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Ask a Diamond Pro: Custom Engagement Ring in the UK for £3,500

By Mike Fried,

We’re often contacted by readers located outside the United States looking for help finding the right engagement ring or other diamond jewelry. 

Recently, a reader from the UK contacted us asking for help buying an engagement ring. They had a budget of £3,500 and wanted something very specific — an 18K side-stone setting with a pair of yellow sapphires. 

Yellow sapphire three stone ring
An example of a yellow sapphire three stone ring (Photo: Amazon)

Here’s the reader’s original email:

“Hi – I have a limited budget of £3500 to buy an engagement ring. I have been offered an SI1, colour G, 0.7 carat diamond for about £2300. I have also been offered a VS1 diamond colour F, 0.7 carat for £2850. The latter will really stretch my budget to the absolute limit (once I have paid for the ring) but I am thinking this may ultimately be the better deal, and worth the extra. 

Could you advise whether there is likely to be a big difference in appearance in terms of colour and clarity, and whether these seem like good prices.”

This reader later sent a second email to mention that they had specific requirements for the ring, such as the 18K side-stone setting, yellow sapphires and a ring design that isn’t overly thick and bulky.

They also mentioned that they’d prefer a round diamond that’s as close to D, E or F in terms of color grade as possible.

Let’s start by briefly answering this reader’s questions about color, clarity and price, then go into more detail about how to find a suitable diamond and setting.

First of all, when it comes to color and clarity, our approach is that it’s best to pay for a diamond that appears colorless in relation to its setting and eye-clean in terms of clarity, not necessarily a specific color and clarity grade.

This means that it’s usually better to avoid aiming for a specific grade and instead focusing more on the actual appearance of the diamond.

Provided it’s colorless and eye-clean, the SI1, G color diamond will likely offer better value than the more expensive VS1 clarity, F color diamond.

Regarding pricing, we think it’s possible to go much better by purchasing a diamond online and having it shipped to the UK rather than purchasing locally.

This is almost always the case, as the economies of scale provided by online diamond vendors allow them to charge lower prices, even to customers outside the United States. 

Diamond and yellow sapphire engagement ring

Creating a Custom Engagement Ring for £3,500

Let’s get started by covering one of the most important parts of buying a diamond, whether for an engagement ring or other jewelry — understanding how color, clarity and the other Cs (carat weight and cut quality) all impact a diamond’s appearance.

As we’ve discussed in our guide to the diamond 4 Cs, our general approach to buying a diamond is to start by focusing on cut quality — which, in most cases, is the most important factor for diamond quality — then focus on a colorless appearance and eye-clean clarity.

This almost never means purchasing a diamond with a “perfect” color or clarity grade. Instead, it means choosing a diamond with the lowest grades in either category that still appears colorless and free of inclusions.

This reader briefly mentions preferring a color grade of as close to D, E or F as possible. This is a common diamond buying mistake that can often increase the amount you’ll pay for a diamond, all with minimal impact on its appearance.

J color diamonds compared to other color grades

As this page from the GIA explains, diamond color is graded on a scale from D to Z, with diamonds in the D, E or F range considered “colorless.” As the GIA notes: “Many of these color distinctions are so subtle as to be invisible to the untrained eye. But these slight differences make a very big difference in diamond quality and price.”

The closer you get to the colorless range, the more you’ll pay for a diamond, often with little to no visible effect on its “real-life,” perceivable color.

Instead of looking for a specific color grade, it’s better to choose a diamond that looks colorless in relation to its setting, even if it doesn’t have a “perfect” or “near-perfect” color grade.

This is easy with a round brilliant cut diamond, as the diamond’s facet pattern offers strong light reflection and refraction — a feature that helps to conceal internal color.

We find that you can usually drop down to the J color grade for this diamond shape without any obvious coloration (assuming you’re choosing a white gold setting). This can remove hundreds of dollars off of the purchase price of a diamond in the 0.70 carat range.

The same is true of diamond clarity. Thanks to the round cut’s exceptional brilliance, it’s also very good at concealing inclusions. This means that many diamonds with clarity grades in the SI or VS range appear free of inclusions to the naked eye in a real-life setting. 

This aspect of diamond purchasing is a strategic compromise, and it can help you to reduce the amount you pay for a diamond (or, alternatively, free up more of your budget for a diamond that has a greater carat weight). 

For example, this 0.70 carat, F color, VVS2 clarity round cut diamond from James Allen sells for $3,050. In comparison, this H color, VS2 clarity diamond of the same cut grade and carat weight is available for $2,380, which is almost $670 less:

low color and clarity diamodn vs high color and clarity diamond
LEFT: H/VS2 diamond – RIGHT: F/VVS2 diamond

Even with bright studio lighting and magnification, it’s difficult to tell the two diamonds apart. Set in a ring and worn in natural lighting, telling the F color, VVS2 diamond from the more affordable stone is virtually impossible, despite the significant difference in price.

Taking this approach can make it much easier to stay below this reader’s £3,500 limit, as buying from the UK can involve additional fees and taxes.

Although the UK doesn’t charge any tariffs on diamonds arriving from overseas, diamond jewelry is subject to a 20% value added tax (VAT). This is something that this reader — and you, if you’re based in the UK and plan to purchase diamond jewelry from abroad — needs to take into account.

When it comes to customized settings, online vendors such as James Allen and Blue Nile often provide more flexibility than you might think.

This means that there are essentially two options. The first is to have a setting made by a local jeweler, then buy a diamond to mount in it (either online, or, alternatively, by paying more for a diamond locally).

The second is to find a setting from James Allen or Blue Nile, then see if it’s possible to change certain parts of it (in this case, the side stones).

Luckily, James Allen has numerous side stone settings that are close to the type of setting this reader was interested in. In this case, we were able to contact James Allen and have an existing blue sapphire setting customized with yellow sapphires based on this reader’s tastes. 

yellow sapphire diamond three stone ring
Imagine this setting with yellow sidestones (Photo: James Allen)

Our Recommendation

When you’re shopping for a diamond, it’s easy to get attached to a certain color or clarity grade, even if it isn’t necessarily the best choice for you. After all, words like “flawless” and “colorless,” both of which are used in diamond grading, can make anything below perfection seem subpar.

Instead of aiming for perfection, it’s far better to choose a diamond that’s free of inclusions and colorless in a real life environment, even when its color and clarity grades appear unimpressive on paper. 

This approach can drastically reduce the amount you spend on a diamond, freeing up more of your budget for extra carat weight or an elegant, eye-catching setting. 

In the end, this reader ended up purchasing their engagement ring online by pairing a beautiful diamond with a customized side-stone setting from James Allen

The end result is a gorgeous engagement ring, all at a significantly lower cost than comparable jewelry available from UK-based, brick-and-mortar jewelry vendors.

If you’re looking for a similar engagement ring, or simply have questions about buying diamonds online, feel free to contact us.

We help hundreds of customers compare and buy diamond jewelry every month, and our expert team is happy to help you find something that matches your tastes and budget.

James Allen James Allen is the leader in online diamond sales. Their imaging technology is the same as inspecting a diamond with a jeweler's loupe. They have the largest exclusive loose diamond inventory online and fantastic prices. They also have the nicest collection of lab-created diamonds online.
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. James Allen will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free International Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisals
  • One free resizing within 60 days of purchase
  • Free ring inscriptions
  • Best-in-class high quality imagery of all diamonds in stock
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • Best-in-class packaging
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Blue Nile Blue Nile is the largest and most well-known internet jewelry seller. They have a very large exclusive online inventory. Their high-quality images are catching up to James Allens' and their prices are amazing. 
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. Blue Nile will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisal
  • One free resizing within the first year of purchase
  • High quality images of about half of their diamonds
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • 100% credit towards future upgrades (must be at least double in value)
  • Best in class fulfillment
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