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This article is probably not going to leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling about purchasing a wedding ring or engagement ring.  It will however be a great learning experience that can save you a significant amount of money when it comes to buying a diamond ring.

I am sure you have read or heard the ads informing you of the "rule" of purchasing a diamond ring with a cost equal to 2 or 3 months salary. Relax! The "if you don't spend that much money everyone will know you are a loser and a cheapskate and that you don't really love her" spending rule is just an advertising gimmick that someone dreamed up. The REAL truth of the matter is that although a 2 or 3 month salary can be equal to about one full carat of love and devotion, most diamonds purchased are only between 1/3 and 1/2 carat.  Don't be persuaded by advertising hype. Be smart, buy smart and spend only what you can comfortably afford.

First of all, you need to understand that diamonds have only a "perceived" value that is created by a cartel that controls most of the diamond mines.  The cartel controls the overall availability and wholesale cost of diamonds which ultimately affects their price and their perceived value. (In fact, they have recently agreed to pay a settlement of 300 Million Dollars as a result of price fixing charges.)

Although larger "perfect" or "flawless" diamonds (which you probably will never see in your lifetime) are rare and collectible, diamonds in general (the ones you will most likely be looking at) are not that rare. Think about it for a minute....If diamonds were really that rare do you think there would be that many jewelry stores selling them?  Since the diamond you buy will probably never significantly increase in value it only makes sense to buy at the best price possible. Purchasing a diamond ring is an expense - it is not an investment.  Although this is not the most romantic view, it is the most practical.  Just think of how much fun you can have on your honeymoon with the money you saved...

The quality of a diamond (and its value) is based on a combination of Clarity, Color, Cut and Carat (weight) usually via GIA Standards (Gemological Institute of America).

All 4 factors of clarity, color, cut and carat weight must be carefully considered in determining the value of a diamond.  For example, although a 1 carat diamond may be rated high in the the areas of color and clarity, the cut may be less than ideal and the weight may be wasted because the jeweler attempted to maximize the weight to increase his profit. The end result is that you are paying a premium price for extra weight and a bad cut that does not maximize the diamond's brilliance and sparkle. With the ideal cut, the diamond would have been properly proportioned, the cut would have brought out all of the diamond's natural brilliance and beauty and it would have probably weighed somewhere between .80 and .90 carat.

When selecting a diamond it is best to select the diamond from loose stones rather than from diamonds in settings since it allows you to see more accurate and complete detail of the stone.  Settings can also create visual illusions.  It is also wise to view the diamond in both natural and ultraviolet lighting conditions in addition to under the halogen spot lights found in most jewelry stores.

The term "cut" refers to the proportion of the cut diamond. Most diamonds are cut with 58 facets, (33 on the upper part of the diamond and 25 on the lower part of the diamond). There are 4 different GIA classes of cut ranging from I to IV with I being the best. Some jewelers use an AGS (American Gem Society) grading scale of 1 to 10 rather than the 4 class GIA scale. The class or grade of cut depends upon the proportion of the diamond. The angles of the cuts greatly affect how light is refracted and reflected by the facets which greatly affects the brilliance and sparkle of the diamond.  The better the cut, the more sparkle.

Some jewelers sell diamonds with less than ideal proportions in attempt to maintain a higher weight stone (which means more money for them since price is based on weight).  Unfortunately, this less than ideal proportion ultimately determines the angles of the facets which ultimately affects the sparkle and brilliance of the diamond. You are also being charged for the wasted, added weight which is not necessarily a really good thing. It is estimated that about 75% of the diamonds sold in the United States are of added weight and less than optimum cut.

When looking at the diamond, move away from the halogen spot lights (the ones you will probably find over your head) which are meant to increase the sparkle of the diamond.  Look at it under normal lighting conditions to see how it catches the light. Compare it to higher and lower graded diamonds of the same size to see how the sparkle compares. 

It is expected that the average diamond will have minor imperfections. The clarity of a diamond is determined by the number of imperfections not found on the outside and the inside of the diamond using the naked eye and 10X magnification. The fewer the imperfections, the higher the quality of the stone and the higher the cost. Many imperfections can be seen with the naked eye while others require magnification.

Some common imperfections found on the outside of a diamond are fractures, chips, scratches and lines that usually were created during the cutting and polishing process. Common imperfections found on the inside of a diamond include cracks, cloudy areas and black carbon spots. When looking at a diamond, look at it under a minimum of 10X magnification.

NOTE:  There are now treatment processes used to eliminate "the appearance" of these imperfections which means that a lower quality diamond can be "fixed up" to make it appear of higher quality (much like putting plastic body filler and fresh paint on a rusted car door). For example, a laser can now be used to "zap" dark carbon deposits found inside a diamond which eliminates the black deposit but leaves a microscopic tunnel or pocket created by the laser. If multiple deposits have been laser drilled, the diamond's structure can be weakened significantly.  Always get a GIA certificate on the diamond you buy and a written guarantee indicating that the diamond is 100% natural and has not been treated.

In general, the less the amount of color means the higher the value of the diamond because less color allows more light to pass through the diamond which creates more sparkle and brilliance.

The best way to compare the colors of different diamonds is to compare the diamond you are looking at to a "master" set that most jewelers have on hand.  The master set was graded accurately under controlled conditions in a laboratory.  Also, move to an area where there are no halogen spot lights (the ones you will probably find over your head) since this type of intense light makes things appear much clearer and brighter. Also, be sure to look at the diamond under strong ultraviolet light. Some stones will glow a strong blue color which means the diamond will probably look dull or milky in sunlight (and really funny under a blacklight in a night club).

NOTE:  There is now a process where a lower quality yellow colored diamond can be  
heat treated which eliminates the yellow and makes it appear to be a higher quality stone.  The only drawback is that the process appears to make the diamond rather brittle which means that it can fracture much easier. Be sure to get a GIA certification and a written guarantee indicating that the diamond is 100% natural and has not been treated.

A diamond's weight is expressed in carats or points of carats.  There are 100 points to a full carat.  That means a 75 point diamond would be .75 carat or 3/4 of a carat. The points have absolutely nothing to do with the cut or number of facets found on a diamond.

All diamonds are not cut the same.  Some diamonds are cut with the proper proportions allowing the proper angle of the facets and giving it the maximum brilliance and sparkle while others are cut in an attempt to maximize the weight which allows the jeweler more profit than cutting the stone to the proper proportions. This attempt to maximize profit by maintaining a higher weight significantly reduces the quality of the cut and the sparkle of the diamond.

Size is a matter of personal choice -  which will also vary depending upon the setting you select.  However, since sizes in even 1/2 carat increments carry a premium price you will find that you will pay significantly less for "off sizes".  Rather than selecting a .5 or 1.0 carat stone you will find that diamonds slightly smaller than the 1/2  or full carat will save you 10%, 15% or more.  The minimal size reduction is so slight that most people would not know that it was smaller than an even increment stone.

All jewelers are not created equal.  Some have built a solid local reputation based mainly on word of mouth referrals while others depend upon massive (and expensive) advertising campaigns to generate business.  The largest ad in the local phone book or newspaper does not always mean the best quality or the best value.

Prices for the same graded quality of diamond can vary as much as 60% to 70% from store to store.   Services also vary.  Some automatically offer a lifetime breakage guarantee, lifetime trade-in and exchange guarantees and free annual cleaning, inspection and adjustments while others do not. You will need to do some comparison shopping in order to get the best value. 

Be a smart buyer.  You are less likely to get taken (or more likely to make a smart purchase) if you know something about the product you are buying and know some of the secrets.

SECRET #1:  A diamond appears much different in a setting than when loose.  When shopping for a diamond, always look at loose stones.   Pick the setting after you have selected the diamond.

SECRET #2:  There is usually a very healthy markup on diamonds and jewelry ranging from 100% to 400% over cost.  There should be no reason for you to pay the regular retail price.  Smaller, local stores usually have lower overhead than "mall" stores and you may be able to find a better value and better service at the smaller local store.

SECRET #3:  The great deals you see or hear in the ads are usually for lower quality stones.  They are promotional "leader" items meant to get you in the store so they can hopefully sell you on something else.  Know what you can afford to spend and have that amount firmly in your mind before you walk into the jewelry store.  Remember, there are hundreds of other stores and hundreds of other deals.  You don't care if the sale ends today!  Another jeweler will have another sale next week.

SECRET #4:  The jeweler usually has special lighting that makes diamonds appear to sparkle more and be more brilliant than they actually are. Look at the diamonds in an area where there are no spotlights. You want the diamond you select to sparkle on its own in natural lighting.  Also look at the diamond under ultraviolet lighting.  If it glows blue, you probably want to forget about that stone.  It will most likely look dull or milky in real sunlight and will really look funny at the night club if there are blacklights.

SECRET #5:  Weights can be approximate. Some jewelers classify anything within 10 percent below a specified weight to be that weight.  For example a .90 to .99 carat diamond may be priced as a 1 carat diamond. Would you settle for 9 gallons of gas for the price of 10 gallons?  Have the stone weighed by electronic scale in front of you before you buy.

SECRET #6:  Diamonds get mixed up.  If you have decided to buy a specific diamond have the imperfections plotted on paper immediately (the jeweler probably has a blank plotting chart handy and will help you). Do not leave the stone for setting before you plot it.

SECRET #7:  Most diamonds are graded too high. Most jewelers grade their own diamonds which is somewhat a matter of personal interpretation rather than an exact science. A simple mistake that bumps your diamond up the scale just one grade in color and/or clarity can cost you a bunch. Get a GIA certificate on the diamond. If the diamond has a certificate, do not accept a certificate that is over 6 months old.

SECRET #8:  Approximately 1 out of of 3 diamonds has been treated in one way or another. Be sure to get a written guarantee from the jeweler stating that they guarantee your diamond is 100% natural, has not been treated and be sure it indicates a money back guarantee.

SECRET #9: Treated diamonds break easier.  Get a written guarantee from the jeweler for no cost replacement for breakage.  It is doubtful that a jeweler is going to guarantee the replacement of a diamond they know is treated since they know the problems associated with treated diamonds.

SECRET #10:  It is estimated that over 75% of all diamonds are poorly cut presumably for the purpose of increasing their weight and sale price which results in a significant loss in sparkle and brilliance. Shop around and always insist that the final sale is contingent upon the opinion of an outside appraiser.

SECRET #11:  Jewelers come and go...sometimes on purpose. Your purchase is meant to last a lifetime and you want to do business with someone who is going to stand behind the quality of the product they are selling for many years after the sale. Check to see how long they have been in business before you buy.  If they just opened last week you may want to be a bit more cautious about your purchase. If they have been around for 10 or 15 years the odds are good that they aren't going to disappear soon.   Regardless of how long they have been in business, check with your local Better Business Bureau to see if they have a history of problems with customers before you buy.

A final thought...
Although purchasing a diamond ring may seem like a daunting task, it can be fun.  You are making a once in a lifetime purchase that is a very large expense. You will want to try to get the very, very best value for what you can afford to spend. Knowing what you now know you will be able to make a smart buy and get the most for your money.  Now, start thinking of the fun stuff you can do together with the money you saved!

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