Planning to pop the question? You'll need a ring before you get down on bended knee, and when it comes to buying jewelry, it's easy to make costly mistakes (especially if you don't know what you're doing). (See also: This One Wedding Trick Will Save You Thousands)
To ensure that you're getting the best value for your budget, here are 12 engagement ring tricks from leading industry experts. Former diamond cutter and third-generation jeweler Anubh Shah of Four Mine jewelry, and Andrea Novella, creative director at Gemma Jade Jewelry, divulge their insider secrets to help you get the most brilliance for your buck.
1. Buy Diamonds Just Shy of Critical Weights
Carat weight and size are important in the ring-buying process — at least they are to your girlfriend — and jewelers know it. That's precisely why most diamonds are cut in half and whole increments, as pricing is based on those thresholds.
"Instead of shelling out for the full 1.00 carat diamond, try to find something around 0.95 carat," advises Shah. "Manufacturers do everything they can to cut to critical weights because the pricing is tiered on those values. If a diamond is cut to less, the value is lost and therefore price can be significantly less."
Novella agrees, calling this "the best tip of all."
"Diamond prices increase exponentially for each carat," she says. "So if you want one carat, buy a .97. If you want 2, buy 1.95. It's essentially the same thing but much cheaper."
2. Buy Diamonds Online
We buy everything else online these days, so it only makes sense that you can find great deals on diamonds at Internet retailers.
"Buy diamonds online, even if you want to browse in store," suggests Anubh. "Prices are significantly less and selection is far larger. You can see upwards of 20% price differences between online and in-store prices. Online jewelers are extremely price competitive and so the markups are actually very low. Jewelers make their margins on the setting, so buying the diamond loose then having it set in a ring locally is also a great idea."
There's another important tip that you don't want to overlook, and it can save you hundreds of dollars.
"Also, buy one from a jeweler that's out of state so you save on taxes," Anubh adds, "which can be an 8%+ difference."
3. Plan Your Purchase for the Summer
June through August is unofficially known as wedding season, so you probably assume that's the worst time to buy an engagement ring. The exact opposite is true, in fact, because while the actual weddings are taking places during the warmer months, most engagements are established throughout the rest of the year.
"Summers are a good time to buy — summers are slow for most jewelers and wholesalers so they'll be more price flexible to try and push inventory," says Anubh. "Pricing is volatile around Christmas and can either go drastically up or down. Avoid the volatility and buy during the summer days. Plus it's wedding season so people aren't generally buying as many engagement rings at that time."
4. Opt for a Non-Traditional Shape
Would your lady prefer a round diamond? Unfortunately for you, she's in the majority, which drives the price up due to demand. To save some coin — if it won't leave you single, of course — look into more non-traditional shapes.
"Fancy shapes (shapes other than traditional round) are significantly less expensive and more trendy — why?" asks Anubh. "Because round is the most popular shape so it's most in demand — simple economics. Also, a diamond cutter's job is to preserve the maximum amount of weight. Rounds lose much more carat weight than other shapes, so they carry a premium."
5. Consider Alternative Stones
They say that diamonds are a girl's best friend. But isn't it interesting how there's no famous idiom that equates diamonds to a dude's worst enemy? If you're feeling the pinch on the prospect of buying a diamond, perhaps you can consider alternative stones, like precious gems or even a manmade, eco-friendly diamond-esque stone. (Tough sell, I know, but it's worth a shot.)
"Non-conventional brides might want to consider alternative stones to diamonds, or use a diamond setting but another stone for the center stone," Novella suggest. "Asian cultures highly value imperial green jadeite, for example. It's more rare than diamonds but still more affordable."
(P.S. If your bride is non-conventional, consider yourself an even luckier man.)
6. Go for the Gold
Yellow gold went out of fashion for a while over the past couple decades, but its back with a vengeance now that it has an enviable price tag. And Novella wants you to hone in on it for investment's sake.
"Gold provides the best value. Prices have steadily risen over the years so it's a good investment metal, but more affordable than platinum," she explains.
7. Look for 14k Instead of 18k Gold
While you're concentrating your efforts on gold, you also should know that there's a better value between one karat weight and another. It may seem like 18k gold is the best buy given the higher number, but that's not the case.
"Generally, you can consider 18k like a brand name; it's purer than 14k, but adds little to no extra raw value," says Anubh. "The longevity of 14k is high, and simple 'servicing' (yes, like with a car) can keep it looking brand new. Just polishing out scratches or rhodium plating restores shine as if it were new. Do this once year — it should only cost about $10 to $20."
8. Steer Clear of the Brand Name Rings
I didn't have to buy an engagement ring because I married a dude (we're simple like that), so I had no idea that there were brand-name rings. Now that you are enlightened, you should stay far away too.
"Avoid brand name rings and branded designs," Anubh warns. "Any ring can be custom made and any design created as close to the original as possible. There are huge savings when custom making a branded design so I definitely recommend that route if you like something branded outside your budget."
9. Look for Diamonds in the H/I Color and S1 Clarity Range
Now we're getting into the nitty-gritty of engagement ring buying with a quick lesson on diamond color and clarity.
H/I Color is an "average color, middle of the road, greatly abundant, and consistent color in nature," according to Jewelry Secrets. In laymen's terms, the color is a little bit off (a bit of yellow in the mix), but hardly noticeable. The SI Clarity range on the other hand includes three levels — SI1, SI2, and SI3 — which equate to flawless to the naked eye, flawed to the naked eye, and "this is probably a diamond, but it's definitely not the best one," respectively.
If you want to spend less, this is where you can make some concessions, says Anubh.
"Diamonds in the H/I color and SI clarity range offer the best value," he explains. "The imperfections are rarely visible to the naked, untrained eye and the color is hardly distracting. Round diamonds mask color much better than fancy shapes."
This is another slippery slope, gentlemen, so proceed with caution.
10. Seek Out GIA-Certified Rings
Did you know that there's, like, a governing body on diamonds? There are a few, actually. But the Gemological Institute of America is the only one you need to know.
"Only buy GIA-certified diamonds, if you're truly looking for value for money," Anubh advises. "GIA is the most consistent grading lab and has the highest grading standards. Other labs are inconsistent and carry noticeable discounts for a reason. Don't be fooled!"
11. Put Away the Plastic and Pay Cash
Given the high cost of engagement rings, your plan probably is to pay for it with credit. That's not the best idea for two reasons — you can easily rack up interest charges if you let the balance drag on, and you may be missing out on savings. A better bet is to hoard cash until you can afford it outright. You'll sleep better at night knowing that you don't have another huge bill looming over your head, it'll give you enough time to make sure this is definitely the right relationship for you, and you'll keep more money in the bank because of a potential kickback.
"Buy your engagement ring via bank wire or check from a wholesaler," Anubh recommends. "There's almost always a discount because no credit card processing fees are involved."
While we're on the subject of diamond wholesalers, Novella thinks you should seriously consider this route over a local jewelry store.
"Buy the diamond wholesale or through a broker, and then have it set with the jeweler," she says. "You'll save on the markup for the center stone, which is the main part of the cost."
12. Stick to Your Intended Budget
It's really easy to go over budget when you're blinded by love — but you need to keep it together, man. Set a max amount that you'll spend and make it your goal to find the perfect ring by coming in under that threshold.
"Unless you're blowing out your budget, the odds of getting something significantly better for a small increase in budget are low," Anubh imparts. "It'll make you feel bad in the long run. Stick to a number and stay under. Everyone is happy when they find an extra dollar in their jeans pocket."
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