Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How To Choose The Right Engagement Ring

By Tim Ingle

IF handled badly, choosing a ring can become an ordeal; time consuming, expensive and stressful. But it's something that most men have to go through at some point. So how do you make sure that you don't get it wrong?

It's unlikely that you will have a lot of experience to fall back on. For many men, their engagement is their first foray into the world of jewelery shopping, and almost none will have made such a major investment. So how do you find a deal that will leave both you and your fiancée smiling?

An obvious starting point is to consider how much you want to spend. Traditionally, men have been expected to part with between one and two months salary. But this figure is entirely arbitrary. For years, De Beers had a near stranglehold on the diamond business, and their marketing people relentlessly encouraged men to spend as much as possible on engagement rings.

These days, consumers are increasingly clued up, and are generally confident enough to make up their own minds about how much they want to spend. The short answer is that you should invest as much as you feel you can realistically afford - it's certainly not worth getting yourself into financial difficulties because you feel under pressure to spend a certain amount.

Once you've settled on a budget, the next stage is to make sure you get the best ring for your money. This is where things can begin to get tricky. What style should you go for? Most modern engagement rings are made with a solitaire diamond. But would she prefer something more old-fashioned, with several smaller diamonds, or even a cluster? And what metal should you choose?
Most engagement rings are made from white metals (platinum or eighteen carat white gold), but perhaps she might want yellow gold or even rose gold. Any information you have about her taste in jewelery is priceless. Do you have access to anything else she has bought, or does she have a friend you can trust to advise you?

If you really don't know where to start, there are a still a couple of options open to you. Firstly, some jewelers will be prepared to offer you an exchange. If she doesn't like the ring you choose for her, they'll swap it for another one of similar value. Make sure you discuss this with the jeweller first though, as not everyone has the same returns policy. Alternatively, you might choose to buy a loose diamond, which you can present to her at the moment you get engaged. Then the two of you can go shopping together, and she can pick a ring to set it in.

Whichever solution you opt for, the biggest single decision you will have to make is over your choice of diamond. This is where the bulk of your budget will be spent, and it's easy to waste a lot of money if you're not careful.

The first thing to make sure of is that you are dealing with a reputable retailer. They should be willing for you to examine their rings under a jewelers loupe, and should be more than happy to answer any technical questions that you might have. You might want to consider only buying a diamond that comes with independent certification from a recognized laboratory. If a particular stone hasn't been certified independently, your jeweler should have no objection to you getting it certified at your own expense before committing to purchase (the cost varies depending on the size of the stone, but is not prohibitive).

So assuming that you have found a jeweler you are comfortable with, how do you choose the best diamond to suit your budget? At this point you will have to wade through a bit of technical jargon to make sure you get the best deal. Diamonds are graded according to the 4Cs carat weight, colour, clarity, and cut and it is these criteria that determine the stones value.
Carat Weight:

All other things being equal, the bigger the diamond, the more valuable it is. Traditionally, men often bought one carat stones for engagement rings (a carat is one fifth of a gram), but these days most people buy stones of less than a carat. Prices go up exponentially with size, and there is a particularly sharp spike at the one carat mark. A good quality stone of less than a carat may well represent better value for money.

Colour:
Very few diamonds are perfectly white; most have a hint of colour in them. Colour is graded from D (the best, perfect white) down to Z (severely discoloured). You could do worse than focus on stones in the range E-H. If you go for a D, you are likely to be paying a premium for a barely discernible improvement. Any lower than H and you will probably notice a hint of yellow in the stone.
Clarity:
Most diamonds have small imperfections or impurities trapped inside them, known as inclusions. The bigger, more central, and more numerous these are, the lower the diamonds clarity is said to be. Clarity grades are IF, VVS1, VVS2, VS1, VS2, SI1, SI2, I1, I2, I3, in descending order. Stones graded I1 and below contain inclusions that are visible with the naked eye, should be avoided. At the top end of the scale, differences are very subtle, and might not be worth the extra cost. Ideally, you would aim for at least VS2 clarity, but if your budget is stretched you could consider dropping to SI clarity without it being a big problem.

Cut:
Jewelers might be referring to more than one thing when they talk about a diamonds cut. It could be a reference to its proportions and symmetry - the better these are, the more effectively the stone will reflect and refract light. A stone with a poor cut will not sparkle nearly as well as one with a good cut. This is one area where it is not worth compromising, you shouldn't accept anything less than Good grades in this area, ideally Very Good. The term cut can also be a reference to the stones shape, whether it is Round Brilliant, Princess, or some other fancy shape. This is very much a matter of personal taste.

One thing to bear in mind though is that the round brilliant cut has been evolved over decades to maximize a diamonds sparkle and, everything else being equal, will sparkle more than other cuts. That's not to say that you shouldn't choose a different shape if you particularly like it but if you don't have a strong preference, then you wont go far wrong with a Round Brilliant Cut.
Finally, there are significant ethical considerations to buying a diamond. These are not the focus of this article, you can find more information at

http://www.ingleandrhode.com/ethical_policies/ But in short, you are entitled to ask your jeweler to prove to you exactly where his diamonds come from. If he is in any way unhelpful or evasive, think twice about buying.

Tim Ingle is one of the directors of Ingle & Rhode - A London based jewellery company who provide ethically made engagement rings and wedding bands.

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