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Finding the best ring for your budget
Apart from your house and car, your engagement ring and wedding bands are likely to be some of the biggest single purchases you will make. No one wants to think of something as mundane as a budget when they are planning their romantic proposal, but it’s important to get down to brass tacks early on in the buying process. Once you have a realistic idea of what you can afford, the next step is to make sure how to get the most bling for your buck. Read on to find out how!
The 4 Cs of diamond quality
The four Cs of diamond quality are the international standards by which all diamonds, including lab-grown diamonds, are assessed. Once you familiarise yourself with these four main components – colour, cut, carat and clarity – you can decide which features you want to concentrate on, and learn a few tricks of the trade that will help you to bag the best possible diamond that your budget can buy.
Diamond colour grades range from the rare D, which is fully colourless, to Z, which refers to stones that would have a strong yellow tint. It is best to view diamonds in natural daylight to get a true sense of their colour, as artificial lighting can make them look brighter than they actually are.
One way to make a saving on your engagement ring without scrimping on the quality is to opt for an “I” grade ring over the more expensive “G” range. Often there is quite a large price difference between the two grades, but visually they look very similar.
Know your carats
The carat of a diamond refers to its weight. The price of a diamond rises significantly as the size of the carat increases, this is due to that fact that stones of a larger carat are rarer than smaller stones. Prices also shoot up at certain carat sizes which are known in the jewellery trade as ‘magic points’ – usually carat values like 0.5ct, 1ct, 1.5ct, etc.
One budget friendly tip is to ‘buy shy’ – in other words look for a diamond with a carat value just under the magic point. For example, a .95ct ring or a .47ct ring will not look discernibly smaller than a 1ct or a 0.5ct ring, but it could cost 15 to 20 per cent less.
The popular halo setting can also give the illusion of a larger stone, but comes with a smaller price tag. The centre diamond is surrounded by a ‘halo’ of smaller accent diamonds, and can make the centre stone look up to half a carat bigger.
Need for clarity
The clarity rating of a diamond measures the existence and visibility of internal imperfections, known as inclusions, and external blemishes. Most diamonds feature some of these characteristics, which were created when the diamond was being formed.
Diamond clarity ranges from Flawless (FL) to Heavily Included (HI), with various grades in between such as VVSI (Very Very Slightly Included) and SI (Slightly Included). Just one per cent of all diamonds are flawless, making this grade the most expensive.
Opting for a diamond with a lower clarity rating is one of the best ways to save money when buying an engagement ring, as inclusions are often only visible to diamond experts. SI1 stones can offer excellent value for money, however, caution is advised, as sometimes these stones can contain inclusions that are visible to the naked eye if you examine it closely.
Cut above the rest
Often confused with the shape of the diamond, the cut is the most important of the 4Cs. While the shape refers to the appearance of the diamond – round, princess, emerald, oval, pear, and so on – the cut refers to how well the stone reflects light, and is what determines its sparkle.
Diamonds that are cut either too deep or too shallow will be duller and have less brilliance as they reflect less light. Diamond cuts are graded Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor. Choosing a diamond with a lower grade than Very Good is not really recommended as it will be noticeably dull. In fact, most jewellers do not even sell diamonds with a Fair or Poor cut grade.
How metal influences ring price
Ring metal is another factor that influences the price of an engagement ring. Platinum rings tend to be the most expensive, however it is an extremely durable metal. One downside of platinum is that it can turn a dull greyish colour quite quickly.
White gold stays brighter for longer and costs less than platinum, but after time it will develop a yellowish tinge as the rhodium plating wears off. White gold engagement rings and wedding bands will need to be rhodium plated every 12 to 18 months; this service usually costs about €20. In contrast, yellow gold never has to be re-dipped.
Palladium is another lesser-known option. It is similar in appearance to platinum and white gold, and like platinum, does not need to be re-plated. However it can be re-polished as it does tend to dull over the years. Palladium is a very strong metal that is scratch resistant, but it is also lighter than platinum and comes in at almost half the price.
Engagement rings with coloured gemstones are currently very much on trend and offer a more affordable alternative to diamonds. There are also options for couples who love diamonds but not the accompanying price tag. Moissanites look virtually identical to diamonds and are almost as hard. They also cost up to 90 per cent less than diamonds and are grown in a lab, making them an ethical and sustainable choice.
Watch your timing
It’s common knowledge that the festive season is the most popular time of year for couples to get engaged. Since the months leading up to Christmas are the busiest for jewellers, there may be a smaller selection of diamonds and rings available later on in the season, so it’s a good idea to buy early or off season. Jewellers may also be more willing to negotiate a price during quieter sales periods!