Over the last few weeks, I've provided you with some helpful tips for popping the question, and some common mistakes when buying diamonds. I wanted to follow up with a more comprehensive guide to shed some light on the entire engagement ring buying process. My ultimate goal is to simplify the already daunting task of making one of the biggest investments you may ever make, by creating a simple, easy to understand guide for guys out there, who have absolutely zero knowledge of this process. There is a ton of information out there that basically tell you the same thing, but most of those sites won't give you the practical knowledge that you really need to know.
With the help of my good friend Brandy from Tiffany, Beverly Hills, I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of practical advice that will familiarize the average person with some common terminology, and hopefully provide some confidence when looking for the perfect engagement ring for your significant other. Make note of the terms in bold – vocabulary you should familiarize yourself with before going out there and dropping some serious dough on your new investment. Which brings me to my next point: Many people consider jewelry exactly that - an investment. More often than not, people will trade in jewelry in the future, and having a ring with desirable qualities will certainly help with the long term value of your investment.
You’ll have to buy her not one, but TWO rings. Yes that’s right. There is a ring for the engagement, and there is another ring for the wedding. The engagement ring is naturally called the engagement ring, and the other one is called a wedding band. Sometimes you’ll see these two sold together as a set. If not, be sure to ask which wedding band goes well with the engagement ring to complete the set. It’s also a good chance for you to see if the set looks good together. In my opinion, sometimes the band throws off the aesthetic balance of some engagement rings, but what are you gonna do? Some bands are shaped to compliment the engagement ring too, which is nice.
Remember This: An engagement ring and a wedding band complete a set.
Let’s break this down even further…
There are two parts to an engagement ring: the setting, and the center stone. The setting is typically what many people know as the actual ring that you slip over your finger. It can come in a variety of designs, each consisting of different elements. The center stone is what you usually see as the centerpiece of the ring as a whole, and is typically the most expensive part of the ring. Think of the center stone as the main event, and the setting as the thing that is there to showcase the main event. Or if you want to really simplify it even further, if the entire ring were a beehive, the setting/shank would be the honeycomb, the accentuating diamonds are the worker bees, and the center stone is the queen bee.
Let’s talk about the center stone:
If you’ve done some research, you would have come across the 4 C’s of diamonds. Every girl likes to talk about the 4 C’s, but to most guys, this can sound like a bunch of gibberish. To make it simple, here is a quick breakdown of the 4 C’s.
1. Cut - Various shapes (princess, oval, marquise, cushion, round, pear, heart, emerald, radiant, etc.)
2. Color - Is it colorless, or does it have a hint of yellow? More color can drastically reduce value.
3. Clarity - Is it clear, or does it have a milky quality?
3. Clarity - Is it clear, or does it have a milky quality?
4. Carat Weight - Overall size.
Remember This: Center stones are graded on a scale based on these 4 main factors, and that determines how valuable they are.
In the end, if you’ve got all the money in the world, you can pay for the world’s most perfect, colorless, clear, ginormous diamond, but if you’re a normal person, you’ll most likely have to find a balance between these 4 C’s that will make you comfortable with your allotted budget.
To Put Things Into Perspective:
In 1968, Actress Elizabeth Taylor received a 33 carat “asscher cut” diamond ring worth
$305,000 at the time. It is currently worth over $10 million.
In 2001, Vanessa Bryant received a 7 carat “asscher cut” engagement ring from Kobe Bryant, worth $100,000. He later (in)famously gave her an 8 carat purple diamond ring worth $4 million.
In 2008 Mariah carey received an 18 carat pink “emerald cut” engagement ring from Nick Cannon, worth $2.5 million.
In 2010, Beyonce received a 28 carat “emerald cut” engagement ring from Jay-Z, worth $5 million.
In 2010, Khloe Kardashian received a 9 carat “radiant cut” engagement ring from Lamar Odom, worth $850,000.
In 2011, Kim Kardashian received a 20.5 carat “emerald cut” engagement ring from Kris Humphries, worth $2 million.
The bottom line is that a large majority of us normal folks won’t be spending nearly as much as the above-mentioned people. More commonly, most people will likely be looking for a center stone in the neighborhood of 1 carat. Some more, some less. But you get the idea.
Why the Difference in Price?
Let’s compare Mariah Carey’s diamond (18k, 2.5 million) to Kim Kardashian’s ring (20.5k, 2 million). Remember, the figures listed above are values describing just the center stone. Mariah’s diamond is smaller by 2 carats, yet costs $500,000 more. Why? First of all, it has a pink center stone, which is more rare. Perhaps it also has fewer inclusions (internal flaws), or it may be more clear. It also may have a higher total carat weight (t.w) with accentuating stones, making it more valuable. It’s all part of the tradeoffs when comparing diamonds.
Back to You:
With your budget in mind, you will find yourself playing a game of give and take with the 4 C’s. Let’s say for example that you’re looking at “Diamond A” at $10,000. For the sake of this example, it is a 1 carat stone, colorless, clear, and has no visible inclusions.
“Diamond B” is slightly smaller at 0.8 carats, is almost colorless, not quite as clear, and has a few inclusions, though none are visible without magnification, this one may cost
thousands less….say $6000. Yet when placed side by side, they may look exactly the same. What’s the tradeoff? Lower quality and size all the way around, and you’re spending way less money. Change a couple of the C’s around and you may be looking at a whole new price for a whole different diamond. For example, if you’ve got a bigger stone, “Diamond C,” at 1.5 carats, but it’s visibly yellow and cloudy, with visible flaws, it could theoretically be even less valuable than “Diamond B.” On the other hand, “Diamond D” at only 0.5 carats, but flawless, clear, colorless, and perfectly cut, it could potentially cost even more than the $10,000 “Diamond A.” See where I’m going with this? Unless you have unlimited cash, you’ll have to determine which of the 4 C’s is most important to you and her, and play that game of give-and-take to determine which diamond you want to make your investment in. Bigger is not necessarily better if it’s lacking in the other 3 C’s.
Remember this: Center stones should come with a certificate of appraisal.
This is like a report card for diamonds, complete with grades for various categories such as inclusions, clarity, color, etc. I’m not going into details of the grading scale, but every legitimate center stone should be certified by some kind of organization like the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), International Diamond Council (IDC), or the European Gemological Laboratory (EGL). On top of that, these diamonds have some kind of identifying number embedded somewhere within, like a serial number plate, associating it with the respective certificate/report. Ask for them to point it out under a microscope. That’s how you know that your dealer isn’t claiming to sell you a specific stone on paper, and swapping it out with a less valuable one.
Remember This: Most of your money will be spent on the center stone, instead of the setting.
The setting can come in a variety of forms. You’ll hear terms like “solitaire, 3 stone, side stone, and halo” among others. These describe the actual design of the ring, commonly known as a shank. As you can image, a solitaire is a single center stone mounted on the shank by itself. Other settings have accentuating diamonds surrounding the center stone. For example, a 3 stone design is a center stone mounted between 2 smaller stones on either side. A halo design is a center stone surrounded by a bunch of smaller stones in a circle or square, which typically enhances the center stone, and can make the overall ring look bigger. In the end, some rings will have just 1 diamond, and others may feature multiple diamonds depending on the setting. The total cumulative carat weight of the setting AND the center stone is known as total carat weight, abbreviated as (t.w).
Remember This: Settings have the accentuating diamonds, as mentioned above, are called semi-mounts, and do not come with a center stone.
Semi-mounts are likely to feature a cubic zirconia as the center stone by default. If you want a diamond as your center stone, you’ll have to purchase it separately and have it mounted. Some retailers will specify “diamond not included,” when listing their settings as semi-mounts – while others will not. When you see the term “semi-mount,” know that you still have not purchased the “Main Event.”
About Cubic Zirconias:
I first heard the term cubic zirconia as a kid, watching the old Warner Brothers cartoons, and early on, I knew that a cubic zirconia (qz) is a fancy term for a fake diamond. Without getting into the science of it, it is essentially a synthesized material that resembles a diamond, but is far less valuable. Most store displays feature settings with cubic zirconias, which makes sense for many reasons, including theft prevention.
Diamond Cuts (Shapes):
There are a variety of diamond shapes, and I’m not going to get into describing each one because I think it is a matter of preference. I personally like symmetrical shapes like the square nature of a “princess cut” diamond. Another person may like the round shape of a “round cut” diamond, which may feature more facets than other cuts. More facets usually mean more surface area to reflect light, and thus more sparkle. One may also prefer an “emerald cut” diamond because it sometimes appear bigger. So how do you know what she likes? A good tip is to check out her current jewelry, which will tell you a lot about her style. Does she like vintage looking stuff, or more modern jewelry? Does her stuff look flashy? (good luck!) Maybe you can start by asking her how she feels about the look of certain famous celebrity rings as mentioned above.
In conclusion, I’ve given you a basic foundation. I’m no expert, but I hope that after reading this, you are a lot more comfortable with engagement ring terminology, and can walk into a store with some confidence about what you are doing. Being knowledgeable about this stuff is already half of the battle, and I hope that it will provide some comfort in dealing with such a big and important investment.