There’s a whole host of places you could buy your engagement ring from: a local family jeweler, a big chain, online stories or, heck, eBay.
But how do you know which one is going to offer you the best quality rings and the best value?
Well, there really is only one type of retailer that you should ever consider when buying an engagement ring. One type that gives you the best choice, the best service and the very best price.
In days gone by
Twenty years ago, all rings would have been bought from bricks and mortar jewelers. Guys would have toddled off with their wallets bulging with three months’ salary, been talked at by a jeweler who tried to upsell them as much as possible and then taken their pick from the limited selection available.
Now with the rise of e-commerce there are other routes to market for diamonds and small-scale artisanal jewelers give you more options than ever before.
In this section, I’ll look at the pros and cons of each of the five main avenues to help you get the ring you want at a price you’re happy to pay.
1. Buying your engagement ring from a jeweler
Kicking it old school. A big benefit is that you can gauge the quality of the shop from its appearance, you’ll be able to compare different stores’ wares and you can ask sales staff questions and examine any diamond through a loupe, or even a microscope.
If you’re in a major city, there are often clusters of jewelers which makes the comparison even easier. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can take the specs to each jeweler and see who has the best match and the best price.
Something to watch out for is that in the jewelry shop you will be sold to, rather than being able to buy without pressure from a salesperson. I’ve got a post here which will talk you through the murky waters of buying from a jeweler and will help you get the best deal.
When you’re looking for a jeweler, make sure that you’re looking at shops that specialise in diamonds, or the precious stone that you’re looking for, rather than a general high street jeweler that also sells watches, crystal decanters and other things that old people seem to enjoy collecting.
A few questions to consider when selecting a jeweler:
- Do they use offer jewels with certification? You should be looking for GIA, AGS, IGI or Hooge Raad
- Do they offer a written money-back guarantee? A 10-day cooling off period after you buy is always a good idea
- Will they let you examine a diamond under a microscope, rather than just through a jeweler’s loupe?
- Do they have a full-spectrum diamond light to let you judge the colour grade?
- Do they offer clarity-enhanced diamonds? Most respectable diamond specialists don’t
2. Buying your engagement ring from a jewelry wholesaler
Jewelry wholesalers take a big link out of the supply chain. They’re where the high street jewelers buy their stones and some won’t deal with individual consumers.
But, if you can find a wholesaler that is happy to talk to you then you should be able to score a good deal. However, make sure you know exactly what you want before you walk in. They won’t be interested in casual enquiries and won’t take the time to talk you through options. However, they will have a huge selection of stones, which could be up to 50% cheaper than at a high street jeweler.
Contact your local jewelry trade association for a list of names and numbers. The potential savings are worth an hour of letting your fingers do the walking.
Wholesalers will usually only sell you a stone, rather than a whole ring – you’ll need a jeweler for the setting. And if you are going down this route, I’d recommend getting a quote for the setting before you buy the stone, so you can work out your budget for the stone.
3. Buying a custom engagement ring
There are two main reasons to go with a custom ring:
- If you have an idea for a ring that you can’t find elsewhere
- If you’d like to copy an expensive ring
The benefits of a custom ring are pretty obvious – you and can dial-in the different factors to create exactly what you want. Often the best way is to use a small, independent jewelry designer. They will offer a consultative service and work with you on the design until you are happy.
One disadvantage is that you may not have as much haggle-room as with a jeweler. By its nature, a custom-designed piece isn’t sitting in a stock-room waiting to be sold, so you’ll have to accept the price given to you. But this doesn’t mean you won’t get a competitive price that can be equivalent to or even lower than a store. The designer and independent manufacturer will have lower overheads which should be reflected in the price.
4. Buying a second hand engagement ring
Engagement rings mean so much that going for a second hand ring is often overlooked. People want their ring to be freshly cut and polished and untouched by anyone else’s finger.
But there are advantages to buying second hand – namely cost savings. Like a car, a diamond will lose significant value as soon as it’s driven off the lot – usually around 25%. Despite this, it’s still the same quality of diamond and, after a good clean, should look as good as new.
You may also be able to find a fantastic old design not commonly produced now – possibly an art deco gem from the 1930s. If your girlfriend has an offbeat style, a vintage ‘preloved’ ring could be perfect.
Some old fashioned also offer great bargains. Old mine cut, transition cut and old European cut diamonds aren’t generally sought after. They’re often recut to the round brilliant cut, which results in up to 40% of the diamond being lost as the edges are trimmed off. With these cuts you can get a bigger stone at a smaller price.
With a second hand diamond, always make sure it comes with certification. If not, even if you love it, don’t buy it unless the seller is willing to get the stone tested by an accredited laboratory, at their cost.
5. Buying an engagement ring from an online retailer
Buying a ring or just a stone online offers you the biggest range possible. Many sites list entire wholesalers’ inventories – literally hundreds of thousands of stones – giving you access to a huge choice that a store could never match. And, as with all e-commerce, prices are often lower than traditional stores.
But, the number one reason for buying online is that certain sites have tools that allow you to dial in the characteristics of the ring to your requirements. You can choose the exact combinations of the 4Cs that you want and their huge inventories mean that they will always have a stone to match your specs.
That’s what I did when I bought my ring and it meant that I could play with the different factors of the ring until it was exactly what I was looking for. This was definitely the best route for me as it meant that I could use my new knowledge about what really mattered with diamonds, rather than being limited to choosing from a much smaller selection in a bricks and mortar store.
Taking advantage of these tools is my huge tip from me and the key to getting a great ring at a fantastic price. As this worked out so well for me, I want to give everyone the change to benefit from the same service, so I am building a list of online stores that offer these customisation tools on my website. Check out my list of recommended retailers here.
However, I understand that not everyone is comfortable with buying online, especially with such a high-value purchase. The stores that I recommend are all extremely well established with excellent reputations and extremely solid return policies. Hopefully you won’t need them, but they’re there if you do.
One thing to watch out for if you are planning on buying from a foreign site is the tax and duty that could be charged when it enters your country. Although you may save on initial purchase price, you will likely have to declare the ring’s value on entry to your country, incurring sales tax and possibly an import tax and possibly outweighing any original saving.
You could avoid or reduce this by asking the website to mark down the value of the ring. However, this means the ring won’t be insured for its full value when shipped, so I’d advise against this. Paying a percentage of the ring’s value in tax is much better than shelling out for a new ring if the original gets lost in the post.
As I mentioned in the intro, for me there’s only one place that you should really ever consider buying an engagement ring now, and that’s online.
The choice, the ability to tailor and the great prices really do mean that you can saved thousands over buying through the other options.