Getting married? The engagement ring and wedding rings you select for your fiancée and yourself will be symbols of your love and commitment for the rest of your life. Of course, the diamond industry knows this and does a brilliant job coercing us to spend a small fortune on engagement rings. Although quality engagement rings and wedding bands (like all fine jewelry) come at a cost, there is no reason you should pay what the mainstream jewelry industry asks you to pay for these rings. It is very possible to save money on engagement rings — in fact, you may be able to save up to 50 percent off the retail price of a diamond engagement ring. Here’s how.
Rule #1: Do NOT buy from a chain jeweler
If you want to save money on an engagement ring or wedding rings, do not buy them from a chain jeweler. Sadly, this is what most people do (including myself, before I knew better).
It’s easy to understand why: Major jewelers like Kay, Zales, Jared, Tiffany’s, etc. spend millions on advertising, are easily accessible nationwide, and give most diamond-buyers peace of mind that they’re dealing with a reputable company. (I would venture to guess than when buying diamonds, many people would rather overpay than risk spending hundreds or thousands on a gem that is not the indicated quality or isn’t even genuine.)
There’s nothing wrong with shopping at these chain jewelers to get a sense for what kind of rings you want, but the simple fact is that these stores mark up diamonds to double their cost…or more. If you do have your heart set on an engagement ring from one of these stores, always try negotiating. Early in my ring-buying experience I had a chain jeweler manager slashing the price of one ring by hundreds of dollars before I even asked. On the flip side, some of the higher-end jewelers with brands to protect will absolutely not negotiate their prices. But you never know until you ask.
Where can you save money on engagement rings?
So if you shouldn’t buy your engagement ring at a chain jeweler, where should you turn? You have a few choices: An independent jeweler, a diamond wholesaler (if you’re fortunate enough to live in New York or another large city where these exist), or an online diamond retailer.
If you don’t live near a diamond district and want to save as much money as possible, you should probably buy your engagement ring online.
Online diamond jewelers
During my ring-buying experience, I was blown away by online diamond stores like James Allen and Blue Nile. The sites let you search through over 25,000 diamonds to find those in your price, size, and quality specifications and match your chosen gem with dozens of setting options. Prices seem to be nearly half of comparable rings in retail stores, and the site has an impeccable online reputation. They also offer free shipping and free returns.
How much can you save?
A simple 4mm platinum comfort fit men’s wedding band is $780 on James Allen compared to $1,450 at a local Jared the Galleria of Jewelry store. It’s almost half the price!
eBay is also rife with some incredible diamond deals, although buying through an online auction is a bit riskier than through a reputable online dealer. If you decide to buy an engagement ring on eBay, make sure you’re well-versed in diamond values and eBay transactions. Only purchase a ring if the seller agrees to use an escrow account for payment and allows you to take the ring to a jeweler for appraisal once you receive it.
If buying a diamond online isn’t for you, check out your local jewelers. Although rings at these stores will be significantly more than rings online, you’ll get more bang for your buck than at chain jewelers, as well as better craftsmanship and, most likely, a ring that is more unique. Although I purchased my fiancée’s engagement ring at a chain jeweler after being unable to find the style ring I wanted online, we’re having a local jeweler design a new ring for the diamond after my fiancée discovered the ring’s setting was too high and she was banging it around. We’ve gotten top-notch service from this jeweler, and his custom-designed setting will end up costing less than many of the generic settings available in the chain stores.
For the brave, the absolute cheapest way to buy a diamond engagement ring is to buy a loose stone from a diamond wholesaler. To do this, you’ll have to live in or travel to a major city like New York and visit the diamond district in person. You’ll need to know what you’re doing, because these dealers are used to dealing with professional jewelers, and may try to take advantage of a naïve buyer.
That said, if you negotiate correctly you can get your rock at wholesale prices and then have a jeweler design a setting. One final caution: Most of these dealers only accept cold hard cash. I had a colleague at SmartMoney magazine buy his fiancée’s diamond this way and I recall him recounting how strange it was to walk through Midtown Manhattan with thousands of dollars in his pocket.
Finally: It doesn’t have to be a diamond!
Although this post is mostly about saving money on a diamond engagement ring, there is no rule saying that an engagement ring has to be a diamond. It’s just a tradition that has been successfully propagated by a powerful diamond lobby keen on profit. You can find beautiful, unique, handcrafted rings with other stones for a tenth of the cost of a diamond. For ideas, check out the jewelry section of Etsy.com, an online marketplace for handmade products.
Did you save big money on your engagement ring? Get ripped off? Opted out of a diamond or an engagement ring altogether? Let us know!