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Love is in the air! And with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, you may be in the market for an engagement ring. 

If you haven’t spent time planning for this purchase, pump the brakes. There are a lot of factors to consider when shopping – a purchase this important, meaningful, and expensive should not be an impulse buy.  

As the saying goes, diamonds are forever. They are also expensive. You need to know exactly what you want and how to determine quality before you start shopping. Here are a few tips to take her breath away while getting the best quality for your money:

Investigate Her Wants – Start to investigate her style, and take note of the things she likes in regards to jewelry. Would she prefer a vintage or antique styled ring, or does she like the latest modern and contemporary styles? Find ways to learn more about her ideal ring. Try to determine the style, shape, and metal she would like most.

While it’s important to consider what she wants in a ring, also remember that this is a gift. You may not find the perfect ring (unless you are having it made), so select one that best represents your love and incorporates most of her preferences. There are also several “hint” jewelry websites and profiles your partner can create online to help you gain ideas. Perhaps you can gain assistance from a close friend or relative to get a better idea of what she likes.

Work Within Your Budget – Forget any and all rules related to your salary, a percentage of your monthly paycheck, or how long you have dated your partner. These “rules” are arbitrary and vary greatly depending upon who you ask. The “rules” on proper engagement ring pricing seems to change as often as smartphone models change. You shouldn’t bother trying to keep up with the latest trend. Instead, keep it simple. Here’s a rule you can always follow: Buy your partner the best ring you can afford without going into any (or very little) debt. The key to purchasing the ring outright is to plan ahead. If you’re not financially prepared to make the purchase, start putting money aside to pay for the ring.

Again, don’t rush this purchase. Make personal sacrifices in order to save more for the ring; because your best payment option is paying for the ring outright. If possible, avoid financing or using a credit card. After all, you still have a life to live after making this purchase. Remember, at the end of the day, the ring is simply a symbol of your love. Perhaps you should reconsider taking the leap if you think your new fiancé will be more concerned with her ring than the life you are planning to build together. Besides, you can always upgrade to a larger diamond and nicer ring in the future, when it’s more fiscally responsible for you to do so.

Know The Four Cs of Diamond Quality – Each and every diamond is unique, and the 4 Cs are specific qualities that universally establish the value of the diamond. The 4 Cs are cut, color, clarity, and carat.

  • Cut Grade - Most people think of the diamond’s cut as the shape (such as round, oval, pear, marquise, heart, etc). This is not the case.  A diamond’s cut grade is really about how well a diamond’s facets interact with light.  The cut grading is scaled from poor to excellent. A diamond’s cut unleashes its light. Desirable visual effects like brightness, fire, and scintillation are all taken into account.  A diamond’s cut is crucial to the stone’s final beauty and value.
  • Color – In actuality, this means lack of color. The less color in the diamond, the higher quality and value the diamond possesses.  A near perfect diamond has no hue - think of a pure drop of water. The best quality starts with a grading of D, meaning the diamond is colorless. The worst grading is Z, meaning that there is light coloring to the diamond.
  • Clarity Grade – A diamond’s clarity refers to the absence of blemishes and inclusions. Any external characteristics are referred to as blemishes. Any internal characteristics are referred to as inclusions. The less you have of each, the better quality and value the diamond possesses. Evaluating diamond clarity involves determining the number, size, relief, nature, and position of these characteristics, as well as how these affect the overall appearance of the stone. Don’t worry yourself with attempting to find a flawless clarity grade. Very few diamonds have perfectly pure clarity, and the ones that do have pure clarity are likely outside of your budget. The closer it comes to having no blemishes or inclusions, the higher its value.  This is graded on a clarity scale, which includes 11 specific grades.
  • Carot Weight – This is the most commonly known ‘C’ of the four. Diamond carat weight is the measurement of how much a diamond weighs. A metric “carat” is defined as 200 milligrams, and a carat can be subdivided into 100 ‘points.’ A diamond below one carat may be described in ‘points’ alone. For example, a diamond that weighs 0.35 carats may be referred to as a ‘thirty-five pointer’ by a jeweler. A diamond that weighs more than a carat is typically described in carats and decimals. For example, a 2.06 carat stone can be described as ‘two point oh six carats.’ All else being equal, diamond price increases with diamond carat weight because larger diamonds are rare to find and more desirable.

It’s important to remember that a diamond’s value is determined using ALL of the 4Cs, not just carat weight. Two diamonds of equal carat weight can have very different values (and prices) depending on the three other factors: clarity, color, and cut.

Buy Loose Stones – Many experts recommend buying the stone(s) separate from the setting. After all, the stone(s) account for the majority of the ring’s cost. Buying the stone(s) separately allows you to get the most gorgeous (and high quality) diamond(s) within your budget using the 4 Cs grading system. Inspect the main, centerpiece stone with a loupe (which is the handheld magnifier jewelers have) and look for the 4 Cs discussed above. You can see the obvious flaws, which will help you bargain the price. A good jeweler will assist you and guide you through what you are looking for in the stone.

Always Get The Paperwork – Any diamond one carat or higher should be accompanied by a diamond-grading report. This report should be issued by an independent gemological association. The most recognized are the GIA and the American Gem Society. Your bill of sale should also include your diamonds “fingerprint”, which includes the stone’s 4 Cs mentioned above. The fingerprint should also include the shape, dimensions, and enhancements. The fingerprint should also note the designer, if it is an antique piece, and if it is handmade or custom-designed. All of this factors into the worth of the piece and the diamond. Smaller diamonds may have paperwork as well – always ask for it, regardless of the size.

You May Have to Wait – If you plan to purchase a custom ring using the loose stone(s) you select, or if you plan to have your ring engraved, you may have to wait a few weeks for the ring. Going “custom” will sound complicated, stressful, and expensive; however, you will find that it is quite the opposite. True jewelers can take the stone(s) you select and place them in the ring setting you love. Again, selecting the stone and then selecting the ring setting will likely give you the highest quality ring and stone within your budget.   

You may be exhausted by the time you have the perfect ring, but the fun is just beginning. Planning the proposal can be just as time-consuming as shopping for the ring. Just like the ring shopping process, do your homework and make the experience fun and unique to her. And only you know what that truly means – good luck!