How to buy a diamond engagement ring
Before you venture forth and buy your beloved a diamond engagement ring, be sure you know your ice… Take my mini-masterclass here.
A bit of knowledge on the subject helps here, but first, let’s dispel the myth of spending 3 months’ of your salary on an engagement ring. My biggest piece of advice is to have a realistic and comfortable figure in mind when shopping for an engagement ring. Be honest with your jeweller and ensure you stick to it rather than spend more and feeling uncomfortable.
Before we get to the technical part where your knowledge of how diamonds are categorised will help inform your purchase, just dwell on this amazing thought - each diamond you gaze at was formed about 1-2.5 billion years ago from molecules of carbon trapped about 150 km under the earth’s surface, at 1200 degrees Celcius, at a pressure of 5 thousand times greater than our normal atmosphere (that’s the equivalent of the whole of the Empire State building, compressed on top your foot) and then was blasted to the surface of the earth in a devastating volcanic eruption. The very existence of diamonds at all is a serious freak of nature!
Anyway, let’s return to the point and some technical knowledge! You may have heard about the 4 Cs, these are
Carat, Colour, Clarity and Cut.
Carat – the weight and consequently the size of the stone. In diamond terms a carat is 1/5 of a gram. Vast quantities of rock are moved for each diamond found, often 100 tonnes per 5cts of rough found, that’s 7 solid double decker bus amounts of rock for a tiny amount of crystallised carbon. In any case, most are industrial quality – only 1 in 3 diamonds found is used in jewellery, and only 1 in 6 is a gem good enough for fine jewellery; the rest is used in industry for cutting tools. Considering that the average rough diamond weighs less than 1.10ct when it’s mined, and it will lose over half its weight in cutting, consequently only a minute amount of stones, 0.01% of rough diamonds will yield a finished stone larger than 1ct - you can now see why diamonds are so expensive the bigger they get!
Colour – speaks for itself. Most diamonds found are browny yellow, due to varying amounts of nitrogen within the carbon crystal when it formed, so finding diamonds without this tint is hard! In diamond terms colour is measured on an alphabetical scale starting at D being colourless, and a diamond is clearly tinted to the untrained eye at about K. Fancy vivid colours like pink, blue and orange are a realm of rarity altogether and maybe I will do a blog about these beautiful rarities another time.
Back to the 4 C’s and we are at C for Clarity, which also speaks for itself. This refers to the presence and number or type of tiny natural features called ‘inclusions’ inside the stone which can be found with examination under 10x magnification, and from what you know now about the birth of diamonds, it’s not surprising there are any is it?! When the naked or untrained eye can see something that detracts from the stone’s beauty or ability to sparkle this is a serious issue and at the other end of the scale, a diamond that is perfectly free of any inclusions is almost unbelievably rare, and expensive. Most diamonds have something an expert will spot. If you are hung up over clarity or colour, invest in colour as this is more easy to judge for non-experts.
Cut – the shape of the stone, and the expertise and quality of its symmetry and polish. Given that by far the most popular cut and shape is the round brilliant cut, this is also the most highly prized. There are 57 facets on a brilliant cut, which should all be perfectly angled to allow the maximum sparkle and brilliance – what we call fire. Oval and cushion shape diamonds used to be considerably cheaper but now are so popular, they have gained in price! Baguette or square cut diamonds are quieter and more lustrous than their sizzling sparkling sisters, and are also less expensive per carat. However, whatever the shape, if a stone is poorly cut with mismatched angles and facet edges, or badly polished, the sparkle isn’t so well defined, and this again would detract from the diamond’s innate beauty.
It’s a good idea to think of the 4 Cs as the 4 Considerations. Which are the most important to you, what would you compromise on? Get the best quality you can for your budget, that way you know you will be buying well for the long term.
Most jewellers will have a diamond examined and graded by specialists in a recognised laboratory so you will have this to look at and discuss when you are considering what to buy. You’l be given this report when you make your purchase. Keep it safe. The most popular lab reports are from the GIA however other labs are available! In any case, all reliable sources will be committed to the best ethical practices – your invoice should state that the diamonds supplied were handled in accordance with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) which ensures that they originated from countries or mines not involved in conflict.
It is time to think about the setting, the ring design itself. It is vitally important at this stage to think about the lady in question – and what she will be comfortable wearing every day.
Obviously any ring set with any gemstone, even diamonds which are famously the hardest material in nature, is a fragile miniature construction of precious metal, and must be treated with care and respect if you want it to last a lifetime! I advise you buy a good sturdy setting, one that that is practical and won’t snag or catch in careful daily wear.
Metal choice is down to you but remember the higher the carat purity the better – when we say 18ct it means 18 parts pure gold out of 24 parts, where the other metals in the alloy mix would be copper or silver or both.
White Metals used are Platinum and White Gold; also sometimes you may find another platinum family metal called Palladium used by some designers.
Platinum – The hardest, purest and also the most expensive of the precious metals. Platinum is a resistant tarnish free white material which takes a great polish, and in standard hallmarkable items, 950 parts are pure platinum mixed with 50 parts of a tiny amount of other metals just to soften it.
Gold – Available in a variety of different carats referring to the percentage of pure gold in comparison to other metals present. Gold is a naturally a soft malleable material hence the addition of other materials so it can take a good bright polish. 18ct white gold is still 18 parts per 24 of regular yellow gold, plus silver or palladium, and thus, because it’s mostly yellow gold, is never a pure white colour, so it is often plated with rhodium to get a truly white coloured surface. Rose Gold is mixed with extra copper to makes the warm pinky colour, which looks amazing on dark skins or redheads.
You could always have a combination of coloured and white metals, a lovely traditional style… a white collet shows off the clear white diamond so beautifully, and a golden band then looks fantastic with a classic yellow gold wedding ring, which leads me to…
the wedding ring!
When buying an engagement ring, have a think about the wedding ring as the two will be worn together. Some ladies like the feel of their rings to sit flush and snug like a stacking ring, and others don’t mind the gap… Neither way is right or wrong. It’s all a matter of individuality!
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