Basics of buying a
Buying a diamond ring is often an emotional -- not to mention expensive
-- experience. But it doesn't have to be stressful and you don't
have to go into debt to get a nice ring.
Stones come in different shapes -- round, oval, marquise,
pear, radiant, emerald, heart and princess -- and a variety of settings.
But before you start reading about carats and color, remember that
there's more than one way to do things. For example, you could buy
the setting, but not the stone. A friend wears what looks like an
expensive three-stone ring: a diamond with a small sapphire on either
side. The sapphires are real, the center stone is cubic zirconia.
Cost: $800. Their plan is to buy a loose diamond when they can afford
Or you could buy the ring from a store that allows
you to "trade up" and later on apply the cost of the current ring
to a more expensive one (obviously, you pay the difference). You
and your beloved might also decide to just get engaged and forego
the expense of the engagement ring. Sure, these solutions might
not sound romantic. But they're practical ways to approach what
can be a financially daunting purchase -- not everyone has the spare
cash or desire to take on more debt to buy a diamond ring. If it's
an engagement ring, it's important that couples can have honest
discussions about money -- and engagement rings are a great way
If you're contemplating buying an engagement ring, there's probably
a burning question in your mind: how much is this going to cost?
That depends on the quality of the stone you buy, its size and its
setting. A diamond engagement ring -- undoubtedly the most popular
stone -- can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to millions
When you're looking at price tags, tune out the industry's
marketing hype that "it's a gift for a lifetime" for which you should
spend at least two month's salary. How much you spend is a personal
decision, as is how you finance the ring.
Ideally, you'll have some money in the bank before
you buy the ring or loose stone. Most jewelers will accept payment
in cash or with a credit card. Opt for the latter -- you'll have
a record of the transaction, which gives you leverage if something
goes awry and you need to dispute the charge. That said, your best
bet is to pay your next credit card bill in full, unless you have
a low interest rate and are willing to rack up fees for paying off
the ring in installments.
Diamonds: The Four Cs
You can buy a loose diamond or one that's already in a setting.
With a loose stone, you can quickly verify its quality with a report
from an independent laboratory such as the American
Gem Society or the Gemological
Institute of America , both of which have established standards
for grading a diamond's quality.
A grading report isn't an appraisal. Rather, it gives
you a detailed description of the diamond, including carat weight,
shape, measurements, color, clarity and cut. Good things to know,
particularly if you choose to insure the ring.
If the jeweler hasn't already obtained a grading report
for the stone, ask for one. A reputable jeweler shouldn't balk if
you request certification for the stone, even though you don't need
a lab certificate unless you're buying investment-grade diamonds
or you're buying a fancy colored diamond, says Fred Cuellar, author
to Buy a Diamond: Insider Secrets for Getting Your Money's Worth.
"Most often, just the threat or suggestion of certification is enough
to keep most jewelers relatively honest," says Cuellar, founder
and president of Diamond
Cutters International. "But if the dealer tries to weasel out
of it, and gives you excuses about long delays and extra fees, you
can be pretty sure that the dealer isn't being honest about diamond
grades," he adds.
The lab certificate will also indicate if the stone
has been artificially treated -- fracture-filled, laser-drilled,
or coated, for example -- to hide any imperfections.
In addition, a diamond that has been inspected by
a GIA- or AGS-accredited laboratory is assigned a grading-report
number that's inscribed on the stone with a laser, effectively serving
as its stone's Social Security number. "A jeweler in Bombay would
be able to verify that stone," says Alexander Angelle, public relations
manager for the GIA. You can see this number by using a loupe, a
magnifying glass used by jewelers. Tip: Examine the stone with a
10x loupe for the best view.
Another benefit of buying a loose stone: you can customize
the setting, such as having four prongs instead of six. And it's
easier to rule out that it isn't a fake -- cubic zirconia weighs
55 percent more than real diamonds, according to Cuellar.
There are four characteristics that are used to determine
a diamond's value: color, carat, cut and clarity:
Diamonds become colored when elements such as nitrogen (yellow)
and boron (blue) mix with carbon when the diamond is formed. Colorless
diamonds are rare, and therefore more expensive. The GIA, which
established color grades, considers D colorless and Z the most yellow.
|| D, E, F
|| G, H, I, J
||K, L, M
|Very light yellow
||N, O, P, Q, R
||S, T, U, V, W, X, Y,
A diamond's reaction to ultraviolet lights is called
fluorescence. A diamond with fluorescence will have a blue hue under
UV lights and might be cloudy in sunlight, depending on its color
grade. Cuellar suggests steering clear of diamonds with fluorescence
that's stronger than "faint."
Technically, this is the stone's weight, though it's used to
refer to its size as well. One carat is one-fifth of a gram or 1/142
of an ounce. A carat is divided into 100 points, so a 1/2 carat
diamond is 0.5 carats.
This term refers to the diamond's proportions, symmetry and
finish (also referred to as polish). How a diamond is cut affects
how much light the stone reflects -- the better the cut, the more
light the diamond reflects (thus giving the stone "brilliance" and
"fire," as jewelers like to say). In fact, the AGS estimates that
a diamond's cut can affect as much as 25 percent to 50 percent of
the stone's value. Information about a diamond's cut are listed
on its GIA or AGS certificate.
For round brilliant diamonds (any other shape is considered
a fancy diamond, and because the proportions vary, fancy diamonds
aren't assigned a cut grade), an ideal (AGS 0) cut is the most valuable
-- only 5 percent of the round brilliant diamonds in the world are
cut to this standard.
Also, the stone's polish -- which enhances its sparkle
-- and symmetry -- how well the cuts line up -- should both be rated
excellent, very good, or good.
This term refers to the presence or absence of flaws (the industry
term is "inclusions") in the diamond. The majority of diamonds have
some minor flaws, most of which are only visible with a magnifying
glass such as a loupe. Both the AGS and GIA reports include a drawing
of the stone that shows the size and location of any inclusions.
|Internally flawless -- minor surface
blemishes, none internally
|Very, very slightly included
|Very slightly included
I1, I2 and I3
|Imperfect; the inclusions
are easily visible
After you choose the shape and setting, the fun begins. Considering
your budget, is size or quality more important? Nationwide, retail
jewelers say they're selling the diamond engagement rings that are
from 0.50 carats to 1.50 carats, color grades of G of I or better,
and clarity grades of SI-1 or better, according to Rapaport Diamond
Report, an industry publication.
"Go for [color] grades H or I," Cuellar suggests.
"Once mounted, they'll look just as good to the average person as
the higher grades, without costing a bundle."
Ideal cuts typically command a 15 percent to 20 percent
premium in price and increase the stone's brilliance and dispersion
of light less than 4 percent, Cuellar says. He recommends going
a notch or two down in the cut grade (AGS 1, 2 or 3) and buying
a stone with a table diameter between 52.4 percent and 63.5 percent
and a total depth or height (the crown height, girdle thickness
and pavilion depth) between 56 percent and 61 percent. If these
numbers aren't on the lab certificate, ask for a Sarin
computerized analysis of the stone's proportions.
A reputable jeweler will have a written return policy or a written
guarantee policy, in addition to professional experience, such as
training from the GIA as a Graduate Gemologist or an Accredited
Jewelry Professional or from the AGS as a Certified Gemologist Appraiser
or Certified Jeweler.
You should feel comfortable asking questions and taking
the time you need to make a decision. When you buy a loose stone,
be sure that important details about your stone -- such as its color
and clarity ratings, and carat weight -- are included on the receipt.
Should you buy a stone or ring from an online jeweler?
Fred Mouawad, chairman, founder and CEO of Mondera,
an online jeweler, says the majority of Mondera's customers have
been pleased with their purchases. Returns under the site's 30-day
policy have been "in the single digits," he says. "All of our diamonds
are GIA-certified," and the certificate is available on Mondera's
site, Mouawad adds. However, you might have a hard time returning
the stone -- the lab certificate turns out to be fake or doesn't
match the stone you bought, the site goes out of business, Cuellar
cautions. Don't buy from a site that doesn't have a minimum 30-day
money-back guarantee, no questions asked, and have the stone or
ring appraised immediately.
Finally, negotiate the price. "Most retailers dramatically
increase prices. Never pay the sticker price unless you've shopped
around and you know that they are giving you the wholesale price,"
To find out the wholesale price of a stone, have the specifics
on hand (including all of the stone's measurements) and call Fred
Cuellar's National Diamond Hotline, (800) 275-4047.
The FTC's guide, "All
that Glitters: How to Buy Jewelry," is available from its Web
site. Other useful books: Diamond
Ring Buying Guide, by Renee Newman; Engagement
& Wedding Rings: The Definitive Buying Guide for People in Love,
by Antoinette L. Matlins and Antonio C. Bonanno and How to Buy
a Diamond: Insider Secrets for Getting Your Money's Worth, by
Fred Cuellar. The Diamond
Ring Buyer's Guide, by Jeff Ostroff, is free.
-- Updated: May 3, 2005