Over the past couple of months I’ve learned far more about engagement rings than I ever wanted to learn. Being the financially conservative (frugal) person I am, I took the engagement ring purchase process way deeper than others would. However, my experience will serve as an educational tool for a lot of you guys out there going through the same thing.

Let me get this out of the way before I proceed, SIZE IS NOT THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS WHEN CHOOSING AN ENGAGEMENT RING!

I’ve previously written about this topic for BlackEnterprise.com (http://www.blackenterprise.com/money/the-engagement-ring-a-gift-from-the-heart-or-jewel-for-the-ego/), but have a new-found respect for the process now that I’ve immersed myself in the details.

Most people refer to engagement ring decisions as the 4C’s, but I’ve added two to the list. Here is a brief summary of each C, along with how it impacts your overall decision…

1. Cut – A diamond’s cut is the measure of a diamond’s light performance, better known as sparkle. No other characteristic has a greater impact on a diamond’s appearance. If you want a diamond that blings, please don’t take for granted the importance of a diamond’s cut. Try to avoid anything less than a good cut, but opt preferably for very good or excellent if your budget permits. You can buy a huge diamond, but if it doesn’t shine, its value is diminished.

2. Clarity – Measure of the number and size of tiny inclusions (imperfections) that exist in almost all diamonds. These are also referred to as flaws. Most inclusions aren’t visible to the naked eye. However, magnifying glasses will allow you to view the size and number of inclusions within a diamond. Since many of the inclusions are microscopic, they generally don’t affect a diamond’s value. However, if you can visibly see the inclusions, you should avoid purchasing that diamond.

Here is a breakdown of the categories:
– FL (Flawless): Very rare diamond with no flaws.
– VVS1, VVS2 (Very, Very Slightly Included): Very difficult to see the inclusions even when magnified. An excellent quality diamond.
– VS1, VS2 (Very Slightly Included):Imperfections are not typically visible to the naked eye. Less costly than VVS1 and VVS2 diamonds.
– SI1, SI2 (Slightly Included): Usually requires magnification to see inclusions. This grade level provides good diamond value.
– I1, I2, I3 (Included/Imperfect):This grade of diamonds will have minor inclusions that may be visible to the naked eye.

3. Color – Refers to a diamond’s lack of color, grading the whiteness of a diamond. The range is from D (highest possible grade) to Z (lowest possible grade). After cut, color is typically considered the second most important characteristic when selecting a diamond. What this means to you…most eyes identify the sparkle first, and color second.

4. Carat – Probably the most overemphasized component of a diamond. Now don’t get me wrong, carat weight has a place in the process of purchasing a diamond. However, it’s very challenging to see the difference between a 2 carat ring versus a 1.75 carat ring. Not to mention, you’ll see a noticeable price increase every .5 carat or so. If given the choice for value, I recommend dropping just below the .5 carat limit to avoid the price bump. (examples, buy a 2.49 carat diamond instead of a 2.5 carat diamond, buy a 1.9 carat diamond instead of a 2.0 carat diamond, buy a 1.4 carat diamond instead of a 1.5 carat diamond).

5. Certification – I won’t spend too much time focusing on this area, but be aware of the certification types. The two major certification systems are GIA and EGL. I’ll refer you to google and other diamond education sites in order to assess which system(s) they use. Just be aware that you want to purchase a diamond that’s certified because it protects a buyer from unscrupulous jewelers who may not have the buyer’s best interest in mind.

6. Cost – Let us not forget that money is a major factor in trying to determine what kind of ring to purchase. There are two aspects to consider, the diamond itself along with the setting to mount the diamond. Please be careful on how you allocate your budget. There are a number of different settings to select from. I’ll be honest…this is where I truly became overwhelmed during the process. A setting can significantly impact your budget if you’re not careful. My advice is to set your budget, spend the core on the diamond and complete the purchase with a setting that keeps you within your budget.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to purchase a ring solely based on carats.You could find yourself with a huge, unattractive diamond. Focus on cut and color first, then turn your attention to carat and clarity. I also recommend seeking out a diamond jeweler who provides the best value. I scoured the internet doing research and found there are a number of options to consider. 

1. Online Jeweler – BlueNile.com is the online source I recommend because they specialize in providing high-quality diamonds without the overhead that many traditional retailers have.
2. Retail Jeweler – Solomon Brothers and Luxor Jewelers provided me with a great experience when shopping at their showrooms. All of their sales people were very knowledgeable and were able to answer ALL of my questions. Having an opportunity to see the diamonds in-person is an added benefit that online sources can’t offer.
3. Private Jeweler – Some people opt to use private jewelers. They typically specialize in diamonds and can offer you wholesale prices. You have to be careful though, because you could be taken advantage of if you aren’t careful. Be willing to have the diamond appraised prior to finalizing the purchase.

There is so much more I could write about this process. However, at the end of the day, don’t get too intimidated by the 6C’s of the ring process. Set a budget, focus on a quality diamond, select a setting and prepare to present it to your future bride.
 
Remember…the ring is the external symbol of the inner commitment you’re making to your future bride. You can buy the most expensive ring in the store, if the commitment isn’t present…the marriage will eventually fail!