With This Ring: John Atencio Rings

Real Weddings: Jill and Ryan Kronberg

Of the myriad elements that go into getting married, the engagement ring and wedding bands are the most visible sign and enduring statement about a couple’s relationship.

There are as many choices in wedding jewelry as there are types of people, making the selection process a highly individual decision. You can spend a little—or a fortune. Wear a family heirloom or the creation of a contemporary cutting-edge designer. Pick a clear, flawless diamond or a brightly colored gemstone.

With so many possibilities, where do you start? Someone who knows a thing or two about that question is John Atencio, who has been designing jewelry for four decades. Engagement and wedding rings are a big part of the business he does in his seven Colorado stores, online and in jewelry stores across the country.

In an interview at his Cherry Creek Shopping Center store, where his office is decorated with a number of his paintings, Atencio reflected on the many changes—as well as the constants—he has noticed in what couples want.

First, we had to know: Do guys still buy rings and spring surprise proposals?

“All the time,” Atencio says. But he notes that a woman doesn’t have to commit to the ring her fiancé initially chooses. “We have a grace period, so if she wants to come back and pick out another ring that is more to her taste, we can do that.”

The surprise factor aside, it’s a good idea for couples to shop together to pick out their engagement rings and bands, doing research online on precious stones and metals. Talk about what styles you like and what you plan to spend, Atencio says. And if you’re going to wear a wedding band in addition to the engagement ring, shop for the pieces at the same time so they will complement each other. Visit a number of stores.

Purchasing gold and diamond jewelry is an investment, so it’s important to have a budget and share it with the sales associates you’re working with. According to statistics compiled by The Knot, the engagement ring is second only to the reception venue in wedding expenses. Its 2016 survey found that the engagement ring averaged $6,163, up from $5,871 in 2015.

People might think rings by designers such as Atencio are out of their price range, but the company has a line, Luminaire, that tops out at $2,500. “I am sensitive to price, because many couples are young and just starting out,” Atencio says.

Of course, the sky’s the limit when it comes to price as well. A number of Atencio’s designs are created so that the setting is sold separately from the diamond, making the ring’s final price determined by the cost of the gemstones that are used to complete it.

Wherever you purchase your diamond, make sure it has a grading report from a respected laboratory such as the Gemological Institute of America or American Gem Society Laboratories. The certificate should include an analysis of the four C’s: carat, color, cut and clarity. (Check out the GIA’s website for more information.) You can also ask the diamond seller to verify that the stone is ethically sourced and conflict-free, qualities important with consumers today.

While Atencio says colorless diamonds are still the top choice for brides, colored diamonds have been gaining in popularity. “It used to be diamonds were only clear and yellow, but now there are brown and black diamonds. Everyone wants to be unique.”

Also trending is rose gold, which Atencio likes for its warm and vintage appeal. He offers rings in platinum but finds the metal hard to work with and prefers working with white or yellow gold.

Shapes are all over the map, but the designer says square cuts (princess or radiant) are currently more popular than round. And sometimes the ring has the illusion of a square: a round center stone surrounded by a “halo” of smaller diamonds in a square shape. The halo effect can make the overall ring look like more of a sparkler than one with a single stone. Adding side stones has a similar effect.

Jewelers will also create custom designs if time and budget aren’t issues. Atencio trained as a fine artist and businessman rather than as a metalsmith or gemologist, so his work starts as drawings that he refines until he’s ready to make a sample. The process can take a year from sketchbook to finished product, he says, so give yourself time if this is the route you want to take.

Atencio says that when he’s designing wedding jewelry, he tends to think a little more traditionally than he does with his other creations, which can be architectural and statement-making. “I want to make something that will be good for the rest of a person’s life,” he says. “Some of the pieces we have in the line we’ve been making for 30 years. They’ve become iconic because they stand the test of time.”


Apropos engagement ring, $2,210; wedding band, $1,075

Chiffon engagement ring, $3,655

Intrigue engagement ring, $3,085

Delicia men’s wedding band with black diamonds, $2,465