SOUTH LOOP — Like many men who propose, John Underwood dropped to one knee Wednesday and presented Tracey Gawel a diamond ring, which his fiancée-to-be gladly accepted before saying, "Yes!"
"I'm so overwhelmed right now," said Gawel, 37, who toured the museum with Underwood for a few hours before the surprise proposal inside the room full of hundreds of rare jewels, including a 3,400-year-old Egyptian garnet necklace and a Chinese jade ornament carved six centuries ago.
"I was nervous, but I was very excited, too. Just the look on her face was very happy," Underwood, 35, said.
The Hall of Gems hosts about three engagements per month, according to special events account manager Amanda Masten.
The engagement ring is placed in a special case near the exit doors of the Hall of Gems. Masten plays the role of tourist just before the proposal, standing in front of the case and leaving just before the couple reaches it.
"The proposals are different every time," said Masten, a Streeterville resident. "One person I thought was going to faint. Some are louder than others. Sometimes the whole room gets involved."
The Hall was mostly quiet after Underwood's proposal, save for a few golf-claplike rounds of applause.
Gawel, who has dated Underwood for six months after meeting him online, seemed to be most impressed with his keeping the proposal a secret.
"I had no clue you were so good," Gawel, of Genoa, Ill., said moments after she accepted his proposal. "No clue whatsoever."
The cost is $500 for a weekday and $750 for weekend or holiday, which includes two tickets to the museum, a champagne toast, use of the ring case and an event manager (usually Masten) on site the entire time.
Underwood also coordinated with Masten the use of professional photographer Eric Craig, who had shot three proposals at the Field prior to Wednesday.
"It's a cool way to propose," said Craig, a Jefferson Park resident. "They're always so surprised."
The museum does not actively advertise that proposals can take place there, but there is a special website for those interested. Masten said local jewelry stores also alert potential proposers of the museum possibility.
Underwood, of West Dundee, printed some programs for the museum and used that as an excuse to show off his work and lure Gawel there for several hours.
"I thought we were just coming here for his work," Gawel said. "He's just the best guy in the whole wide world, and I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with him."