So this article has like 50 pictures. I think thats a record. The length probably is too. In any case I found most guides out there incomplete, annoying, or trying to sell something so I am going to give you my experience.
So as you saw yesterday I am engaged a wonderful woman. The first thing I had to do when I was starting the process along was find an engagement ring. Luckily for me Lauren was pretty specific as to what kind of things she liked so I knew a good place to start. As I have written about before, and engagement ring is something I did not want to skimp on, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for a deal. Beyond all else buying a ring should be an informed decision so that you do not get ripped off. This is good for both men and women to understand. So lets start off with the basics and follow my decision tree. I should note I am focusing on a traditional diamond engagement ring: not all engagement rings are diamonds, they can be anything you want. I even know of someone who carved their engagement ring out of wood…its up to the couple, but since I am following my process, ya get diamonds in this article! The financial and budgetary parts are at the bottom so if you don’t want to know all of the basic info, you can skip right to the bottom
The ring or “the setting” as the fancy term for it is:
You have generally a choice between gold, white gold, and platinum. The three, that order, are presented below:
When selecting a gold band (yellow or white), definitely get at least 18k (karat) gold. The differences between white gold and platinum are beyond the scope of this article but suffice it to say, they are very close in look (but NOT the same in chemical make up). I already knew Lauren liked white gold so I knew where to start.
Next you have to pick if you want accent jewels or not. This means if you want other stones around the diamond. The rings shown above are all “Solitaire” which is fancy Latin speak for “all by itself.” Some other typical arrangements are:
Three stone engagement ring, five stone engagement ring, multi stone engagement ring, and colored accent engagement ring (in that order). In my case, I knew Lauren liked the style of #2 with 5-7 stones surrounding so I went with a similar one.
Now to the main event, the diamond.
I am the first to admit, I hate diamonds. Why do I hate diamonds? They are an artificially created market. Diamonds are not a commodity. Most people think they are like gold but they are not. Gold is fungible which means that quantities of gold are freely interchangeable. Gold’s purity can be readily assayed and it basically indestructible, making it a reliable store of value. It can be melted down and reused. Gold’s price has remained high throughout all of history. Diamonds on the other hand, contrary to the James bond film, are not forever; they can be damaged or destroyed. The value of diamonds varies widely depending on grade which is completely arbitrary. Diamonds are controlled mostly by the De Beers cartel and fund a lot more African warfare than we as Americans like to think about. All that being said, am I going to be the one who doesn’t give my girlfriend a diamond ring when all of her friends, coworkers, and family have them? No. But should I ever meet a top De Beers exec in a dark alley, I would congratulate him on a genius business strategy and promptly give him a good beating for just now within the last few years cracking down on blood diamonds.
So diamonds are rated on four things: color, cut, clarity and carat (not the same as Karat)
There are specifically colored diamonds which are out of the scope of this article. Color as I am referring to it is in reference to its whiteness, or more correctly: colorlessness. Most all natural diamonds contain small quantities of nitrogen atoms that displacing the carbon atoms within the crystal’s lattice structure. These nitrogen impurities are evenly dispersed throughout the stone, absorbing some of the blue spectrum, thereby making the diamond appear yellow. The higher the amount of nitrogen atoms, the yellower the stone will appear. Below is the scale:
That breaks down into:
Diamond Color Designations
- D, E, F – colorless (white)
- G, H, I, J – near colorless
- K, L, M – faint yellow or brown
- N, O, P, Q, R – very light yellow or brown
- S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z – light yellow or brown
Diamonds with a faint tinge of color (K, L, M, N, O) have a slightly warm color and are more affordable. For those who want a larger diamond within a certain budget, selecting diamonds with a lower color grade may be the best option especially if you are using yellow gold as your setting. Aside from Carat, color is the most costly piece of the puzzle.
Unfortunately white gold and platinum are less forgiving, though you can still get away with a “near colorless” without seeing much color. That was my original plan, to get a G or H color diamond. The only problem was, no matter how I looked at it, anything less than an “F” I could see yellow and it bugged me. Here are how they look from the side:
So I ended up going with an “E” color.
Ok so as you can see, cut is fairly self explanatory as to what it means, but it is actually fairly complicated. When jewelers judge the quality of a diamond cut, a lot of times they rate it as the most important of the “4 Cs.” The way a diamond is cut is primarily dependent upon the original shape of the rough stone, location of the inclusions and flaws to be eliminated, the preservation of the weight, and the shape. Cut is not shape: shape is the outward appearance, the cut is the facets, symmetry, polish, and all the other specifics that make it sparkle.
When a diamond has a high quality cut (ideal cut), incident light will enter the stone through the table and crown as shown above and travel toward the pavilion where it reflects from one side to the other before bouncing back out of the diamond’s table toward you. This phenomenon is referred to as “light return” which affects a diamond’s brightness, brilliance, and dispersion. Any light-leakage caused by poor cutting, will reduce the amount of light returned, and how good the diamond looks. Here are a couple representations:
Long short of it, don’t skimp on cut. The ratings are:
* Ideal Cut
* Premium Cut
* Very Good / Fine Cut
* Good Cut
* Fair Cut
* Poor Cut
Go no lower than Very Good cut. The good news is that generally the price increase is not prohibitive because most people cutting diamonds are skilled and have no reason to cut them poorly. I went with ideal, as I wanted it to sparkle as much as possible.
Clarity refers to how free a diamond is from tiny little (generally microscopic) imperfections inside the diamond. Diamonds are assigned clarity grades based on what can be detected with 10X magnification. If there’s a microscopic piece of dust on a diamond, it affects the clarity grade. The thing is, most imperfections have almost no impact on the brilliance of your diamond. So, if small clarity characteristics don’t affect a diamond’s beauty, why are diamonds with higher clarity grade so expensive? To pay for rarity. This means that you do not need a very clear diamond because you will not be looking at the diamond under 10X magnification, you will be looking at it with your naked eye. The way they are rated:
Diamond Clarity Designations
* FL – “Flawless” no inclusions at 10 x magnification
* IF – “Internally Flawless” no inclusions at 10 x mag.
* VVS-1 – “Very Very Small” inclusions hard to see at 10 x magnification
* VVS-2 – “Very Very Small” inclusions. VVS1 better than VVS2
* VS-1 – “Very Small” inclusions visible at 10 x mag. – not naked eye
* VS-2 – “Very Small” inclusions VS1 is better grade than VS2
* SI-1 – “Small” or “Slight” Inclusions or “Imperfections” still invisible to naked eye
* SI-2 – “Small” or “Slight” Inclusions or “Imperfections” may be visible to naked eye, may not
* SI-3 – Inclusions large, probably visible under inspection
* I1 to I3 – Starting to suck
You just have to see and decide. I recommend anything over SI2/S2. I couldn’t see anything until then when I was comparing the two. I ended up going with the Very Slightly Included.
Carat is the one that most everyone knows so I wont spend much time on it. The Carat weight largely determines the cost of the diamond and it is the obvious “size” you see. Carat is the measure of weight of a diamond. 1 Carat = 0.2 grams or 0.007 ounce. The table below gives a frame of reference (not actual sizes):
So anyway, that about covers it. On to some more finance specific things:
What is the most cost effective diamond?
The real answer is “it depends.” You really have to look for yourself. But since I hate when people say that, I will give my general opinion. From a pure “cost effective” basis, I believe the best deal would be an ideal cut, H color, I2 clarity, .99 carat diamond would be your best bet to get a good sized, fairly colorless, and acceptably brilliant diamond. A quick look on bluenile.com and I found that exact diamond for under 4k. (.99 gets you close to a carat without paying the “over 1 carat” premium).
A few things to remember when buying an engagement ring:
1) Stick to a budget
Don’t get carried away and put yourself into a poor position because you get carried away. If she is unhappy with you after you have tried hard to get something beautiful for her, you probably shouldn’t be marrying her anyway.
2) Ask for a discount
Diamonds have one of the most ridiculous retail markups of anything you can buy. If you are ready and willing to walk away from a jeweler they will cut you a good discount. Their markups are anywhere from 40% to 1000%. Ouch. Avoid “mall” stores, they are the biggest rip off.
3) Know your to be fiancee
Getting something expensive is nothing compared to getting something you know your other will love. Seriously, spend some time, do some investigation, its worth it.