Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Buying an engagement ring

It's not hard to find information on buying a diamond—most jewelers will be more than happy to tell you about the four "C"s, and you know your budget better than De Beers does (two months' salary? malarkey!).

But an engagement ring is more than just a diamond; it's a piece of jewelry that most women will wear everyday for the rest of their lives (or their marriages; you know, whatever). So the NUMBER ONE piece of advice I would give anyone who is looking to get a ring in the near future? ASK HER WHAT SHE WANTS.

(Ha, you thought I was going to say something about the significance of an engagement ring and the love that it symbolizes or something sappy like that? Bah. You obviously don't know me very well. The ring means nothing more than how people react to it. It's not a symbol of anything except the money you spent. So SPEND LESS!)

To save money on the ring, Mr. Spaniel and I tried a few different things. Maybe one of these will work for you!

First, we looked into a sapphire ring instead of a diamond (this one is from Brilliant Earth, a jeweler specializing in non-conflict diamonds and recycled metals based in San Francisco). Blue is my favorite color and sapphires are my birthstone, so it seemed like a viable option. It was important to me, though, to find a setting that could sit flush with the wedding band, and I didn't find a sapphire ring that I liked that did that, so we decided to keep looking.

Once we decided on a diamond, Mr. Spaniel started planning to get me a solitaire ring, which would have offered some savings on the setting, at least. But I wanted something that offered a little more visual interest for the buck, and solitaires are sort of... expected? So we kept looking.

We also tried to save money on the ring by shopping around online. I had found a beautiful Ritani setting that I loved in a jewelry store, but I didn't love the price—it was set with a 75 point stone, H color, and it was still $7,500! So I spent hours (months, really) shopping around online, trying to find (1) a lower retail price, (2) an online or out-of-state retailer who wouldn't charge sales tax, and (3) a higher quality, less expensive diamond to set in the ring. I eventually found all three of those, but because the designer setting was so expensive, we just couldn't find the ring for less than $8,000 (for a full carat), and that was more than we wanted to spend, especially for a piece of jewelry we'd never laid eyes on.

What ultimately saved Mr. Spaniel and I the most money, aside from skipping the "designer" band, was changing the shape of the diamond. Round cut diamonds lose more of the raw stone than any other shape, so a well-cut 1 carat diamond will cost much more than a less traditional shape cut from the same rough stone. Princess cut diamonds are very trendy and in-demand right now, so they also cost more than similar-sized diamonds in less common shapes. Reducing the size of the diamond from 1 carat to .9 carats also reduces the price, well beyond the 10% reduction in weight.

We ended up getting a ring like this one (only, NOT two carats; image from Ring Envy): an oval cut, .91 carat center stone with .76 carats of tiny round cut diamonds surrounding the center stone and along the band. Because we went with a smaller center stone, we were able to get a much higher quality color and clarity, and because of the surrounding diamonds on the halo setting, it actually looks much bigger than it is. And because we had learned a lot about what we should look for in a diamond and what it should cost, and went to a local, family-owned shop, we were able to negotiate a great price on the ring.

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