These tips could apply to buying just about any jewelry category. But engagement rings are the big, hairy, 1000-lb gorilla of jewelry purchases. It’s hard to distill the diamond engagement ring process down to a few succinct points. Going from thinking about getting engaged to the “Yes” is a journey filled not just with overwhelming emotion, it can also inspire trepidation, confusion, angst, and–sometimes–naked fear about an expensive, infrequent purchase. Most people’s biggest concern isn’t just spending that much money (which is still pretty scary), it is the fear of not getting a good value for that money. Here are some ways to avoid getting taken advantage of.
Think about your budget.
In the age of “Real Housewives” and other conspicuous consumption, the reality of what an engagement ring should cost can get lost in the hype. Spend what you can afford, it’s not worth going into major debt for.
Learn about the 4 C’s.
Visit my bottom-line rundown of diamond quality characteristics here. You can always drill down deeper if you need to.
Buy a diamond with a diamond “certificate” (lab grading report) from a reputable grading lab
I personally prefer GIA and AGS; some other well-known labs are EGL, IGI, and HRD. Especially when you get into ¾ carat and over, minor differences in quality make an increasing impact on price. While a certificate is not an ironclad guarantee, it is one of the most proven ways to make sure that you are getting what you pay for.
Decide on Diamond Shape before shopping.
If you don’t at least narrow some of the factors, like shape, before you do some diamond searches, your head will spin around when you see the sheer numbers of results. Decide whether you’re looking for Princess and/or Asscher, or Round and/or Cushion.
Consider the design of the ring itself.
This is a whole ‘nother post. But the bare basics to consider are: color of metal (white vs yellow); simple or “designer” style; how active the recipient’s lifestyle is (how best to set the diamond so it stays safe); how traditional the recipient is (which might tell you to go with a round brilliant solitaire style); and is it possible to get their finger size? If you can recruit one of her friends to give you some insight, this is great. Or casually stroll through a jewelry store while shopping one weekend. Some couples shop together, but there is something very romantic about pulling this off as a total surprise.
Go shopping–at an actual store.
I highly recommend going to at least a couple of independent jewelers (not mall stores or national chains) in your area to physically look at some rings and diamonds. Just like anything, what you THINK you are going to like based on what you’ve seen online may be very different than what you ACTUALLY like in person. Plus, you can get a good idea of what the cost of the diamond and ring would be at a store near you. You might find that it’s the best value overall (factoring in the service) after comparing online.
Go to a reputable online diamond retailer.
I have researched some online diamond companies for previous posts, and some appear to be very reputable. These are Blue Nile, Amazon.com, James Allen, Whiteflash, Mondera, Diamond.com, Costco.com, and Union Diamond. Look at the “About” sections on the seller’s website and see how many consumer-trust organizations they are affiliated with. If you’re really concerned, you can check to see if they are members in good standing with those orgs. While there are lots of great smaller players, you may be taking a big chance on an expensive, relatively blind purchase from an “anonymous” retailer. Trust your gut, and if something doesn’t seem right, walk away.
Make use of the online retailer’s 800#
Buying a diamond online is easy, right? You just move the sliders to the desired quality range and you find the best value from the results and buy it. Hahahaha! When you do a search for a specific quality/size of diamond in the online databases from many online retailers you can get literally THOUSANDS of results. I find it mind-boggling trying to sort and evaluate listings–and I’m a Gemologist! (To see my process for wading through 1 carat round loose offerings, click here, and I also did it recently for .50 to .75 carat rounds.) One way to wade through to find the best diamond is to speak to a representative. Keep in mind that some sellers like Blue Nile and Amazon don’t actually stock the diamonds, so they can’t physically pull it from the safe and tell you about it. But they can at least go through the fine print details like girdle thickness and pavilion depth to help a little bit. A nice selling point for James Allen is the fact that they OWN some of their diamond listings (versus just having real-time feeds or lists of diamonds), plus they have amazing imaging of their loose diamonds.
Make sure you know the retailer’s return policy
Industry standard return policy is 30 days, unworn in perfect condition WITH all original documents and certificates. Just in case you hate it, she hates it, or something just doesn’t work out.
Don’t lose sight of the big picture.
While learning about diamond quality, sometimes it is easy to get distracted by one factor. Remember that a balance of all 4 factors will give you the best value, and there are lots of quality combinations that result in a gorgeous diamond. Personally, I would choose a diamond that is very well-cut, either Ideal or near-Ideal, that is F-H color and VS to SI2 clarity, since diamonds with these ranges will appear exceptionally brilliant and don’t have eye-visible color or flaws. Everyone has different priorities, so if clarity is your thing, then go for a smaller stone that is VVS.
Get an appraisal for the finished ring
Most reputable online retailers have this part figured out. The diamond’s certificate only outlines the characteristics of the diamond, not a replacement value for insurance purposes. It’s inconvenient to have to take it somewhere to get it appraised elsewhere, but could be interesting to see what value an Independent Appraiser might attach to it. I highly recommend that you list this important purchase on a separate rider attached to your regular homeowner’s insurance policy.
Bottom Line: Don’t Be Afraid, Just Be Prepared!
Anything else to add? I’ll do a separate post on buying diamonds from a physical retailer.