We traded surprise for personal perfection. It is the path we often recommend to friends.

Before unearthing the diamond, we spent four months trudging up and down Jewelers Row perched atop glass cases littered with tiny open-flapped envelopes. A dizzying display of stones awash in perfect gem-shop lighting presented for our approval and scrutiny. The differences between them so slight we needed to keep the identifying tags under each contender to maintain order. Between shopping trips, I earnestly researched the terrifyingly intricate diamond-grading criteria of color, clarity and size but also the lesser known but equally daunting factors of florescence and cut. I found myself nodding in agreement that the “superior cut” stone was far better than the “excellent cut” despite needing a microscope to tell the difference.   Each salesman did his best to convince us that a single step up the quality scale was worth a rent check.

Our experience was, at times, unpleasant and impersonal. On one outing, my fiancé and I were ushered into the brightly lit store and greeted by a smartly dressed hostess. She instructed us to wait behind a velvet rope until a “jewelry consultant” was available while I silently questioned the necessity of a jewelry store waiting room. Moments later, our name was called and we were seated on stools so close together our knees touched. Beside our close quarters sat another couple deeply engaged in negotiations concerning diamonds the size and shape of dice. Our consultant peppered us with bottled water and snacks before the inevitable hard sell. I was asked to divulge my budget immediately. Fearing the loss of negotiation capital I refused, which failed to rattle our host. Instead, we were shown the Big Board of Stones that showcased shiny diamonds of varying sizes on black velvet-covered plywood.  The consultant made eye-contact with my soon-to-be wife and slyly remarked, “He looks like he can afford the best we have and wants to make you happy.” I didn’t even have to say anything; my fiancé was walking out the door leaving her unopened bottle on the counter.

Another morning had us feebly attempting to garner the attention of a salesman. We were packed behind the maze of waist-high displays, three bodies deep, in a scene more reminiscent of a crowded happy hour bar than a jewelry store. As more people flooded in behind us, I observed a flustered man shopping alone point to a ring. Perhaps the frenzy of the crowd forced his decision but he barely glanced at what he picked before it was whisked away for wrapping. After a few minutes, the nosiness of “Club Engagement Rings” was behind us and replaced by sounds of jack-hammering on the street.

Months passed, and we explored the smaller stores on Chestnut Street. Eager proprietors leaped from back rooms to show us something special. One gentleman used adjectives to describe diamonds I had never considered—earthy, bitter or balanced. Another was insulted when I asked whether his price was negotiable. Our strangest encounter was in a deathly silent store. The owner refused to open the case to show us the stone that piqued our interest. He muttered that policy would not allow such a practice. Weeks later, his empty showroom made perfect sense; as did the prominent out of business sign in the window.

The diamond we chose was sitting at the bottom of an envelope, sandwiched between hundreds of others, in a repurposed card catalog shelf. We had meandered back to a larger store in October on a whim on a quiet weekday evening just before closing. The crowds were gone and the ambiance was quiet enough to hear the elevator music playing in the background. The pear-shaped beauty was overlooked for three years as trendier shapes dominated more discerning brides’ taste. The price suggested that the stone had overstayed it’s welcome. I balanced the naked stone on my soon-to-be wife’s finger. She decided we didn’t need to look anymore and I returned the next day to finalize whether it would take two or three months of salary to close the deal.

We were sailing away at sunset adrift the Atlantic Ocean when I retrieved the delicately adorned wooden box. The setting was a surprise but our dripping-with-light diamond was a familiar face. I hoped the boat would remain steady as I took a knee. She choked out a “yes” as tears streamed down her face and mine. Our search, for a partner and for a diamond, faded away with the shoreline.