Real Engagement Story: Ritani CEO Brian Watkins

As a special Valentine’s Day feature, Ritani CEO Brian Watkins reveals how he went about finding the perfect engagement ring and proposing to his wife, Yonnie. He offers his tips to those just starting to ring shop, and tells how his experience led him to identify a gap in the jewelry e-commerce landscape.

How did you and your wife meet?

We met at work, when we were both at Bain & Company. We were friends for around two and a half years, then dated for a year. We were in a long distance relationship for some of that, before I decided to propose just before Valentine’s Day.

yonnie brian ring

How did you go about choosing the ring?

At the time I was the head of diamond buying at Blue Nile, with access to over 50,000 loose diamonds. I was probably the person buying the most diamonds in the whole world – and even with that, I didn’t just want to risk it by buying a diamond online without seeing it first. I ordered three of my favorite stones to be delivered to the office, and then was able to choose the best in person. It was a round diamond, with an Ideal cut grade – lots of sparkle.
When I tried to return the other two, it was such a stressful, unnecessary experience. It got me thinking about how that could be improved, through the free in-store preview model that we now offer at Ritani. There needs to be a bridge between online and in-store for such significant, life-changing purchases.

Did you set the diamond in a ring then?

No, I actually proposed with the loose diamond. You see, she’d hinted at one of her favorite settings, but I just wanted to be sure she got her perfect ring. So, once we were engaged, she came to Blue Nile and we looked at a few ring settings together. She did end up choosing the one I thought – with baguette side stones – but I don’t regret the decision. She is the one who wears it every day, so I thought it was best if she chose it.

brian watkins ritani engagement story

How did you propose?

I decided to propose on February 11th – yes, just before Valentine’s Day. I thought that would be a real surprise. The proposal actually happened at the W Seattle Hotel, which has stunning views of the entire city. We went to one of our favorite local restaurants after, to celebrate. I’d picked up a dozen roses at Pike Place Market, earlier in the day.

yonnie brian real ritani engagement

Any advice for those ring shopping for the first time?

If you’re really not sure what she’ll like, let her help pick it out. You can still have a surprise proposal, but maybe bring her to preview the Ritani ring at your local jeweler. You’ve selected the setting and diamond, but if she doesn’t like it, you can always walk away obligation-free and still find the right ring. While she’s saying yes to you, not the ring, you want her to wear it with pride every day for the rest of her life.

If you want it to be a total surprise, enlist help from a close friend of hers, or perhaps her mother. Make sure it’s someone who will be honest with you about her tastes. Of course, if you’re confident you know her tastes better than anyone, go ahead and make the decision alone. It’s always best to trust your instincts.

Read more about Brian’s passion for Ritani’s omnichannel model in this recent NYTimes story, or learn how to get a free in-store preview of your custom engagement ring.