Afghan-Combat Vet Proposes to the Love of His Life with Help from Lofty

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By helping him find the perfect ring, “Lofty saved me from being the typical guy,” said newlywed Michael Starkey, who was thrilled with the engagement ring he purchased for his wife, Inese, from Lofty. Although the process of buying the ring from Lofty was simple and easy, the search for the perfect ring was challenging until Michael began working with a Lofty Specialist.

A Transatlantic Romance

In 2012, Michael Starkey was finished with his six years of service in the Navy, including time in Iraq where he was wounded. He was traveling in Iceland, staying in hostels and exploring a country that had fascinated him since he was young. During a single night stay at a hostel in Reykjavík, he met Inese, a native of Talsi, Latvia, who had immigrated to Iceland to study languages several years prior and was working on a geothermic-heated indoor tomato and cucumber farm in nearby Reykholt, about an hour and a half drive north. The pair hit it off and made plans to meet again. They kept in touch after Michael headed back to the States, and began visiting each other for weeks at a time. They soon fell in love and visits became months in either New York or Iceland, where they spent as much time as they could with each other. When Inese planned to come to New York for spring and summer of 2015, Michael knew he wanted to surprise her with a proposal when her plane landed.

The Quest for “The Perfect Ring”

While Michael’s sense of style could be described as “aggressively quirky,” Inese’s is simple and elegant. She’s a master of understated, practical European chic. Both Inese and Michael like to wear handmade, vintage or upcycled attire that expresses their style in a meaningful way. Michael is a vegan and does not wear leather; it was important for him to buy Inese a ring that was set with a conflict-free fair trade diamond, something he knew she would appreciate.

Michael had seen some stunning vintage rings in shops around lower Manhattan, and particularly liked the ornate Art Deco styles, but the price tags in these upscale shops were out of his price range. Anything more interesting than the basic solitaire design at mass-market retail jewelry stores was also beyond his financial reach. He did not know that he could buy beautiful vintage jewelry secondhand, or that he could avoid the considerable retail markup charged by dealers at jewelry stores.


Although it seemed a little bit “cheap and inappropriate”, he thought he would have to settle on a “created” diamond because the conflict-free, natural diamonds he’d found were very expensive, and though the couple is not traditional, he still wanted to get her a proper diamond. He also wanted the setting to be platinum because it is more durable than gold, and thus a more appropriate material for a ring that will be worn everyday for a lifetime, but after looking at retail stores, he was under the impression that he could only afford the less expensive white gold.

After searching for months, Michael became frustrated and almost settled on a brand new, basic while gold and “created” diamond solitaire engagement ring from an online retailer. It was a little bit out of his price range, but it was the best he’d found so far, and he thought he’d run out of options.

Inese was flying to New York City for the summer in a few weeks, and the pressure was building. He knew the ring on which he was about to blow a few thousand dollars was not “the perfect ring,” but being a guy with little experience buying jewelry, he was not all too sure what “the perfect ring” was, or even how to find it. There was additional pressure, too: being a bit of a joker, Michael had convinced Inese that he could not afford a ring, and that he would not be proposing to her when she arrived. She was very understanding and a remarkably good sport, but he could tell that she was disappointed, and this was causing a little bit of strain on their relationship. He really needed to have something perfect to surprise her with when she landed.

A One-of-a-Kind Ring For “The One”

With no ring and just two weeks left before Inese’s plane landed in New York, Michael was getting nervous. He consulted some friends, did some more googling, and eventually found a few pieces of nice vintage jewelry he liked at auction houses in the area. However, the risks associated with bidding at auction made him anxious. He was scared that he would not be able to win the ring he wanted for a price within his budget and would have to start his search over again from square one, and that the ring would not arrive in time. He was getting desperate.

After weeks of searching, a savvy friend in the antiques business suggested that Michael try Lofty, explaining that it was a marketplace that sells vintage jewelry at fair auction house prices with the option to “buy it now” rather than worry about the risks of bidding at auction and having to start the search over if he did not win the ring.


Michael contacted a Lofty Specialist and explained his dissatisfaction with the options he had seen so far, lukewarm feelings about the ring upon which he was about to settle, and aversion to the risks of bidding at auction.

The Specialist listened to his situation: he needed a beautiful, fair trade and conflict-free ring fast, and Lofty would have to have the perfect ring in his price range. She suggested five vintage options from the site that would fit Inese’s finger, could be purchased immediately, and would be delivered with plenty of time to spare. By buying vintage jewelry from a private seller through Lofty, rather than newly mined diamonds from a retail store, Michael knew that the materials in the ring would be conflict-free and that the proceeds would not support unethical mining practices or human cruelty, something that was very important to the couple.

Michael was thrilled with the five options that his Lofty Specialist suggested, and after some deliberation, chose an Art Deco style diamond and platinum ring that was exactly the right size and shape for Inese’s petite finger. Shockingly, this perfect platinum ring set with real diamonds also happened to be much cheaper than the other gold and “created” diamond ring upon which he was going to settle, something that he had not expected. Who knew that shopping for antique jewelry could be so easy, simple, and budget-friendly? Michael was elated.

It Takes Two to “Mango”

With the pressure of finding the perfect ring alleviated, Michael could finally focus on the proposal without worrying that he would disappoint Inese with an unremarkable ring she would be stuck wearing for the rest of her life. After Michael completed the purchase, Lofty’s Post Sales Team made sure that the ring was immediately shipped from the seller, and it arrived in New York City in less than a week. When Michael saw the ring in person, he knew it was perfect and could not wait to give it to Inese when she landed a few days later.


Michael’s plan for the proposal was simple, but required preparation. Inese loves dried mangoes, but they are very expensive in Iceland, and Michael promised to get her some when she arrived in New York — but instead of mangoes, the package would contain the ring. He found a can with a false bottom and designed an intricate label for the “mangoes”, even weighing it down with a roll of coins so that the can felt full. He gave her the “mangoes” in the cab from the airport, but jet-lagged and tired from the flight, Inese did not open it right away and could not understand why Michael was trying to get her to eat the mangoes at that moment, especially because Michael does not like mangoes himself. When she finally opened the can, however, Inese was completely and utterly surprised, and said “yes!”

Love “Rings” True

The glowing couple stopped into the Lofty offices a few days later to show off how well the ring fit Inese’s finger and personal style. Our team was thrilled to help this happy young couple find this important piece of jewelry that perfectly fit their aesthetic, lifestyle, budget, and time constraints without compromise.

Michael and Inese were married at a small ceremony in New York City on June 10, 2015. Inese’s parents flew in from Latvia, and Michael’s from Michigan for the ceremony and festivities. Inese wore a custom two-piece Chantilly lace gown handmade by a childhood friend in Latvia. Michael wore a tuxedo that was made for him by a custom tailor while he was serving in Iraq. The couple currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, but plans to relocate to Iceland in the fall of 2016.

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To speak to a Lofty Specialist about finding the right ring for your fiancee, contact us at