Did your fiancé pop the question and surprise you with an engagement ring, or are you one of the less conventional ladies that insists on picking the ring herself? If so, unless you can walk into Tiffany’s and get your dream ring, trying to buy a diamond on a budget takes some time, research, bargaining, compromising and a bit of luck.
I really wanted for my fiancé and I to search and find my perfect ring together, and when we started out on our little treasure hunt we knew next to nothing about diamonds. I did know from asking my friends, who had already gotten engaged, that their fiancés spent an average of $8-10K on a ring; some even took out loans to finance it, and some where given no choice: the ring was either going to cost 10K or the guy got the boot(this is a true story).
When I asked my fiancé what the budget would be he said $2,500K. So right there, we were faced with a challenge how to find a beautiful diamond ring that did not cost a fortune.
So here is how we went about our search and what I learned along the way.
Diamond Size = Big Bucks
When we started going around to different jewelry stores, we quickly realized that the price of a diamond depends most on its size. If your dream is to sport a big rock on your finger, expect to spend at least $6000-7000 for a decent quality 1CT stone. I was really surprised to learn that the price of diamonds goes up EXPONENTIALLY as they get bigger, because they are much more rare than smaller stones.
For example, while a 1 CT (F color, SI1 clarity) may cost you $7500, a 2CT with the same parameters) will jump in price to $27200 ($13600 per Carat). Therefore, price per CT almost doubles as you go from one size to another, and the total price quadruples!
Along the way, we also learned that diamond prices are calculated using a retail price list, compiled by Rapaport. Most independent jewelers use the Rapaport Sheet to price the stone for you. Therefore you can use the Rap Sheet to see if you are being overcharged or getting a fair deal. The price examples above are taken from the RAP Sheet.
Working within our budget, we figured out fairly quickly that we would not be able to afford anything bigger than 0.5 CT and settled on looking for stones between 0.4-0.5 CT. All the stones in that size range that we looked at, varied in price from $650-$1300 dollars depending on other factors such as color, clarity, and cut.
At one point, I was so disheartened by how expensive diamonds were that I started looking at other precious stones, particularly sapphires. They are absolutely beautiful, come in a wide range of hues from yellow to pink to blue, and cost almost half the price of diamonds for the same size. However, in my heart I was really drawn to diamonds, and decided that I would compromise on size and get a stone that I really like.
Don’t overpay for clarity
In addition to size, one of the other major factors that affect the price of diamonds is clarity, which is basically how many and what types of inclusions the stone has. These inclusions occur naturally within almost every stone, and can range from tiny white spots that are on the edge of the stone and are completely invisible to the eye, to big dark lumps right dead in the center of the stone. But here is the catch: from inspecting dozens of diamonds from different jewelers, we discovered that you can get a stone that looks perfect to the naked eye, but is actually ranked as an SI (inclusions) or I (visible inclusions), and costs a few hundred dollars less than a stone ranked as near perfect in clarity. Clarity is one of those things that you absolutely MUST see for yourself and cannot go by a ranking, because if two stones with different clarity rankings look absolutely the same to you and you cannot pick out which one is more “clear”, than in this case this ranking becomes a superficial label that costs a lot of money.
What you want to avoid is diamonds that have visible dark spots, as they look very cheap and unattractive. They may cost less, but in this case you are really compromising quality. Just to illustrate how superficial a rating can be, we had one jeweler show us a diamond that was GIA certified as an S1 because it had only 1 inclusion, so it was more expensive, but this inclusion was close to the center and dark in color so it was very visible. Bottom line: don’t overpay for the label, inspect the diamond yourself and pay for one where inclusions are not visible. If you cannot spot them, no one around you will!
One reason why I like diamonds so much is because of the magical way they sparkle. Prior to searching for my diamond, I thought that all diamonds have the same shine, but I quickly learned that it is not the case. How brilliant a diamond is depends on its cut, which can be Excellent, Very Good and Good. When looking at a diamond, you can see right away the difference between an Excellent Cut, which reflects light in a way that produces an array of colors, and a Good Cut, which reflects light rather poorly, so even in bright light, the stone looks rather dim. When it comes to Very Good Cut, it gets tricky, because some of these stones are cut very close to Excellent are off by a 10th of a percent, which makes them a little cheaper, but does not negatively impact their sparkle.
I decided that if I had to have a small diamond, I wanted all the bling I could get, so I insisted on only looking at stones with an Excellent Cut or Very Good Cut whose measurements were close to Excellent. One tip that worked for me, was to look at stones next to each other and compare them to see if you can spot the difference. Always compare the stones you are considering to one that has a Triple Excellent Cut, which will help you spot the differences right away.
Color is Essential
It turns out that diamonds are also rated based on how white they are on a scale of D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M with D being perfectly white and more expensive, and M being very close to yellow, and therefore much cheaper. Hands down, colorless stones were a lot more beautiful, and after looking at many different color grades I figured that I did not want a stone bellow an F grade. Here again, comparing diamonds to a D or an E color stone really helped me to figure out what I liked. Also, since most ring settings now come in white gold, and many have other diamonds in them, a whiter stone looks much better than a yellower one (I, J, K), because once you place a yellower diamond into a white gold setting, you can immediately notice a difference in color.
Small Privately Owned Jewelers Rock
Since we were looking for a bargain, we went to a whole bunch of jewelry stores from privately owned small jewelers in Downtown Boston, to Jewelry Exchange in Sudbury, to corporate chain stores such as Zales and Kay Jewelers. Hands down, smaller jewelers are the way to go if you are looking to get a really high quality beautiful stone on a budget. First, in the smaller stores, they really care about not only helping you get what you want but also EDUCATING you about diamonds.
Pretty much everything we learned was thanks to spending a few hours talking to different jewelers as they showed us their inventory. We found them to be patient, accommodating and willing to work with you to make a good price. We went to Joseph Gann Jewelers, where we ended up buying our diamond, 4 times, because we couldn’t decide and kept coming back to see and discuss some more. They always greeted us with a smile.
On the other hand, the bigger stores seemed to have more of an agenda to sell, without giving us enough time to examine the stones, were not really open to answering our endless questions and also overall had a smaller inventory of rather poor quality stones for pretty hefty prices.
The End Result
After what seemed like an eternity but was an intense three weeks jam packed with trips to about a dozen jewelers, we finally found a gorgeous diamond at Joseph Gann Jewelers: a 0.49 CT for $857 F color, and I1 clarity (which is invisible to to eye, and is hard to find with a loupe) – a true gem, with Excellent Symmetry, and near Excellent cut & polish.
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