In essence when choosing an engagement ring it all comes down to the size and quality of the stone, or stones.
But before we get to the interesting questions, we should cover a few of the basics.
First up is the budget. Traditionally the cost of an engagement ring was around a month’s wage. But in reality, spend what you can afford and what you are comfortable spending.
The amount you can expect to pay can vary enormously. A perfectly acceptable ring (.7 carat, I colour, good round cut, VS1 clarity, on a yellow gold setting) from a reputable online vendor will set you back around $3,400. However if you wander down to Tiffany & Co, you can pick up a stunning 2.5 carat round solitaire from $57,000.
As a rule of thumb most jewellers work to a decent mark-up. Don’t be afraid to haggle and keep in mind that people are increasingly using the internet, not only to research but to buy both stones and settings. Naturally if you go down this path make sure the site is reputable and that the right documentation is provided. If you are buying from overseas and the purchase is more than $1000 you should also have to pay duties and taxes.
The second hurdle is to decide whether to buy off the shelf or made to measure. In both these cases you will still need to have the ring sized appropriately. The best bet for sizing is to “borrow” one of your other half’s existing rings. But make sure that it is something that she wears often and is comfortable with.
Made to measure is an interesting process. You either can commission a specific design or even have a go at designing something yourself. In my own case I took what I knew of my wife’s tastes, took a few hints from things that I had seen in some very expensive windows and drafted up a design.
This pathway is not for the faint of heart and finding a good jeweller is very important. I was lucky, as a friend of my sisters came highly recommended. She did a wonderful job and even helped me shop for the right stone wholesale. And when it comes to choosing a stone, trust is very important.
The four C’s
The four C’s are cut, colour, clarity and carat weight. With diamonds it all comes down to some very simple but fiendishly challenging options. Not putting any stress on it but this is a decision that your dear wife may have to live with for the rest of her days. She will be more aware of this than you can possibly ever know.
The cut of a diamond determines its dimensions, its brilliance and its finish. Most experts regard the cut as the most important factor, as the right cut will maximise the light reflected off the stone, while a poor cut will reduce the stones brilliance, regardless of clarity or colour.
Popular cuts include:
The round brilliant accounts for more than 75% of diamonds sold and is considered to be the benchmark. However the popularity of “fancy cuts” is much defined by prevailing fashion and in practicality, local availability and expertise.
The colour of diamonds can vary enormously. For engagement rings the general acceptable grades range from D (100% colourless) through to I (nearly colourless). Generally the clearer the diamond the higher the cost, and while the difference in appearance between colourless and near colourless may not be that obvious there is a big difference in price. Interestingly it is easier to detect colour in fancy cut diamonds which is why H or higher is often recommend as opposed to I or higher in the more standard brilliant.
Clarity is fairly straightforward to evaluate. In essence diamonds naturally contain external marks or scratches (blemishes), or internal irregularities (inclusions). They are categorised as follows:
- Flawless (FL) - no visible inclusions or blemishes
- Internally Flawless (IF) - no visible inclusions and only small blemishes on the diamond surface
- Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 & VVS2) - minute inclusions that are difficult for a skilled grader to see
- Very Slightly Included (VS1 & VS2) - minor inclusions that are difficult to somewhat easy for a trained grader to see.
- Slightly Included (SI1 & SI2) - noticeable inclusions that are easy to very easy for a trained grader to see.
- Included (I1, I2 & I3) - obvious inclusions that are clearly visible to a trained grader. Included diamonds have inclusions that are usually visible without magnification or have inclusions that threaten the durability of the stone.
Carat weight is simply a measure of weight. 1 carat (1ct) is equal to .2 grams or .007 ounces. Smaller diamonds can also be measured in carat weight points, with one carat equal to 100 points.
Size versus quality
Everyone has their own opinion. If quality is the key, then you will need to find an acceptable balance between cut, clarity and colour. Although the selection of a setting designed to showcase the maximum amount of fire and brilliance may also prove to be a counterpoint to a small carat weight.
If size is more the goal, you could select a larger carat stone but with lower quality colour, clarity and cut. Another option includes adding side accent stones, to enlarge the appearance of the ring and total carat weight. Mounting a stone on a high pronged setting can also make a stone appear larger, as can the selection of a fancy cut such as a pear or rectangular shape.
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The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Telstra BigPond.