For anyone, the first step to finding the perfect ring is arguably the most pragmatic. Sitting down to crunch numbers and set realistic expectations for the process ahead isn’t exactly the stuff of dreams, but it’s the only way to make sure you don’t feel a cold pang of buyer’s remorse when the big day arrives, and you’re teetering on one knee.
After all, choosing the perfect engagement ring isn’t just about getting the diamond, the setting, the metal, and the accents right; it’s also about spending the right amount so you don’t have to spend peanuts on the wedding itself.
But, at the same time, settling on a budget doesn’t need to represent a leash. It’s not just about shrinking expectations to meet a budget, but also maximizing them, too. Meeting your budget goes both ways, whatever the figure.
So, you’ve settled on $4000. What do you need to know?
While it’s a little below the average spend for a US shopper, $4000 is a good amount of money for an engagement ring budget.
For the United States, the average spend on an engagement ring is around $6000 which, as you can imagine, may mean that a shopper on $4000 will have to make a few sacrifices in order to find a beautiful ring at their budget, but it’s certainly not out of the question.
For a $4000 budget, you’ve got two options. Your first is to do your research – learn about the value of diamonds, and how diamond quality pertains to value and, most importantly, how you can use that relationship between quality and cost to your advantage – so that you can find a much more affordable price on your diamond. Your second is to fall for the online vendors, who promise cheap price points and easy shopping experiences – and, as you can imagine, that’s certainly the inferior option in our book.
Online vendors are able to undercut traditional jewelers because they deal in massive quantities and, for the most part, don’t even house the diamonds listed on their website themselves. Some online vendors don’t even personally inspect the diamonds they sell after a buyer has shown interest, meaning that they can target a rock-bottom price point.
But, whatever your budget, sacrificing expert input and the quality of care traditional jewelers invest into their service is one of the worst things you can do. There are ways to bridge that gap between a slightly lower-than-average budget and a truly impressive ring, but getting it right requires a little extra legwork.
Here’s how to find a great ring at $4,000.
Generally, shoppers should aim to spend around 80% of the budget on their diamond, and reserve the remaining 20% for the cost of the setting. So, if you’re spending $4000 all told, you should aim to spend around $3,200 on the diamond.
This is certainly on the lower end when it comes to finding a diamond to sit in the center of an engagement ring, but it’s not impossible. The first (and most important) thing you should be aware of is that finding a great diamond for no more than $3500 isn’t as simple as naming your price and looking at what fits. After all, no two diamonds priced between $3,000 and $3,500 are the same. To create a beautiful, high quality ring, you’ve got to be a little more discerning.
All aspects of diamond quality impact the price, and this can be used to your advantage, provided you know how to.
A poorly cut diamond will be cheaper than a well cut diamond, but you don’t want to risk walking home with a lifeless, dull, asymmetrical, and un-sparkly stone. A diamond with a low clarity grade – say, SI2 – will be a lot cheaper than a diamond with a great clarity grade, and there’s a strong chance you won’t notice any difference between the two.
In short, you should aim to keep your diamond spend below $3500 – even lower if your ring setting is going to be more complex or ornate – but, even more importantly, you should understand how to keep your spend below $3500 without winding up with a poor or undesirable stone.
First, understand what drives a diamond’s price up – the Four Cs, shape, etc. – then, understand what you do and don’t need in order to walk away with a great stone.
When it comes to shape, the Round Brilliant is the most expensive you can pick out, while shapes like the Emerald, Princess and Cushion are significantly cheaper. Obviously, this is only helpful if you’re not already set on a shape for your center stone. If you’re coming into this process as an open book, however, the price difference between one shape and the next may just be enough to push you in one direction or another.
The Four Cs is where you’ll really get your money straight.
As we mentioned above, Cut is not something you want to play with. A GIA grade of Excellent or Very Good for Cut (only applicable for the Round Brilliant), Symmetry and Polish – and a diamond that falls within the ideal proportions for its shape – is the only way to go, whatever your budget.
Clarity and Color are two grades you’ll want to gain more confidence with. There’s nothing wrong with a diamond with a low grade, provided you can’t see it for yourself without a microscope. Eye clean diamonds with low clarity grades are the most economical choices out there – and the same goes for the subject of diamond color.
Finally, there’s carat weight. This will be the most significant factor behind the cost of your diamond, and the first thing you’ll want to get realistic about when it comes time to start browsing diamonds…
A diamond budget of no more than $3,500 will rule out the 1 carat range, since only the very poorest 1 carat diamonds will be priced anywhere near your budget. However, a diamond of around 0.5 carats or under will be much more attainable, and still look very impressive in your ring.
The national average for engagement ring center stones is, of course, around 1 carat, but that’s no reason to feel it’s the absolute minimum you should aim for. The popularity of 1 carat diamonds mean that they come at a premium price, and that there’s a significant jump from the sub-1 carat grades to that big, popular number.
Remember that, instead of size, you should focus on carat weight (and, of course, only consider diamonds that fall within ideal cut proportions. On average, a well cut 0.5 carat Round Brilliant diamond will measure approximately 5 mm in diameter (as opposed to 6.5mm for an equivalent 1 carat diamond), so the difference isn’t a total dealbreaker.
Elongated shapes like the Pear, Marquise, Oval, and Emerald house more of their weight in their upper half, meaning they look weightier than, say, the Round Brilliant. A 0.5 carat Oval, for instance, measures around 6.0mm, as well as a 0.5 carat Emerald cut diamond.
The difference is noticeable, but not enough to make your engagement ring look underwhelming or disappointing by any means.
The result can be very seductive in and of itself. While Hollywood likes to place a lot of emphasis on the big ‘rocks’ that look weighty enough to give the wearer’s arm a full-blown workout, there’s a lot to be said for the romance and beauty of dainty engagement ring designs.
Remember that some carat weights are not priced as ‘competitively’ as others – including the ‘milestone’ weights like 0.5, 0.75, and 1 carat. For the best deals, don’t limit yourself to these exact numbers. You won’t notice any difference between, say, a 0.48 carat diamond and a 0.50 carat diamond, but you will save some money.
A budget of $4,000 may be a little below what average shoppers have to work with, there is still plenty of scope for you to find a beautiful diamond ring without having to spend more than you are comfortable with. The best approach is one that is grounded in research and understanding – not just of diamond prices, but of what you should be paying for and what would represent a waste of your money.
As always, we feel any shopper will be starting out on the strongest footing if they commit to finding a reputable, local jeweler to work with. While it may not be the absolute cheapest option out there, it is the most effective option for ensuring excellent value for money, and a great (and worthwhile) investment.