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Cost-Conscious Diamond Engagement Ring Purchase

By Mike Fried,

When you realize you want to marry your partner, there are many potential anxieties. Will they say yes? How will I ask? Do I talk to their parents first? Can I afford a diamond ring?

Breathe. You are going to figure out these questions. And while we can’t help you know if they’ll say yes, we can help you be confident in this: You CAN afford a diamond engagement ring. 

While there are some old-fashioned rules about spending two months’ salary on the engagement ring, you have no social obligation to this hubbub. The amount your engagement ring costs has no correlation to how much you love your partner or the survival rate for your marriage. Besides, you can always add to the sparkle throughout the years. 

In fact, an increasing number of people are opting to set aside outdated social obligations and spend less on diamonds than before, with jewelry trend expert and designer Tara Gannon noting that millennials tend to go for smaller stones with more brilliance and fire over larger, “is-that-actually-real” diamonds like in the past.

In other words, if you’re looking for a diamond engagement ring that’s both affordable and elegant, you’re definitely not alone, nor are you out of options. By shopping strategically, you can purchase a stunning engagement ring that doesn’t break the bank.

Here are some rules to get a gorgeous ring at an affordable price:

  1. Set your budget before you shop
  2. Shop online
  3. Cut: most important factor of a diamond
  4. Clarity: use your eyes to decide (rather than official reports)
  5. Color: don’t pay too much
  6. Limit carat weight
  7. Choose 14K gold 

1. Set Your Budget

It’s important that your partner loves their ring but the ring is never worth debt. You have enough bills and a wedding (and honeymoon) to pay for on the horizon. Be firm on the amount you can afford. 

how much to spend on an engagement ring

2. Shop Online

You will save 30-40% by shopping online. Overhead expenses are nixed online which means more savings for you.  

Store shopping can impair the focus on your budget. With glittery lights and flashy smiles, stores can make an impulsive decision easy. Shopping online allows you to do third-party research as needed without any social pressure. 

When shopping online, use a reputable online vendor. We love Blue Nile and James Allen for their superior quality at impressive prices. Plus, they often promote discounts and offer coupons. They also offer 100% cash refunds if you don’t like their product, a rare offer for a physical retailer. 

The advanced photo technology of James Allen and Blue Nile allow you to truly see what the diamond looks like on the screen. This will help when you are considering the cut, clarity and color (see below). 

3. Focus on Diamond’s Cut

Diamond cut refers to how well the stone is cut, polished, and proportioned. How well a diamond is cut matches how brilliantly it reflects light and sparkles. This attribute is where you want to allocate most of your budget. 

This is because the cut quality of diamond has a huge impact on its appearance. As the GIA discusses here, “precise artistry and workmanship are required to fashion a stone so its proportions, symmetry and polish deliver the magnificent return of light only possible in a diamond.”

A diamond with excellent cut quality will display exceptional brilliance, or white light reflection, and fire, or scattering of light into different colors. This light performance is what makes a diamond beautiful. A diamond that’s poorly cut, in spite of its size, color or clarity, will look dull and lifeless next to one with a superior cut.

For example, when buying a diamond online you will need to set certain criteria. Choose as high as your budget allows for cut rather than the other 4 C’s (see below). 

Sometimes people confuse a diamond’s cut with a diamond’s shape (round, oval, princess cut, emerald, etc). Now you know better.

Diamond shapes

4. Clarity: Use Your Eyes

Diamond clarity refers to how many blemishes (or inclusions) the diamond has. Since molten temperatures in the Earth create diamonds, specks or discoloration occur. Diamond grading laboratories rate diamonds on how many inclusions the diamond has when viewed under a jewelers microscope. No one is going to look at your diamond that way. Trust your eyes. If the diamond appears “eye-clean” then it’s good to go. 

5. Color: Don’t Pay Too Much

Color is another diamond factor where people often overspend. Color refers to how clear a diamond appears (rather than having a yellow hue). There is a rigorous chart from the GIA for diamond color. But there is a sweet spot where the price of a diamond is less, yet the discoloration isn’t visible. Stick to diamonds ranging from G-J on the diamond color scale for best value. Also, make sure if there are side diamonds that the color appears as white as the surrounding diamonds. You can also choose rose gold or yellow gold to help the color appear more white by contrast.

Diamond Color Graph

6. Limit Carat Weight

Carat is how heavy a diamond is rather than how large (though they sometimes correlate). Carat is overly focused on when buying diamond rings because bigger is always better, right? Nope. A well cut 0.50 carat diamond is going to look much more elegant and beautiful than a poorly cut 1 carat or 2 carat diamond. Once again: prioritize diamond cut

7. Choose 14K Gold

Most engagement rings come in gold or platinum. The gold of an engagement ring can range in color (white gold, yellow gold, rose gold). Since gold is so soft it must be mixed with other metals to strengthen it for jewelry. 14K gold contains 58.3% pure gold. 18K gold contains 75% pure gold. 

A higher percentage of gold isn’t always a better choice. Though slightly more lustrous, 18K gold will scratch more than its 14K gold sister. And 18K gold tends to cost more because of the pure gold percentage. 

Platinum costs significantly more and requires more maintenance. 14K gold is a great way to get a lovely, durable setting without the added finances. 

yellow gold vs rose gold vs white gold graphic

Examples of Diamond Engagement Rings Under $1,000

There are two ways to shop for an engagement ring under $1,000.

1. Buy a ring that has a setting and diamond already placed together for you, price already calculated.

We love the North South diamond ring in 14K rose gold. This ring is sweet and meaningful, with the directional orientation and subtle sparkle. 

A real winner in our book is the petite solitaire asscher cut diamond ring from James Allen with its quaint beauty and ability to stack with other rings throughout the years.

2. Create your own ring, choosing a diamond and a setting. Your diamond and setting will each have an individual price so you’ll need to add the two sums together to figure your final price. 

The classic nature of this petite solitaire engagement ring from Blue Nile is stunning. Pair it with this 0.40ct oval cut diamond and you’ll have a beautiful custom ring for less than $1,000.

The 14K white gold presentation solitaire (six prong) ring is another gorgeous option.  You’ll want to make sure the color of your diamond is suitable to be placed next to white gold, like this 0.43ct J color round cut diamond.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions. We’re here to help you find the best engagement ring for any 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. Save 25% on settings at Blue Nile!

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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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