With the holidays coming up, it seems like a good time to refresh an article on what may be one of the bigger purchases some people make in their lives (after a house and car). This was one of my favorite articles to write as I had put in months of research to get the best deal possible.
It seems a distant memory now. However, when I asked my wife to marry me three and a half years ago, my biggest concern wasn't her response, but actually paying for the ring. Seems pretty silly in retrospect, huh? Maybe I was just confident in the answer (more explanation on that at the end of the article).
Starting Research for Saving Money on a Diamond Ring
The name of the game when it comes to buying a diamond is doing research. I spent months (hopefully so you won't have to). The first place to start is with something you already might be familiar with... the 4Cs.
Cut: Choosing A Cut Above
All the reading and all the diamonds I looked seemed to show the same thing... a diamond's cut is the most important factor to consider. The cut is what reflects the light in such an eye-catching way. Unfortunately, this is often the hardest to judge because there's no way to quantify the cut... or is there? Yep, go to Price Scope's Cut Adviser Tool and put in the dimensions of the diamond. It asks for some detailed information. If the seller can't or doesn't provide this information to you, I'd move to someone else who can.
Carats: Size Does Matter
While I stand by my call that cut is very important, many say that carats may be even more important. You already knew that size was important - it's the first thing you notice about a diamond. I wish I could give you a guide to the right size. However, there's no such standard. There are several factors to consider such as your budget and the size of her fingers (think good proportion). The website Diamond Database has some very good tools where you can compare the actual size of what various diamonds would look like on various fingers. The last factor to consider, sad as it is to say, is the size of the diamonds of her friends'. So size does matter to avoid diamond envy... let's quickly move on before I tangent into another topic...
There are two tricks to maximize your money when it comes to size:
- Go for the one below an even number - A 0.98 carat diamond should be noticeably cheaper than a 1.01 carat one. You won't even notice the difference.
- Go for a large table and a small depth - As long as the cut isn't compromised, the diamond will weigh the same, but appear to be bigger. I used this trick to add an illusion of about 0.10 carats.
Color: White is Not Always White
Color may be the second most overrated part of buying a diamond. I started off thinking that I needed to have D color. Then I looked at an F and thought it was D. So I looked at a G, but that looked white to me too. I went on down the line. I got to around I when I realized, this is starting to not look pure white anymore. The only way I can pick out a color is via comparison to another known color. If you show me one diamond with no comparison, it is extremely difficult to pick out the color. Of course everything is in the eye of the beholder, but for me color was the place to skimp.
Clarity: Can You See Clearly Now?
That leaves clarity as the biggest overrated diamond "C." It's not to say that clarity doesn't matter. However, until you get to SI1 and SI2 people can't notice the difference with their naked eye. Even the SI1 and SI2 can only be picked out by around 1-5% of people (I have no source for this, just something that stuck out in my mind from my research back then). No one walks around putting magnifying glasses up to women's diamonds. I didn't see a reason pay for something that I can't see.
You may even be better off not using a magnifying glass when you buy - it could tempt you to opt for a higher grade. Reducing clarity for me was a great way to save money.
Ira Weissman, creator of The Diamond Pro, suggests limiting your search to online vendors that offer high quality images of their diamonds so you can inspect the clarity yourself. Weissman said, "It takes years of viewing diamonds both with magnification and without to know know with complete confidence which diamonds will be clean to the naked eye, and which diamonds won't. But even a novice can get a pretty good idea. If you're looking at an SI1, and the inclusions are all bunched to the side and can be covered by a prong, then it will clearly be eye clean. Obviously, a white/translucent inclusion is better than a black one. Inclusions on the periphery of the stone are much harder to see than inclusions in the middle of the stone, etc."
Cost: The 5th C
This is why you are reading this article in the first place. Diamond sellers don't like to talk about this 5th C (cost) much. I think the best approach to saving money on a diamond is to set a budget and stick to it. It's tempting to go up a color or a clarity, but it becomes a never ending cycle. If you have to buy less ring, then do it. Beware of the salesman who tried to push a psychological trick on you such as, "Diamonds are forever." or "Isn't she worth it?" If I hear that, I walk right out of the store.
Where to Buy the Diamond
When my appraiser finished grading my diamond, he asked how much I paid. When I told him, he was shocked. He promptly logged into his private wholesale NY exchange to see what he could get a similar diamond for. He found that he'd have to pay $500 more through his network.
How did I pull that off? I bought my diamond on the Internet. I bet a lot of you are cringing right now (though fewer when I first wrote this article in 2008). Well, I had a support group of many people in the Pricescope Forums. They helped tell me which store to avoid and which ones they've had success with. Pricescope also had a great search engine on Home Page.
How to Buy the Diamond
I'm a big believer in buying things with a credit card and packing in the reward points. When it comes to diamonds, you can get a big discount by using cash or a cash equivalent. It certainly takes some guts to fork over big cash on the Internet like that. Nonetheless, the reviews were good and the company was publicly traded (which gave me some confidence). In hindsight, being publicly traded shouldn't have...
Diamond Certification: Another Way to Save
You may know that there are many different labs that grade diamonds. You can see all kinds of acronyms of labs such as AGS, CGL, GIA, HRD, IGI, EGL. What you may not know is that a diamond graded by one lab may be significantly higher priced than another lab... even if the 4C's appear to be the same. It seems that AGS in particular is expensive and is perceived to be the strictest of graders. I don't know if that's 100% true, but you can see the price differences via this study.
The different certifications have a way of muddying the waters. Is an AGS F grade really and EGL G grade? Sometimes that can be the case. One thing to think about though, is that the differences of between a grade are small. The differences between two people's opinions of the grade is even smaller. So if you can save 20% by going with EGL Israel (not be confused with EGL-USA which has stricter grading). I say go for it. After all, you are going to get it independently appraised right? My appraiser took the diamond, graded it, and then asked me how close he was. When he was dead on, it served as another check that I was got exactly what I hoped I would. And notably, when I insure it, I'd get the same quality diamond back if it ever came to that.
Buy a Diamond Ring Complete vs. Build it Yourself?
I'm against buying a diamond ring complete. Why? When you are buying just the diamond, you can target exactly what you want. If you are looking for the complete ring, you are likely to come across a great diamond in a setting that you wouldn't have picked. This way you can get the best diamond, the best setting, the relationship with the jeweler... the best of all worlds. Plus you may find that your fiance brags to her friends... I offer no guarantee , but time after time I heard praise for "designing it myself." I wasn't about to correct my wife and say, "Ummm, I picked a diamond and a ring style, it's not like I am some kind of artist of metal working."
Where to Buy the Ring and Setting
I decided against buying the setting on the Internet, though it would have saved a couple hundred dollars. Why? The answer is service. If you buy everything on the Internet, what happens if prong gets dinged or you want to polish up the platinum? You are going to have to pay top dollar for that. However, if you buy the ring from the local store, he's likely to provide you with fine service for years to come.
As for the ring itself, I found that I saved enough money on the color and clarity that I should go big and get platinum. I went against yellow gold, because it really wasn't either of our styles. I went against white gold because it's a softer metal and I could see it getting dinged up over the years. Platinum isn't immune to that, but it's stronger. The only other thing that crossed my mind was titanium. However, on a pure psychological level, I felt that was like buying a super $4,000 television and hooking up $5 computer speakers to it. I don't think I was offered the option of a titanium setting, probably because it doesn't bend enough to set the diamond in. However, when it came to my ring, I went with titanium - and it cost only slightly more than $100.
My Ring Purchase
I don't think I can escape this article without giving details on the details of the diamond that I ended up with. It was 1.63 carats (but had a table on par with 1.75 carat diamonds, so it looks even bigger), SI1, H color, and Ideal cut, graded by EGL-Israel. You can see that I hit almost every part except that I went over the round number (1.5) of carats instead of under. I paid $6300 for it via Abazias. Similarly priced diamonds there are going for around $7200 on the site today. In contrast, Amazon is showing 6 similar diamonds to the one I got, albeit only 1.5 carats, for $9200+. A local place in the Boston suburbs wanted around $11,000 for a similar diamond. So I see my savings in this case to be between $3000 and $5000 - significant cash.
The platinum setting was around $1000, bringing the total price to around $7300. Now I know to some people that may seem like an excessive purchase. When I was creating my budget, I factored in a number of things. A large part of it was my income (and projected income for the foreseeable future) was solid. I should mention that I factored "diamond envy" in the equation. My wife grew up in one of the poorest families in a wealthy town. Poor enough that her clothes had holes in them (not in the stylish way). She rarely had anything great for herself. I wanted to set the tone appropriately on our new life. I wanted to show her that if we are smart we can have nice things... really nice things that she might not have imagined.
While these next two paragraphs won't help you save money on a diamond ring, I figure if you've fought through the first 2000 words, I might as well finish off the story with a related money tip and related funny story.
Related Money Tip: If you are going to propose in a foreign country like Saint Martin (as I did), budget for some phone bills. I actually planned an elaborate scheme to get unlimited dial-up Internet access through the local phone company (they didn't offer high speed of any kind in late 2005), to use Skype to SkypeOut back to the United States. Unfortunately that wasn't something that could be easily set up on the first day. Skype over a dial-up Internet connection worked better than I had thought.
Related Funny Story: While we were at the airport on the way to Saint Martin, my wife was reading up for things to do there. One of the things that Caribbean islands are known for is their diamond sales to tourists. (Perhaps there's some kind of tax loophole with importing them, I don't know.) My wife came across an ad for diamonds in that magazine. In an over-the-top gesture, she pretended to drop the magazine in my lap on that very page. She didn't find out for a few hours that she hit the diamond ring in my pocket square with the magazine!
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