I just did a post about buying a diamond online, but buying a diamond in person from a physical jewelry store needs its own set of rules. These tips could apply to buying any piece of jewelry from a physical jeweler, but are especially helpful for girding yourself with information before buying an important diamond piece like an engagement ring. If you need help finding a local jeweler you can trust, visit my local jewelers page and drop me a line with some info about where you are located. I’ll see if I have someone I can recommend.
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.
Narrow some of your decisions before looking on- or off-line.
If you can make some basic decisions before you start shopping, like whether you’re looking for Princess and/or Asscher, or “Ideal” cut versus “Good”, it will help you when you research online.
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.
I highly recommend going to a couple of reputable online sites to search their diamond listings to determine what the online price range is. 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. These sites have a large selection of GIA and AGS certified diamonds (I would almost say TOO large, the search results can be overwhelming), very competitive prices, and good education information on the sites to get informed. Print out your top picks so you know price ranges and details before you go into a physical store.
Understand the price difference between an online retailer and a physical jeweler.
I did a post recently regarding relative mark-ups and margins, click here to read. The basics that you need to know are that you will likely pay about 15% more than the most competitive online prices (like from a Blue Nile or Amazon.com) at a physical local jeweler. There are some good reasons for this. The jeweler is sitting down with you and showing you diamonds from their inventory, educating you one-on-one versus the one-to-many that online retailers are able to do. How many shopping experiences can you think of where the salesperson sits down with you and spends up to hours educating you about your purchase? There is potentially a lot of overhead cutting into their profit: staff and training, physical inventory and carrying costs, and they don’t do the volume that the online merchants do. In theory, there’s a lot of value to shopping at a jewelry store: you get much more educated in person, you can compare diamonds to find the exact right one for your budget, you can have the ring set, sized and serviced right in the store (most online retailers don’t offer a sizing service). You may get a warranty. And you now have a relationship with someone who can clean and service the ring, and help you with future jewelry purchases.
Choose a REPUTABLE local jeweler.
This is probably the most important decision. I like local independents, who are fixtures in their community, versus national chains like Zales or Helzburgs. (There are exceptions to that, like Ben Bridge Jewelers, which is a regional chain that operates more like an Independent.) Don’t know of any really highly regarded jewelers in your hometown? Ask friends, relatives, and co-workers about good experiences they have had, that’s a good place to start. If you still aren’t sure after asking around (or it’s a total secret and you can’t ask), I recommend doing a search for a jeweler who is a member of the American Gem Society, a jewelry trade organization that requires high levels of product knowledge, and very strict ethical standards regarding representation and pricing (click here to do a search). You can also visit my Local Jewelers page and drop me a line. I have been building a list of reputable jewelers for years, and may have someone I can recommend in your area.
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.
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.
At the jeweler, look at several diamonds side-by-side.
It’s amazing what you can learn by seeing diamonds of varying qualities compared in person. Many of the quality characteristics that affect a diamond’s value are very subtle, and only by comparison will you see the nuances that will help you decide that a particular diamond is the one for you. Also, you may find that you are not as sensitive–or more sensitive–to a quality characteristic that you thought was really important. I’ve seen people who are fixated on a colorless diamond realize they can’t tell the difference between the “E” and the “I”, and save some money.
Don’t lose sight of the big picture.
Related to the above point, 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.
Make sure you compare the diamond you end up buying with the certificate.
Look at the diamond under 10x magnification, and make sure that the jeweler explains all of the factors and helps you locate the identifying inclusions. This will also prove helpful later if you need to leave your diamond with a jeweler you don’t know—you can always identify it.
Watch out for cheesy high-pressure sales tactics.
Beware of “this price is only good for today” phrases. Any legitimate jeweler will let you think over such an important purchasing decision. Their diamond and their offer should sound better after thinking things over! If you hear things like the above phrase, or “below wholesale”, this is a good indication that you need to go back to the “Find a reputable jeweler” point and start over.
Get an appraisal for the finished ring.
The diamond’s lab report (certificate) is a document that details the quality of the center diamond, but it does not give a value. An appraisal gives the replacement cost of the diamond and the mounting. I highly recommend that you list this important purchase on a separate rider attached to your regular homeowner’s insurance policy. The Jeweler should provide you with an appraisal at no charge.
Bottom Line: Don’t Be Afraid, Just Be Prepared!
If you choose a good jeweler, it might even be FUN! Anything else to add? If you want to buy a diamond online, I’ve done a list of tips for that, click here.