The secret to buying a cheap diamond engagement ring is in understanding the difference between a quality and apparent quality. The word "diamond" comes from the Greek word "adamus" that means, "You could buy a nice HDTV for that price." But if you know a little about diamond engagement rings, the size of that TV you'll sacrifice for love will be much smaller. Imagine buying a 30-inch TV that looks like a 50-inch TV. That's what I'm talking about.
Cheap Diamond Engagement Ring: The Four Cs
Most of the difference between an expensive and a cheap diamond engagement ring is the diamond itself. A diamond's value is determined by how rare it is. You may have already heard of the four Cs: carat, color, clarity and cut. A diamond's rarity (and therefore price) is determined by how rare it is in carat, color, clarity and cut—but at the higher ranges of these qualities many of the differences are imperceptible to the naked eye. You really have to be an expert—with a magnifying glass—to see many of the differences between an expensive and a relatively cheap diamond engagement ring.
Cheap Diamond Engagement Ring: Carat
One way to buy a cheap diamond engagement ring is to be smart about the size of the diamond. What jewelers don't want you to know is that a 0.9 carat (ct) diamond is disproportionately cheaper than a 1 ct diamond, but they appear to be the same size. Similarly, a 1.9 ct diamond is disproportionately cheaper than a 2 ct diamond relative to the apparent difference in size. The price jumps a bit when you get to the carat mark, but your potential fiancé will probably not notice the difference without a side-by-side comparison.
Cheap Diamond Engagement Ring: Color
Another way to buy a cheap diamond engagement ring is to be smart about the color of the diamond. Diamonds are rated on their color—or more to the point—their colorlessness. Generally speaking, a diamond that is colorless is considered perfect, and is rarer than a diamond that is yellow or brown. Diamonds that are considered "colorless" are rated D through F, with D being most colorless. Diamonds that are very slightly yellow are rated G through J. And while the difference between an F and G is almost imperceptible, the price of a diamond spikes at the F level because it is considered "colorless," but few people would ever know the difference.
Cheap Diamond Engagement Ring: Clarity
A diamond's clarity is determined by a lack of tiny flaws called inclusions. The size and number of inclusions within a diamond also determine its price: A diamond with no or very few minor inclusions is much more rare. And again, like carat and color, there's a difference between flawlessness and apparent flawlessness. And, you guessed it, there's a price jump between two levels that are imperceptibly different to the naked eye. This jump occurs between the VVS2 (Very, very slightly included—level 2) and SI1 (Slightly included—level 1). The SI1 diamond is disproportionately cheaper, despite appearing virtually the same to the naked eye.
Cheap Diamond Engagement Ring: Cut
The cut of a diamond is another great opportunity to find a cheap diamond engagement ring. And again, it's a game of perception. Many experts say that a diamond's cut is up to 60 percent of a diamond's overall value—and it's not the type of cut, but the quality of the cut. The quality of cut is a major factor in the diamond's sparkle. Again, you have to consider whether your fiancé-to-be will notice the difference between a very good cut and good or fair cut diamond.
Another consideration when buying a cheap diamond engagement ring is that some styles of cut look bigger than others. As an example, a 1 ct princess cut diamond will look bigger than a 1ct. round cut diamond. Take a look around at different styles of cuts at a fixed size, and you'll see a difference in perceived size.
Cheap Diamond Engagement Ring: White Gold vs. Platinum
If you're shopping for loose diamonds, don't forget about the setting. It's not free. Neutral colored metal is very popular, and you have a choice. If you're looking for a cheap diamond engagement ring, you may want to consider white gold as an alternative to platinum. Almost no one can tell the difference between white gold and platinum, nor can most people see a difference between 18K white gold and 14K white gold. The fact of the matter is that white gold is usually plated (or coated) with a metal called rhodium. And white gold can be as much as half the price of a platinum ring.
However, you should know that if you choose white gold, the rhodium plating will wear over time and will require maintenance. The ring will need to be replated every 1 to 5 years at a cost of up to $50 a pop. So, while you're saving in the short-term, you can end up paying more in the long run.
Cheap Diamond Engagement Ring: Buying Wholesale vs. Retail
Many say that buying a loose diamond from a broker is the best way to buy a cheap diamond engagement ring. And if you're going to buy a high-quality diamond, they're right. And if you don't have the stomach for haggling on price, this can be a better way to go. However, if you're not averse to playing one retailer against another, you could find good deals at a retailer.
Buying a cheap diamond engagement ring from a retail chain is like buying a new car from a dealership. And the best place to go is to a mall with many large retail jeweler's chains. Once you find two or three comparable rings in your price range at different jewelers, the rings become commodities and the jewelers are competing on price. At some point, one will want the sale more than the others and will give you the best deal. If you're really slick, those other competing rings may not even really exist. Regardless if the other rings exist, when you're negotiating, let the sales person think that the ring that's in the other store is just a little nicer.
So you can see that knowledge is power when it comes to buying a cheap diamond engagement ring. Everyone in the process is trying to get you to spend as much as—or even more than—you can actually afford. Don't fall for it. They'll talk about better diamonds being a "better investment" and make you think that buying a "lesser diamond" is "buying junk." But at the end of the day, there's no point in spending anymore than what it takes to make your fiance happy.