I want that ring in the window, Crist decides

ST. PETERSBURG — As blue as the evening sky and surrounded by a constellation of diamonds, the ring caught the eye of Florida's governor.

It was in the window at the Gold & Diamond Center in St. Petersburg's Northeast Shopping Center, where Gov. Charlie Crist turned to jewelry designer Hien Nguyen Wednesday to help him select an engagement ring for Carole Rome.

Crist and his family are longtime patrons of the shop, which is tucked in a strip mall anchored by a Publix, Stein Mart and CVS pharmacy off 37th Avenue N. The governor's father, Dr. Charles Crist Sr., is Nguyen's family physician.

When the governor walked in with his security detail, Nguyen's wife, Be Dinh, immediately called her husband, who was off running an errand.

"He came right away," said Dinh, who described the governor's countenance as "happy. He had a big smile."

Nguyen, who designed and made the custom piece, said it is a radiant-cut "top-of-the-line" sapphire, weighing close to 5 carats, surrounded by pave diamonds that amount to about 2 carats, all set in 18-karat white gold.

Nguyen offered two other rings for Crist's consideration: one all diamonds, another a sapphire with diamonds on either side. The governor eventually decided on the one from the window display and said he wanted to make sure that it pleased Rome, to whom he proposed on Thursday morning.

Apparently, it did; the newly engaged couple visited the jeweler later in the week and waited to have the ring resized from a 61/2 to a 6. The governor paid with a personal check.

It's a one-of-a-kind design, but if asked, he could create one nearly like it, the jeweler said. He estimated it would take a week's labor.

Nguyen, 57, and Dinh, 54, came to the United States from Vietnam in 1979. He opened Center Jewelers on First Avenue N in 1983. In 1992, he purchased the old Bond Jewelers in the Northeast Shopping Center and established the Gold & Diamond Center. Dinh's tailoring business in the back of the shop keeps her busy when she's not helping jewelry customers.

When a man tried to rob the store in 1996, their son Khoi Van Nguyen fatally shot him; no charges were filed in the case. The younger Nguyen now operates New Image Nail Spa in the same shopping center.

After years in the business, Nguyen and Dinh value discretion. Similar rings in the store, with less valuable stones than those in the one the governor selected, bear price tags in the high four-figure and low five-figure range. But neither would divulge what Crist paid for the treasure.

"That's a little bit difficult for me," Nguyen said. "He may not want to say to his wife."

The governor and Rome did not pick out wedding rings. Yet.

>>fast facts

The ring that rules

The governor's chosen ring is described as a radiant-cut "top-of-the-line" sapphire, weighing close to 5 carats, surrounded by pave diamonds that amount to about 2 carats, all set in 18-karat white gold.

I want that ring in the window, Crist decides 07/07/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 9:57pm]

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