What You Need to Know Before You Purchase an Engagement Ring

How to make sure you don't get misled during the buying process.

The average person does not regularly buy diamond jewelry, which can make the shopping experience intimidating – especially since the gift has such sentimental value.

Photo: Jose Villa Photography

It was only a decade or two ago that someone ready to buy an engagement ring essentially had two options: go to a chain store at the mall, or if they were fortunate to have a recommendation, visit a trusted family jeweler. As online-based businesses continue to grow, millennials and members of Gen Z who have reached marriageable age are increasingly likely to look to the internet for such an important purchase. Of course, the more options you have, the more overwhelming the process can be.

The average person does not regularly buy diamond jewelry, which can make the shopping experience intimidating – especially since the gift has such sentimental value. As with any high-value purchase, there is often the fear that you are not getting your money’s worth or somehow getting tricked by a salesperson for the sake of a commission. This is why it’s important to be an informed shopper who starts researching early on. Those who wait to purchase too close to their desired proposal date may feel rushed and wind up selecting a diamond that is not a good value. 

An Engagement Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry

Photo: An Engagement Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry

First things first: learn about the “Four Cs” – cut, carat, color, and clarity. Different people have different priorities, so if you are shopping for your sweetheart, it’s a good idea to find out what the most important “C” is to them. Even if you ultimately decide to purchase your diamond online, it’s smart to visit a brick-and-mortar store in order to see what the different specs look like in real life. For example, some people are more color sensitive than others, and anything below an “E” on the color scale will start to look yellow, while others see no difference between a “J” diamond and an “F” diamond. This can save you money by compromising on categories that are less important to you or your beloved. 

Once you feel you understand how diamonds are graded, it is time to start looking for the right place to make this important purchase. “Choose a jeweler as you would choose a doctor,” advises McKenzie Santimer, Gemological Institute of America (GIA) museum exhibit designer. “Your jeweler should be armed with expert training, open to questions and able to provide answers in clear, simple language.” She adds that professional training certificates can help inform a prospective shopper on how knowledgeable a jeweler is. “Preferably, their training comes from a highly recognized and internationally accredited program, such as the GIA Graduate Gemologist (GG) or Applied Jewelry Professional (AJP) diploma programs,” Santimer explains to Inside Weddings.

If even after all your research you still don’t feel confident in your ability to make an informed decision, you may want to consider outside opinions. “Everyone should always educate themselves to make the choice, but sometimes it can be overwhelming,” Andrey Pilipchak, CEO of PriceScope, tells Inside Weddings. In addition to resources and tools to help your search, the site includes message boards so shoppers can crowdsource advice from experts, enthusiasts, and other consumers when looking for the right ring. Given the average age of marriage, it is only natural that 40% of community members are millennials aged 25-34, according to a demographic report from PriceScope. Long-term members from an older demographic are able to use their wisdom and knowledge that shoppers might otherwise only get from one or two family members.12% of members only 18-24, some young people are starting their research process early to make sure they make the best possible purchase. 

how to shop for an engagement ring without getting ripped off, what you need to know before buying an engagement ring

Photo by Michelle Beller Photography; Wedding Planning by Tessa Lyn Events

There are also situations where you only realize after-the-fact that you didn’t get the best deal possible. In some cases, this happens when the bride-to-be has spent a lot of time researching the perfect ring, but only shares the style with her beloved. After the excitement dies down, she may realize that her ring, while beautiful, was overpriced and worry that her new fiancé may have been ripped off. Fret not, for there actually are ways to fix this situation. Antoinette Matlins, an internationally respected gem and jewelry expert who has written several books on the subject, advises shoppers to always get an independent appraisal after purchasing a diamond. This way if the appraisal does not match the receipt or GIA report, you’ll have legal recourse. “Even in cases where the store has signs saying “no returns” or “no cash refunds,” this does not legally protect sellers who have misrepresented the facts – according to consumer protection laws in the United States, they must refund the money,” Matlins shares on the FAQ section of her website

Not every instance of regret is due to blatant fraud by a salesperson, however. Simply not sharing the whole truth or subtly a shopper who is clearly ignorant of certain terms can lead to that shopper making a poor purchase. Clarity-enhanced diamonds are one of the biggest examples of these situations. They often seem like a bargain, and they can be! It’s just important to know what you are actually receiving. “The biggest problem with fracture-filled diamonds is that they are frequently sold in wholesale diamond districts without disclosure or with a misleading or dishonest explanation as to what ‘clarity-enhanced’ means; most people are told that ‘clarity enhancement’ is simply ‘part of the cutting and polishing process’ and that it ‘simply makes the diamond sparkle more!’” explains Matlins on her website. 

Sometimes the enhancement is through lasers to make black inclusions no longer visible, which is a permanent process. “In most cases, however, ‘clarity-enhanced’ means the diamond has glass-filled cracks; this treatment results in the cracks no longer being visible and the diamond’s sparkle and beauty are greatly improved,” reveals Matins. This sounds positive, except for the fact that the filler can fall out when worked on by a jeweler, and the gem can even break if the jeweler is unaware of the condition of the diamond. If you are buying a pre-made ring, this might not be a problem, but it’s something to keep in mind if you plan to purchase a diamond on its own and have it made into a custom piece. 

Whether you elect to buy an engagement ring online or at a brick-and-mortar store, doing research on both diamonds and retailers will help you make the right choice. Learn about the “Four Cs” and read reviews to ensure you are informed. As with marriage, this purchase is not something to rush into. 

For more advice, read the pros and cons of choosing your own engagement ring and learn more about heirloom rings.