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How to save on engagement and wedding rings

Buying an engagement or wedding ring is both an emotional and a financial decision, but the emotional aspects can outweigh financial considerations, leading you to spend far beyond your means. It's hard to set a price on love, but failing to do so can bust your budget at a time when you need to husband your resources to pay for your wedding and honeymoon.

"Buying an engagement ring is one of the most expensive, confusing and emotionally wrought purchases a consumer will ever have to make," says John Baird of Blue Nile Inc. "Moreover, the lack of information available on the product forces most consumers to approach buying a ring like they would ripping off a band-aid. They just want to get it over with, resulting in higher buyer's remorse."

Before running out and buying a ring, think about what you and your bride-to-be want in wedding and engagement rings. Consider her taste in jewelry, as well as what you can afford. If your resources are limited, don't fret: Upgrading the ring down the road is one of the hottest trends in the jewelry industry today.

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The stone
Diamonds are still by far the most popular choice for an engagement ring, according to Anne Henne, of Henne Jewelers in Pittsburgh, Pa. Many buyers educate themselves about the basics, the four Cs of diamonds -- cut, clarity, color and carat -- but these qualities aren't created equally, Henne says. For example, a poorly cut diamond not only doesn't look right, but will also be extremely hard to resell if your fiancee doesn't like it.

Baird agrees, saying, "Cut is by far the most important characteristic. You're buying a diamond for its brilliance and sparkle, which is determined by the cut. Even a stone of exceptional color or clarity will look dull if it isn't cut right."

A buyer who seeks a flawless stone, for example, is paying for something that the naked eye can't see. "Customers are sort of manipulated into paying for quality values and characteristics that don't provide any additional value," Baird says. "Look for the best combination of value and quality that you can discern from the viewpoint that the diamond is going to be worn, not looked at in a lab."

Pricing points for diamonds come at .5, 1, 1.5, 2 carats and so on, Baird says. While diamonds are cut purposefully to meet these specific weights, occasionally stones fall a bit short, and this is where bargains can be found. He recommends looking for .95 or .97 carat diamonds, which although not common, are available.

The metal
When it comes to the setting, couples can choose from platinum, white gold, gold or silver. While platinum is more expensive, it is more durable, Henne says, which is why it is the metal of choice for engagement and wedding rings.

"Lots of couples go for white gold instead of platinum because in the jeweler's case they don't look that different," she says. "But, white gold is still gold, which is yellow, while platinum is a pure metal. Over time, the yellow in the white gold will show and it won't look as good, especially if you're wearing it with a platinum engagement ring."

All three metals will scratch over time and it's important to have them regularly cleaned and polished so they look their best. If you're spending a good deal on a stone and want to eventually pass your ring on to your future children or grandchildren, platinum will last longer, she says, although the price gap between gold and platinum is significant.

-- Posted: July 21, 2004



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