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Buying an engagement ring or any other sort of fine jewellery for that matter can seem like a bit of a minefield so here’s our attempt at an ultimate guide to everything you need to think about when you’re ready to make that purchase.

Buying from a store

The engagement rings in stores and online have usually been mass produced in a factory overseas and often engagement ring with invisible setting have quality control issues with stones falling out etc (I know because repairing it helps pay my mortgage!). Plus add on the 200% + markup that stores add on, then how much is the jewellery actually worth? Ask yourself, How can they always afford to knock off 50% in sale?

Don’t be fooled by the ‘hand finished’ description. This just means a human being might have polished it at the end of the manufacture. At a push, the jewellery might be hand set. True story – I once asked a well-known jewellery store in Melbourne if their rings were handmade and was told yes. They weren’t. A jeweller like me can spot it straight away.

If you’re buying in store, check the inside of the ring… Is it hollowed out? Many mass produced rings are kind of indented on the inside of the band (like the one pictured). It’s cheaper to make and it means you’re getting less gold for your money.

If there are diamonds set into the band, check the inside for these too…. Are all the stones set evenly? Or are some of them sticking out? Also, do they rattle (seriously!)?

Don’t buy the style of ring where 4 small stones are set in the middle to look like one princess cut, like the one pictured (really don’t buy this ring!!!). Yes, it’s cheaper than a princess cut (total weight of smaller diamonds is cheaper than the same weight of one diamond), but this type of invisible setting always seems to be badly done and rarely lasts. The stones are usually only held around the outsides. For invisible setting see barely set at all!!

Don’t rely on the valuation supplied by the store – get it independently valued. Not just to see what it’s really worth, but also to independently verify the size/quality of the diamond and the gold carat – yes, honestly! Don’t forget there is no regulated gold hallmarking system here in Australia. We always tell clients to get the jewellery I’ve made independently valued just for peace of mind.

The valuation amount will not be the same as the open market value in other words you won’t get that if you sell it. But your insurance company will want you to insure it for that amount of course!

You can get more value for money if you buy the diamond loose and get a bench jeweller to set it. Find a jeweller that works from home or who doesn’t have store overheads to factor into what they charge you.

You’ll get even more value for money if you avoid going for a 1ct stone and go for a 0.99ct or 0.98ct stone. 1ct diamonds are highly popular and so their price is always much higher than it should be. If you buy a nearly 1ct, there will probably be very little (if any) difference in spread size so you can still tell all your mates it’s a 1ct and nobody will be able to tell the difference.

BUT be careful of buying a diamond unseen online. You’ve got to see where the flaws are. A lot of these diamonds have flaws in the wrong places and can be susceptible to fracture when it comes to setting them. One VS2 stone is not the same as another. See more about the 4 Cs of diamonds. You can ask a jeweller to get a selection of certified loose diamonds on approval for you to examine and choose from.

What kind of gemstone?

You don’t have to have a diamond in an engagement ring you can have anything you like as long as it’s hard wearing. After all, this is a ring that’s going to be worn every day for a lifetime. That’s probably why diamonds are so popular, because they are the hardest wearing stones.

Synthetics (eg CZs or diamond simulants) don’t cut it. They can look nice but you’re lucky if they last a couple of years and they certainly lose their polish pretty fast! If money is tight, one option is to have a ring made with a CZ with a view to having it changed to a stronger stone later one when finances allow. But swapping stones over easily later on will very much depend on the style of ring you choose.

I have lots of clients who have used sapphires instead of a centre diamond they’re certainly a lot cheaper and very hard wearing. This includes rubies too they’re another kind of sapphire. And one lot of clients who had a white sapphire instead of a diamond. It looked pretty good but good ones are getting harder to obtain here in Australia.

Tanzanites are increasingly popular because of their beautiful colours but I don’t recommend them for an everyday ring like an engagement ring because they’re not hard enough. Check out the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Remember that the scale is not incremental, eg diamond at no. 10 is twice as hard as a corundum (sapphire) at no.9. Anything softer than a topaz on the Mohs scale is not recommended for an engagement ring.

Ethical jewellery

Where are the diamonds from? Some people don’t care about this but if you prefer to buy diamonds with a conscience then ask the store or jeweller. If they don’t know, how will you feel about this? The Kimberley Process is supposed to safeguard against the supply of blood diamonds. Unfortunately, it has been proven that the Kimberley Process definition of blood diamonds is still open to interpretation and is vulnerable to abuse. In other words, its standards are very low. For example, would you be happy knowing your diamonds were from Zimbabwe, given what you know about their regime?

Where are the diamonds cut? If they’re cut in India (and 90% of the world’s diamonds are now cut there because it’s cheap), there’s a chance that child labour practices have been involved. If the jewellery store can’t tell you, is that ok?

There is a lot to think about when buying an engagement ring so it’s no wonder some people just go for what looks like the easiest option and buy online from the big retailers. But we hope this has helped you think about what it is that you might really be buying.

Sunshine Coast jeweller Siobhan Frith has been a jeweller for 35 years. Her mission is to save the world from badly made, overpriced, mass produced jewellery! You can follow her regular updates on Facebook.

And if you’d like a quote, phone her on 0411 275 579 (she’s more affordable than you think!).