Lightbulb moments occur in all manner of places. For marketing manager Rowena Cumner it was on the DLR to Canary Wharf while clutching £50,000 worth of diamonds in a Sainsbury’s carrier bag.
En route to help a friend of a friend choose an engagement ring for his prospective bride, it struck her that there was no independent service offering unbiased advice for one of the largest and most daunting purchases of a man’s (or woman’s) life.
“Sure, you can go into a jeweller and they will give you a personal shopping VIP service, but they are only going to sell you what they are specialists in,” Rowena explains.
“They aren’t going to put an antique ring and a drawing of a handmade ring side by side, in a pub toilet, and tell you the pros and cons of each to save you money.” That is exactly the service Rowena is offering as Agent Engagement, an engagement and wedding ring consultancy that helps proposers find the right accessory to pop the big question.
Clients can contact Agent Engagement with a brief, however vague, and Rowena will talk them through the options, and connect them with her contact book of “the best of the best” big brands, antique buyers and designer makers.
All business is conducted through covert meetings – “boys love a bit of spy-esque action,” she says – though she seldom runs around with carrier bags of diamonds any longer, leaving the security systems to the specialists.
The process starts with a friendly social media stalk of the recipient to gauge style, likes and dislikes, followed by a discussion around preconceptions, budget, timeframe as well as practicalities like whether the ring will suit the recipient’s job and lifestyle.
Once there is a full brief Rowena suggests one of five categories to suit her client: luxury brands like Tiffany’s and DeBeers, online diamond specialists, make-your-own, antique dealers, and, the most popular, one-off pieces from designer makers such as Sophie Breitmeyer and Ruth Tomlinson.
“I’ve built partnerships with the best of the best in those five niches over several years, so once I’ve got a clear picture of what they’re after, it’s just a matter of connecting the client with the specialist.”
Once a sale goes through, Rowena nets a small percentage through the seller, so there is no additional cost to the client. She can also provide advice on logistics – getting a ring through airport security often requires forward planning and a very clear Post-It note – and connect clients with experts who handle extravagant proposals, wedding preparations and honeymoons.
Partnerships have always been Rowena’s game, having built a successful marketing career in design and creative industries. A former business venture helping men buy gifts for women sowed the seeds of Agent Engagement, but when friends began asking her for advice after she consulted for an online diamond specialist, she spotted a gap in the market.
“In the US, around 60% of couples choose the ring together after the proposal, but we like a bit of tradition in the UK so most people want to propose with the ring as a surprise,” she explains.
“Most men come to me incredibly daunted and overwhelmed by the options – it’s hard to know what offers value for money and, now that people are wisening up to the diamond industry, whether a diamond is ethically sourced.”
“There’s no set budget; often the briefs I’ve enjoyed the most are budgets at the lower end, if someone came to me who wanted to buy a ring for £100 I’d help them.”
Rowena estimates she has had a hand in around 50 successful proposals over the past few years, but admits the one ring she hasn’t gotten around to choosing is her own. “My partner Dan had a tough job,” she says of their mutual proposal in October last year.
“At first he became a double agent, pretending to be a new client only communicating with me by email. “I introduced him to my favourite jewellers and he visited their workshops on his lunch-breaks.
“Even the jewellers said it would be a bit risky buying a ring for ‘Agent E’ – so my antique expert Olly at The Antique Jewellery Company helped him find a pair of earrings instead.”