We are right in the middle of the engagement season. According to the wedding planning website theknot.com, 39 percent of weddings begin with a proposal between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. Everyone wants to buy the perfect ring. Being one of the most expensive purchases we make in our life, it is important to plan ahead and understand the process. It will make both the recipient and your wallet happy.
Before you head out ring shopping, it is important to sit with your loved one and talk about finances if you have not done so already. Not about the ring, but in general. Do you and your significant other have similar goals when it comes to finances? Do you have personality clashes? Do you know what her expectations are when it comes to big purchases?
PLAN YOUR PURCHASE
Based on all the information you have so far, start planning your purchase.
- DO start with a budget.
- DO save before you buy.
- DO figure out your future wife’s taste.
- DON’T follow any rules of thumb.
- DO consider your lifestyle and job. If, for example, your future wife is a nurse, doctor or someone who has to wear gloves constantly, any high setting will tear the gloves. She will not be comfortable wearing that ring. She might prefer a low setting that she can wear every day.
- DON’T think of it as an investment.
- DO consider options other than diamonds.
DECIDE ON THE STONE
Diamonds are traditionally the common stone for engagement rings, but other gems have become quite fashionable in recent years — enough to give diamonds a run for the money.
Alternatives to diamonds:
- Moissanite: This is one of the most brilliant alternatives to diamond. It is nearly colorless, just like most diamonds. Next to each other, the moissanite looks better and more fire-y than a diamond. It is more durable and resistant to abrasion than a diamond, which is great for an engagement ring. And it is a lot more affordable:
- 1 carat ideal cut, I-color, VS1 — approximately $5,500
- 1 carat equivalent moissanite — approximately $300
- Colored stone: If you are not set on a colorless stone, colored gemstones like rubies or sapphires are popular alternatives. You can get a stunning stone for a fraction of the price of a diamond. You can make it personal by getting an engagement ring with your girlfriend’s birthstone.
- Heirloom: Before going ring shopping, check with your own and your girlfriend’s family to see if they have an heirloom diamond that they would like to give her. This could provide you with great value and a priceless sentimental piece.
KNOW THE 4Cs
Carat: Carat is the standard unit of measurement of the weight of a diamond (1 carat = 1/5 gram). This is the term most people are familiar with when they talk about diamonds. So size matters, but bigger is not always better. Think about your budget and size of her hand. A big diamond might look odd and be more of an inconvenience.
Money Saving tip: If you want a 1 carat diamond, consider 0.98 carat. Diamond prices jump at the full and half-carat weights. You will save quite a bit of money and won’t notice any difference.
Cut: Cut is the most important characteristic in a diamond. The diamond’s cut determines its fire and brilliance. A well cut diamond will have more sparkle and shine brighter than a poorly cut diamond. Even if you buy the biggest rock with exceptional color, if the cut is poor, it will look like a cloudy cubic zirconia. Pricescope offers a free Cut Adviser tool, which can also be extremely helpful in evaluating the quality of the cut.
Clarity: The clarity of the diamond deals with how many imperfections can be seen in a diamond. The clarity is categorized from flawless (FL) to included (I). For most people, buying a diamond with no obvious flaws (that doesn’t require a microscope to see) would be good enough. Typically, people go for small inclusions (SI) to very very small inclusion (VVS).
Money Saving Tip: Most of the time small inclusions and very small inclusions offer great value as they have inclusions but usually require a microscope to see them. Also, if the (SI) inclusions are near the prong, you can’t really see them and you can get them for less than VVS diamonds.
Color: The color is graded from D (colorless) to Z (yellow). Most people prefer colorless, but you can’t differentiate G from D with the naked eye. So G to J is the preferable range.
Money Saving Tip: Diamonds graded H & I provide excellent value, and you can’t really see much difference with the naked eye.
MORE Cs TO CONSIDER
Cost: Stick with your budget. Don’t get emotionally attached to any ring, and don’t rush. Take your time to research and find the best value for your money.
Certification: Gems certified by Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or the American Gem Society Laboratories (AGSL) are the most popular. A certificate guarantees the 4Cs of the diamond along with some other characteristics like dimensions and polish. Certified diamonds might cost a little more, but it will help you avoid getting scammed. Also, avoid “internal” certifications — the diamond that is certified by an “in-house expert” doesn’t mean much of anything.
UNDERSTAND THE BUYING PROCESS
Do not go into a store without reading up on all of the above online. The jargon can get pretty confusing and you might be talked into buying something that is not worth the price. After you are armed with all the knowledge, pick a few options that you want to see and then go to the store. Even if you decide to buy online, go look at the type of diamond you want to buy in a store to make sure it lives up to your expectations.
Time-saving tip: If you feel all this is too much and want to go see/buy something right there, go to Costco. They have the best engagement ring for the price.
If you have questions along the way, Pricescope is the best place to ask. You can see what other people got and for how much, how they went about deciding and ask questions if you are stuck. They offer a lot of other resources and a great search engine to find wholesale diamond sellers with reviews. Narrow down the 4Cs based on the price and your taste and start searching for the sellers.
How to buy the diamond
After you have the diamond you like and the store you would like to buy from, email the store and ask for the GIA certificate. If you are satisfied with that, you can go ahead and buy the diamond. Check if they will reduce the price if you pay in cash. [Note: When I buy anything this expensive, I will use a credit card for my peace of mind. But paying in cash can save a big chunk, so decide based on the seller's reputation and your instinct.]
After you buy the diamond, take it to an independent appraiser and do another appraisal to make sure the diamond you bought matches the GIA certificate. If your diamond doesn’t have the GIA number inscribed, you might want to make an appointment at the nearest GIA and get it inscribed. If you lose the diamond in the future and someone tries to sell it, this number ties this diamond to you and you can get it back easier than otherwise.
Where to buy the setting
Some people prefer to buy the diamond and the settings separately to save money or to get a custom look. You can find a setting your like at the Tiffany’s website and get it made at your local jewelers for a fraction of the cost.
You can buy the setting online as well, but before you do that consider:
- How much it will cost to service. Most local jewelers will service your ring for free for many years as part of the purchase.
- How will you make any adjustments?
You can always buy the complete ring; the process will still be the same.
OTHER TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND:
- Don’t believe everything the seller says. Always check.
- Know the refund policy of the seller.
- Don’t buy it from a fancy mall store.
- Don’t forget to add a rider to your home owners/renters insurance policy after you buy the ring.
Have you been through the diamond-buying process? What is your experience? How did you get the best ring for your price?