If you are thinking about finally springing for the engagement ring of your (or your girlfriend’s) dreams, the news this month from The Rapaport Group that diamond prices are down 13.7% versus this time last year may have inspired you to finally head over to your neighborhood jewelry store and buy that ring. You may have been disappointed to learn that while the statistic released by Rapaport applies to the global diamond market in general, but that diamonds of engagement ring size and quality in the United States are pretty much unchanged in price. In fact, some diamond retailers are using the recent attention to bargain-priced diamonds to unload some lower-quality product on unsuspecting customers. The reality is that a “bargain engagement ring” isn’t really such a bargain if you are paying a still-sizable sum for a lesser-quality engagement ring that you won’t love for long. When shopping for an engagement ring, it is important to balance your desire to save a few dollars in the short run with the need to choose a quality ring that will withstand the test of time.
Before you start searching for a bargain engagement ring and risk ending up with an inferior ring, use this engagement ring buying guide to help you get the best price possible on a quality, well-crafted engagement ring.
1. Shop online. Simply put, there is no way a bricks-and-mortar jeweler can offer the same deals and prices an online retailer can offer. The costs of running a store—from rent to advertising to sales staff salaries—have to be factored into the price of the ring, so even the best engagement rings from an online jewelry store will often be priced better than a similar ring at a traditional store.
2. Avoid brand names. Stores like Tiffany and Co. and “celebrity jewelry designers” like Neil Lane may sell beautiful engagement rings, but they are usually at least 10-20% more expensive than comparable rings from non-famous brands. What matters when it comes to an engagement ring is craftsmanship, quality, and reliability, not the name of a famous person written on the box.
3. The Fifth C—Compromise. You may be well versed in the Four C’s—color, cut, clarity and carat—but the secret only the best engagement ring shopper know is that you can often compromise on some characteristics—namely color and clarity—as long as the cut grade is very high. A well-cut diamond can have a clarity grade as low as SI1 without being visibly imperfect, as long as the cut grade is at least Ideal.
4. Beware the price jump points. Diamond prices do not increase in a direct line—there are certain points, such as .5, .75, and 1 carat, where prices jump dramatically. You can get essentially the same visual impact at a much better price point if you choose a stone that is .96, for example, instead of a full 1 carat.
5. Consider antique jewelry. Sometimes, antique or estate jewelry sales can offer great deals on top-quality engagement rings and other jewelry pieces, but beware that many pieces will be set with diamonds that were cut many decades ago. That means they can often have outdated, less-than-perfect cuts, unlike the ideal, computer-guided diamond cuts available today. If you do buy antique, make sure the purchase is contingent on approval from an independent diamond appraiser.
6. Be flexible on shape. Since round brilliant diamonds are by far the most popular diamond shape, other, more exotic shapes can sometimes offer a better value than the traditional round shape. On the other hand, some shapes, such as emerald and cushion cut, require a higher quality diamond to get that perfect sparkle we are all looking for. Ask your sales associate to compare a few stones of different shapes, and be prepared to be flexible in order to get the best possible deal.
7. Ask for a discount. As simple as it sounds, most engagement ring buyers never ask for a discount, but jewelry stores can be surprisingly accommodating if you know how to ask. You can ask for a few percentage points off when you buy the engagement ring and both wedding bands from the same retailer, or ask a manager to point you towards a setting that might be eligible for a discount. Finally, don’t forget to ask if you can get another small discount for paying in cash or by money order instead of with a credit card.