The Clueless Guy’s Guide to the Perfect Engagement Ring

If you’ve read a hundred articles about the so-called ‘4 C’s of diamonds’, and your response was “Ok, great. Now what?”, then this guide is for you. If your soon-to-be fiancee has been showing you pictures of beautiful engagement rings that cost more than your car, but buying one would force you to sell the car and walk to work, then this guide is for you. If the salesperson at the jewelry store is so pushy you mistake her for your future mother-in-law, then this guide, my friend, is definitely for you.
I recently embarked on my own search for the perfect engagement ring. With sky-high expectations and an embarrassingly small budget, I thought my search would end in vain. But I’m not one to give up without a fight. I spent hours doing research, talked to a number of diamond graders and other experts, and peered through a ‘loupe’ (that’s the little magnifying glass used to inspect diamonds…see I told you I did my research) at more than my fair share of rings. In doing so, I’ve come up with a list of tips for guys who are as clueless about buying an engagement ring as I was.

Don’t be fooled by “name brand” diamonds

Diamonds are created through intense heat and pressure below the earth’s surface, and in this regard all diamonds are pretty much the same. However, jewelry stores have created ways to differentiate themselves by offering their own signature diamonds that can’t be found anywhere else. This is simply not accurate. All certified diamonds are subject to the same grading criteria, and are scrutinized equally by the various diamond grading associations (with one caveat that I will explain shortly). The brand name simply means you’re paying too much.

Not all grading certificates are created equal

Diamonds are graded by a number of associations worldwide that provide certificates attesting to a diamond’s quality. U.S. buyers will most commonly see diamond certificates from the Gemological Institute of America, AGS Laboratories , and European Gemological Laboratory . There are others, but my research tells me they’re not even worth considering. Of the three main grading associations, EGL diamonds tend to sell for 10-20% less than equally graded GIA and AGS stones. You’re probably thinking “Well, if they cost so much less they must be terrible diamonds”. This is not necessarily true, as many diamonds have certificates from multiple grading associations with no variation in grade. In my conversations with professional diamond graders, they all tended to agree that EGL’s grading rigor generally matches the other two in terms of cut and clarity. Where it sometimes differs is in the color grade. EGL graders tend to be lenient, usually by one, or in some cases two grades, which has led to their discount within the industry. However, even if you ‘play it safe’ by choosing an EGL diamond graded two levels higher, you will still get a great diamond and will likely pay a slightly lower price.

Fluorescence is your friend

Fluorescence, or the bluish hue that some diamonds give off under certain types of light, can range from ‘none’ to ‘strong’ on grading certificates. For you, the buyer, the most important thing to understand about florescence is that it causes slightly colored diamonds to appear whiter than they actually are. So you can buy a diamond with a slightly lower color grade, and thus a lower price, that is visually indistinguishable from higher-graded diamonds. And after all, the appearance is what really matters, right?

The most important C

If you take nothing else from this article, I beg you to remember one thing. A diamond’s cut is its single most important characteristic. When viewed from above, a diamond cut to the correct proportions will reflect the greatest amount of light back to the viewer. This is what gives diamond rings their brilliance. An engagement ring with a huge, virtually colorless stone with no internal flaws will still look relatively dull if cut incorrectly, because light entering the ring escapes at the wrong angle. Don’t skimp on the cut. Just don’t.

Shop online, even if you don’t plan to buy online

If you’re anything like me, you might think buying something as important – and expensive – as an engagement ring from an online retailer is a daunting proposition. But before you write that check (and do pay by check or cash. Buying an engagement ring on credit is a poor financial decision, and opens up a whole new set of issues) there are some important areas where online jewelers excel. Online, you can search a huge selection of loose diamonds and sort by practically any characteristic imaginable. You can even view an official copy of the grading certificate. If you find a diamond you like, you can call the company and have them inspect the stone in person for you to make sure there are no hidden flaws the grading report did not uncover. If you decide you want to purchase your ring online, do your research. Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure the company has a good reputation. If you simply can’t get comfortable, that’s fine too. At least you will have a better idea of what you should expect to pay for a ring at your local jeweler of choice based on the criteria you select.

When I finished my search, I ended up with a gorgeous diamond engagement ring. It had some minor internal flaws, but I couldn’t see them. It wasn’t quite colorless either, but I couldn’t tell. And she absolutely loved it. If you follow my lead, I know your future wife will adore hers as well.

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