What to spend and how to save on a diamond ring

Get ready for a wave of engagement rings to flood your Facebook feed: December continues to be the most popular time for men to take the plunge and pop the question.

Twenty per cent of Canadian men in a relationship are expected to propose this month, according to the 2015 Wedding Bells survey. But that doesn’t mean they necessarily want to spend a fortune on the ring.

How much should you spend?

“In many cases the guy isn’t prepared to spend anything if he can avoid it,” jokes Duncan Parker, the vice president of Canada’s Gemology Institute.

That could be why the Wedding Bells survey found a majority of brides have a say in how much their engagement ring will cost.

Earlier this year, rate comparison website pegged the average price of an engagement ring to be $4,000.

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Experts say you shouldn’t base how much you spend, though, on anything other than your own budget — especially since the average Canadian wedding can cost a couple upwards of $30,000.

READ MORE: Putting a ring on it? Do your research, urge financial experts

So forget about that old “rule” of spending two or even three months’ salary on a diamond. It was, after all, the product of De Beers, the diamond company which also tried to instill in us that “A Diamond is Forever.”

“I always tell my students never use the word ‘investment’ and gemstone in the same sentence. The investment is emotional,” Parker cautions.

How to save money when buying an engagement ring

The easiest way to save on an engagement ring? Don’t buy a diamond.

WATCH: Coloured gemstones like sapphires are becoming big in engagement ring fashion. Trish Kozicka takes a closer look at the trend.

There are plenty of diamond alternatives on the market that can be wonderful options — from sapphires, to emeralds, rubies, pearls and moissanite.

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The latter looks pretty much identical to a diamond but, like the other alternatives, is sold at a fraction of the price.

Those who are set on a traditional diamond can still cut costs without compromising quality. Alastair Smith wrote a book about it and started, a resource for shoppers who are as overwhelmed as he was during his own search for a diamond ring.

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He did a ton of research over six months before realizing he should share the information he found with others.

“There are considerable savings to be made with very little visible difference if people are just smart with what they buy and where they buy it from.”

Here are his four of his biggest pieces of advice:

1. Don’t put too much emphasis on “clarity”

Clarity, one of the “4Cs,” is a measure of the imperfections (aka inclusions) in a stone.

Parker agrees it’s the easiest thing to make compromises on.

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“And it cuts a big part of the price out.”

Unless you go below a certain grade — usually VS2, which stands for “very slight inclusions” or sometimes even SI1, which stands for “slight inclusions”), those imperfections can only be seen under a microscope.

“Nobody’s going to say I’m going to get a microscope out [to look at your ring],” Parker says. “They notice the size.”

2. It doesn’t have to be a full carat to look like one

Carat is the weight of a diamond, which is most commonly associated with its size. One carat is equal to one-fifth of a gram.

“Everyone wants a one carat stone, it’s a nice round number. But if you go just below one carat, say 0.95 carats – you’d never be able to see the difference in size,” Smith says.

“Because jewelers know people want a one carat stone, there’s a bit of a bump in price at one carat. Whereas if you go just below, you can’t see a visible difference in size but there is a very visible difference in the cost.”

However, those near-carats can be harder to come by. The job of a diamond-cutter, Parker points out, is to cut a perfect carat. If they keep cutting less than a carat, that profit loss will eventually likely lead to job loss, he says.

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3. Go for a different shape

“If you change shape from a regular round diamond there’s definite savings to be had there as well. So if you go for an oval diamond, or a cushion diamond, or even a princess cut – there can be savings of up to 30 per cent on a stone that’s the same carat weight and quality,” Smith says.

4. Buy online

You can likely find more of the 0.95 carats online, though. That’s where Smith suggests you make your diamond purchase.

Diamond expert Michael Fried of, another online resource, also recommends that route.

“Just from the math, the overhead is so much lower for an online retailer than it is for a brick and mortar that you can get far better value purchasing online,” Fried says.

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In some cases, Smith claims the savings can be in the thousands.

He and Parker list Blue Nile as a reputable online retailer. It’s certainly the largest of its kind, so the prices do tend to be lower.

However, one of its big drawbacks is that it doesn’t have high-resolution photos of the diamonds it sells. That’s why Fried prefers the James Allan site, which is also one of Smith’s recommended retailers.

Wherever you choose to buy your diamond, Fried stresses that it needs to come with legitimate certification. GIA (Gemological Institute of America) and AGS (American Gem Society) are the two most widely accepted sources for that in North America.

He says to be weary of any EGL (European Gemological Laboratory) certifications, which have been plagued with legal troubles.

“EGL was sort of called out recently because they were using the same terminology for grades that didn’t match what GI [the Gemological Institute] would’ve called them,” Parker explains.
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“And they said, ‘well, we’re using our own standards.'”

Here are some more fun facts about diamond rings:


Infographic designed by Janet Cordahi, Global News


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