It's been very hard to plan all this without my live-in girlfriend finding out much," Fernandez confessed.


If you thought proposing was a nerve-racking tall task, finding the perfect engagement ring is no easy feat either. There are so many variables: what cut, what kind of band, budget, color of stone, halo or no halo, to involve or not to involve the future fiancée. Many couples today do discuss preferences in detail, with many opting to pick out the ring together so there are no surprises.

Solitaire stunners are trending this holiday season, thanks to recently engaged celebrities flaunting huge baubles. "We are seeing a lot of go big or go home," said Winikka, alluding to actresses Angelina Jolie (her emerald-cut center stone is estimated to be between 6 and 10 carats), Blake Lively (a reportedly 10-carat light pink oval diamond) and Jennifer Aniston (another oval cut, weighing in at a suspected 12 to 18 carats). "They're wearing gargantuan diamonds and simple bands," Winikka said. Also growing in popularity are rose and yellow gold — the latter seen on Jolie and singer Miley Cyrus. Colored rocks — from black to ruby — are big, too.

"This holiday season, the diamond consumer is back," said Harvey Kanter, president and CEO of jeweler Blue Nile. Though of course, the $11 billion engagement and wedding ring industry isn't dominated by loaded A-listers: Here in the real world, the average cost of an engagement ring is about $5,200.

Bling leaders


Budget-conscious brides and grooms to-be are benefitting from partnerships between jewelers and wedding gown designers. Just in time for the sleigh bells this year, Blue Nile rolled out an exclusive Monique Lhuillier Fine Jewelry collection. The line, ranging in price from $1,800 to $5,000 features Lhuillier jewelry designs with halos, floral motifs and vintage-inspired rings with platinum bands.

"When it comes to prestige, youth and a compelling design vision that inspires today's brides, no other designer compares," Kanter said.

Another jewelry giant to hop on the wedding designer collaboration bandwagon is Zales, The Diamond Store. Last year, the jeweler teamed up with Vera Wang for the affordable Love collection that featured blue sapphires said to symbolize everlasting love. Engagement rings in the collection start at $2,000. "The holiday season is our highest-volume time of the year," said Michele Chapa, Zales' vice president of bridal merchandising. Love recently expanded its offering to include men's wedding bands.

Experts like Adeler Jewelers' designer and founder Jorge Adeler insist that the time to buy is now. Stores are stocked with diamonds and deals are pervasive. "Because there are many diamonds on hand and available from suppliers this time of year, supply creates competition and this helps keeps prices very competitive," Adeler said.

Allison Kornberg Walch, Brand Publishing Writer