Where to start when choosing an engagement ring

Choosing something that you hope will last a lifetime and be as loved and treasured as an engagement ring especially considering the cost should be something researched like any life purchases however where to start can be a minefield leaving many people going to a high street chain jewellers for inspiration and to make the purchase.  There is nothing wrong particularly with high street chain jewellery retailers however you are much less likely to get the best value for money or the choice and flexibility available in other areas people don’t as often think about such as online, a second-hand ring (this doesn’t necessarily mean the marriage didn’t work out as often antique rings are sold on by families) or by having a ring made.  Unfortunately diamonds are not a financial investment as they will not be worth the same as you paid for them as soon as you leave the shop however although they may not be a financial investment they will be a romantic one and one that will hopefully be treasured for a lifetime and passed on to future generations so therefore choosing a ring that she loves and treasures whilst getting the best possible value should be the main objective.

The reason diamonds are loved so much is that amazing sparkle that only a diamond can produce and the attributes that produce the sparkle are known as the four c’s:

Diamond Clarity

This refers to the number of inclusions and surface blemishes.  Inclusions can be crystals that are not diamond or tiny cracks or imperfections which cause a slight clouding.  The number of these imperfections and the size and location of them affect the diamonds clarity and being magnified by 10 and analysed is how a diamond gets its clarity grading.  Many of these won’t be viable to the human eye however the greater they are affects the diamonds ability to sparkle and should any cracks be near to the surface this can cause the diamond to fracture more easily.

Diamond clarity is graded as below:

Flawless (FL) no inclusions or blemishes visible when magnified (very rare and very expensive diamonds)
Internally Flawless (IF) diamonds have no inclusions visible when magnified just very small surface blemishes
Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS) tiny inclusions difficult to see when magnified and this grade is split into two; VVS1 being a higher clarity grade than VVS2.
Very Slightly Included (VS) minor inclusions that are between difficult to quite easy for a grader to see when magnified and this category again is divided into two; VS1 being a higher clarity grade than VS2. Inclusions in VS diamonds are usually invisible without magnifying, however if you are gong for a larger more basic shape such as a large emerald cut you should try to get a VS1 as occasionally a VS2 may have an inclusion that could be visible on this type of cut.
Slightly Included (SI) noticeable inclusions that are easy to very easy for a grader to see when magnified Again this category is divided into two grades; SI1 being a higher clarity than SI2. These can sometimes be visible to the naked eye
Included (I) obvious inclusions that are clearly visible to a grader when magnified. Inclusions are quite often visible without magnifying and in some cases inclusions may threaten the durability of the stone. This category is divided into three grades I1 being the higher though to I3 the lowest. I1 inclusions for example are often are seen by the naked eye, I2 inclusions are more easily seen by the naked eye and I3 diamonds have large and easily seen inclusions and inclusions that are likely to compromise the diamonds structure.

Diamond Cut

The diamond can have the most amazing colour and clarity but without the correct cut it will not show the sparkle it is capable of.  Although the shape a diamond is cut to is a personal preference the actual cut referred to in the four c’s is actually the proportions the diamond is cut to as opposed to the shape of the diamond itself.  The proportions the diamond is cut to create the reflective diamond sparkle.  If diamonds are cut to shallow they will appear flat and lifeless and if it’s cut too deep the diamond will appear dark, however a correctly cut diamond will allow light to bounce back through the top of the stone and create the sparkle.  Diamonds should also be cut to ensure the facets are aligned and should be polished so they are also smooth.  Higher diamond cut grades are given to diamonds with the best proportions, symmetry and polish.  The grade of the diamond cut will usually vary from Ideal, very good, good, down to fair with the price reflecting this, most diamonds will fall into good or fair.

Diamond Carat

The carat of a diamond refers to the weight of the diamond not the size of it and is the most influential of the four c’s on the diamond price.  Diamonds are usually cut to give the best weight and carat size sometimes perhaps to the slight detriment of the cut in the four c’s so it’s always worth looking at all aspects.  As a single solitaire diamond will be larger this is also usually heaving (ie a higher carat) and so will cost more than a ring consisting of smaller diamonds in clusters.  The carat size can however be one way of comparing value for money across different rings when making decisions.

Diamond Colour

Diamonds are not always white and the intensity of diamonds colour can either increase or decrease the diamonds valuation.  In white diamonds the more yellow detected in it the more the value will be decreased due to this discolouration however as diamonds are available in almost every colour of the rainbow many of which are highly valuable.  As white diamonds are the most popular we’ll focus on this.  The grading of white diamond colour goes from D which is colourless to Z which is a pale yellow / brown colour. G, H and I are considered excellent value diamonds as although a trained eye with a magnifier can see the colour isn’t clear to the naked eye they will appear colourless but without the very high price of a D, E or F diamond.  The fashion for clearer stones is more recent and should you choose an antique diamond engagement ring you will often find the stones with a warmer tint and other coloured stones too as this was deemed more fashionable in this era so for vintage lovers this may be another option.

Ethical Issues

It is important to realise that sadly not all diamonds arrive at a jewellery store with a happy history behind them as many diamonds are mined in war zones with much of the money raised from them going to finance war, these are known as blood diamonds.  To have a clear conscience that your engagement hasn’t helped to fund such tragedies you can buy conflict free diamonds which ensure no violence is being funded from the sale of the diamond and that workers human rights are adhered to.  These diamonds are tracked from the mine to polishing to ensure the full process is ethical.  This may cost slightly more however personally I would rather have a clear conscience and a smaller diamond so often t’s worth taking the time to think about and research this or certainly to ask the question when considering purchasing.
Choosing a Metal
Choosing a metal for the ring is the next step and some of this will come down again to budgets and personal preferences however the below is a brief summary of the options:

Gold is naturally yellow and due to it being a soft metal it is combined with various metal alloys to give it strength and this also gives gold the karat rating.  Gold is a durable metal but will erode over a long period of time so may at some point in the very distant future need the band rebuilding or strengthening at a jeweller.  14k or 18k gold is recommended for engagement rings.

White gold is yellow gold which has been plated with rhodium usually; this gives the white gold colour but may over time wear away to show the original colour through it again this can be corrected by a jeweller.

Platinum is currently a popular choice for engagement rings as platinum is a very hard-wearing metal that will stand the test of time however it will be much more expensive than gold and should you choose a platinum engagement ring you would also be advised to choose a platinum wedding band adding further expensive down the line as putting a platinum engagement ring next to a softer metal white gold wedding band would increase the rate at which the wedding band wears down.

Where to buy the perfect ring

Where to buy an engagement ring is the next step as mentioned at the beginning of this blog post the traditional high street isn’t certainly your only and often best option

Online

Online retailers don’t have the same overheads as a jewellery store with staff having to take rings in and out of windows for insurance day and night and having to polish all those big windows and shiny mirrored surfaces and naturally this will lead to a saving allowing you to have more diamond for your money. With online reviews now available as well as many sites having Twitter and Facebook sites it allows you to check out online retailers much more before you buy

Having a Ring Made

The advantage of having a ring made is that you get exactly what you want and often if you go to a jewellery quarter you can skip the middle man and finish up with a lot more for your money and your own unique design.

Second Hand / Antique Rings

The advantage of second-hand rings is that as mentioned at the beginning of this blog post diamond engagement rings are not a financial investment and as such purchasing second-hand means that you can often get a very similar ring to one you would purchase new for a fraction of the cost.  Also if the blood diamond problem is a worry to you recycling diamonds saves new mining of them altogether.

Shopping in a Jewellery Quarter

If you prefer the idea of going to an actual retail store choosing a new ring and walking away with it the same day there tends to be better value in shopping in a designated jewellery area such as Hatton Gardens in London or the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham as examples.  Hatton Gardens in London with over 300 local businesses and over 30 shops create the largest jewellery retail cluster in the UK.  Some of the Hatton Gardens jewellers supply diamonds directly to trade too  although will see customers directly via appointment so again it’s worth doing some research in order to be able to save some money and have something a little bespoke.  Also the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham has over 100 specialist jewellery retailers ranging from contemporary to classic and second-hand to new and hand crafted.  Due to there being so many jewellers in one area the prices tend to be more competitive and comparisons can easily be made between stores plus with all those rings there’s bound to be something for even the pickiest bride to be.

Good luck in your search for the perfect ring for your budget and whichever you choose it is the thought and meaning behind it that will capture a heart

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