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copyright Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of

This is a wedding frugality page, so I feel it is my duty to point out that you do not have to buy a diamond for an engagement ring as long as you have talked about the subject with your partner and both of you agree to this. Despite this, the majority of couples getting engaged do opt to use a diamond as an engagement ring. The trend is slowly changing as more couples opt for various gemstones instead, but the majority still choose diamonds. It is with this in mind, that I bring you this guide to buying diamonds.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
First and foremost, I advise couples to discuss the issue of an engagement ring. Many couples forego this step, and they end up paying for it...literally. Without taking the time to talk with your partner about the engagement ring, you miss out on a lot of information. One of the most obvious pieces of information is that of preference. Your partner may or may not like big stones and you'll never know it unless you ask. You'll also never know whether your partner likes to wear jewelry, favors petite or large pieces, prefers a nice setting over a huge stone or whether your partner even likes diamonds at all. Of course, you also need to find out what type and/or color of metal your partner prefers. There are only two ways to find out this information. You can either ask your partner (you don't even have to specifically mention an engagement ring unless you want to) or you must be extremely observant and find out by looking at the other type of jewelry your partner wears.

If you find out that your partner likes large stones, you may feel as if you are in a bit of a bind. There's really no reason to feel this way as there are certain things that make a stone appear larger than it really is. Stone shape is one consideration. Did you know that marquise shaped stones tend to appear larger than other shapes? There are also certain cuts (such as a radiant or princess cut) that can make a stone appear larger to the eye. Of course, by discussing the issue with your partner, you might just find out that the preference for the larger stone is learned. In other words, your partner may want a larger stone because they've heard myths such as "if it's under a carat, don't wear it" or "the more your partner loves you, the bigger the stone." These myths are exactly that...MYTHS and they have nothing to do with reality. The only true "rule" concerning an engagment ring is that you want to get a ring that your partner will love and want to wear for a very long time.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
There are other steps to insure that a larger ring/stone will be within your budget. Why not give your partner your mother's or grandmother's ring if that option is available to you. It shows your partner how important they are to you, because you are essentially saying "I love you enough to trust you with a piece of jewelry that belonged to someone who I love/d throughout my entire lifetime...and I want to love you throughout my lifetime as well.". You can't beat that sentiment with any ring you might purchase in a retail setting. Another option is antique, vintage or used engagement rings. The truth of the matter is that diamonds rarely retain their value and you can often find them for 50% or more off retail prices. This basically means that you can often find a more "impressive" ring through such sources than you can through retail sources. Of course there is always the option of going with a "starter ring". In such a case, you start with a small ring or stone and step up to a larger ring or stone on a specific date (such as your 5th or 10th anniversary). Another option is a starter cubic zirconia in the size that she wants. There's one pitfall to these types of arrangements. If you don't do as you promised (upgrade to a different ring in 5 to 10 years), you're going to find that there will be resentment in most cases (whether spoken or not). You really don't want your partner to resent you, so only offer this if you are willing and able to follow through on such a promise. Finally, don't rush the decision. This is a lifetime purchase and you should take the time to really shop around and decide on what would be appropriate. I suggest looking at engagement rings for a number of months before you decide to purchase one. You'll learn a lot by taking this step.

A little knowledge goes a long way. It makes sense to do a little research on diamonds and metals. This will ensure that you are an informed consumer and that you don't spend more than you want to on the engagement ring you choose.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
First, we'll discuss metals. The two most popular metals used in engagement rings are gold and platinum. Your partner will likely have a preference for one metal over another. A good way to find out your partner's preference is to ask, but you can also usually tell by the jewelry your partner wears. We'll discuss gold first.

Gold comes in a number of different colors. The two most popular colors for engagement rings are yellow gold and white gold. Other colors of gold include rose gold and green gold, which are often found in Black Hills gold designs. In order to get colors other than natural yellow (the natural color of gold), gold must be combined with another metal in order to form an alloy (mixture of two or more metals) that determines the color of the gold. Rose, red and pink golds are basically the same color of gold. Most jewelers use the names interchangeably to mean the same thing. Rose gold is made by adding more copper to the alloy. It also generally means that less silver is used. If your partner has a copper allergy (like I do) they may not be able to wear rose gold. Green gold is sometimes achieved by an alloy of gold and silver but cadium can also be used. White gold is produced with a variety of combinations which can include silver, palladium, copper, tin, zinc, maganese or nickel and gold. Yellow is the color of pure gold, but depending on the karat of the gold, it can also contain silver and copper.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
Pure gold is yellow gold (the natural color) and is 24K or 24 karat gold. 24 karat gold is rarely used in jewelry because it is too soft of a metal to stand up well to use. Different metals are used both to change the color of natural gold and to increase the strength of natural gold. 18K gold is available and is 18 parts gold and 6 parts of other metal/s. I wouldn't recommend 18K gold for a wedding engagement ring because it is on the soft side for a ring that will get so much use. You can also choose other karats, including 14K (14 parts gold to 10 parts other metal/s), 12K (12 parts gold to 12 parts other metal/s) and 10K (10 parts gold to 14 parts other metal/s). My engagement ring happens to be 10 karats because it is stronger and holds up to more use, but most folks opt for 14 karats of gold for the setting on their ring because it contains more gold. 10 karat gold will cost you less than 14 karat gold.

Gold is marked with a number of symbols. Make sure that your ring has a mark in order to insure that you are truly getting gold. A mark of 24K means 24 karat gold. A mark of 18k or 7500 (European usually) means 18 karat gold. A mark of 14K or 585 (European usually) means 14 karat gold. 7500 stands for 75% pure gold, while 5850 stands for 58.5% pure gold. If you see a mark of 925 on a white metal, than that stands for sterling silver. Beware of items with the following markings; G.F. (gold filled), G.E.P. (gold electroplate), R.G.P. (rolled gold plate), vermeil (gold plated silver or bronze), YGF (yellow gold filled) if you want an entire ring made of gold or gold and alloys. Gold-filled pieces are at least 1/20th (I believe this is 4.8K, but am not positive) gold, gold electroplated and plated pieces are generally gold plated onto a base metal. Rolled gold plate is a thin sheet of rolled gold fused to another metal using heat and vermeil is gold plated over silver (the most common) or bronze. If you want to insure that you have an actual accepted gold content, try to avoid such marks. As far as plating is concerned, the gold can wear off with use so it's best to get something else if only for practical reasons. This information should give you a general knowledge of gold, so it's time to go onto information about platinum.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
Platinum is more durable than gold, but also has a much higher pricetag. It has a duller finish (for example, silver reflects 95% of light) and stands up better than gold to most reactions (chemical, natural, etc.). It doesn't show the effects of oxidation (the black stuff you often find on silver). Platinum rarely causes allergic reactions because it is a pure material. Platinum is generally comprised of six materials (which are closely related to one another). These include Iridium, Osmium, Platinum, Palladium, Rhodium and Ruthenium. There aren't any karat marks to identify platinum, but you will generally find it marked with PT or PLAT in the U.S. and 950 or PT950 in Europe. While platinum is superior to gold in a number of ways, the expense of platinum is much greater and you may or may not want to spend that extra money on a nicer stone rather than a nicer metal. The choice, of course, is yours.

It is generally accepted that when shopping for a diamond, you should take four major things into consideration. These four things are called "the four C's" and consist of color, carat, clarity and cut. Each quality is important to consider if you are concerned about the value and beauty of the diamond you will be purchasing. All four qualities help to determine how nice a diamond looks to the eye as well as the value of a diamond on the retail market.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and

The color you want to look for in a diamond is no color. The less color contained in a diamond, the more it is worth. A colorless diamond is extremely clear and you can "see through it" quite easily. Most diamond engagement rings have a yellowish cast to them and aren't worth as much as diamonds with no color. In many cases, you can place a colorless diamond next to a diamond with a yellowish cast and easily tell the difference. It's another reason I suggest shopping for a ring over a number of months. It will give you enough time to be able to tell the difference in color between stones and allow you to choose a better stone color...or at least be able to tell the difference. Stone colors are graded and the grading starts with the letter D, which indicates a stone with a better color. See below for a small chart that will help you tell (by grading) what color a stone is. Be aware that you will occasionally find a stone graded F/G (like my diamond) or something similar. All this means is that the color is between the two gradings.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
D = completely colorless
D to F = the most colorless of stones, it's difficult to tell that these stones are not colorless.
G to J = nearly colorless stones, a slight yellow cast
K to N = faint yellow stone
N to R = very light yellow stone
S to Z = light yellow stones, in some cases jewelers pass these off as "champagne diamonds" so that they can charge more for them.


Carats are simply the weight of a stone, and reflect the size of the stone as a result. In my opinion, this is the least important of the four C's. The exception to this is when you can afford to buy a huge stone which is completely colorless, has a great cut and has amazing clarity. Of course, very few people in this world can afford such a stone. Those who can afford such a stone likely wouldn't buy one anyways because very few diamonds retain or increase their value. The exception to this is stones that are famous for one reason or another or are absolutely perfect examples of their specimen. So why does the myth that "size matters" prevail? It started with advertising that the buying public believed hook, line and sinker. It then evolved into such myths as "if it's under a carat, don't wear it", friends and family providing comments such as "but, it's so little" and asking questions such as "is that all he could afford?". Let me point out that the size of a diamond does not determine it's worth, nor does it determine how much you love your partner. It's a truly ridiculous assumption. As far as determining size (or carat weight), it's pretty easy as long as you understand fractions. Below, you will find a small sample that you should give you an idea of how to determine weight.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
.25 (point two five) carats is 1/4 carat and is also called 25 points
.50 (point five zero) carats is 1/2 carat and is also called 50 points
1.0 (one) carats is 1 (one) full carat and is also called 100 points

Another thing to consider is the weight of each stone. When a jeweler says "the center stone is...", he/she means the weight of that one stone. When he/she mentions TCW (total carat weight), CWT (carat weight total), TWC (total weight of carats) he/she means that all of the stones are a certain weight. A one carat stone is worth more than lots of little stones totalling the same weight. Be sure to remember this as you should not pay the same amount for these two very seperate things. Also, be sure to ask what the weight of each particular stone is, how many stones are in the ring AND what the four C's are for each particular stone.


Clarity refers to how clear a diamond is. The clearer a diamond is, the more it will be worth. A diamond that is flawless has very few inclusions. Inclusions are natural impurities that are found in a stone such as a diamond. All diamonds contain inclusions (basically they are from the Earth, and therefore have impurities) but some inclusions are worse than others. Some inclusions are visible to the naked eye, while some inclusions are only visible if you view the diamond under magnification. The standard magnification for determining the clarity of a diamond is 10X (or 10 times normal magnification). If you can't see inclusions in a diamond under 10X magnification, the diamond is considered flawless (or extremely clear). Clarity is important because it allows the full spectrum of colors and light to pass through the stone. This quality is what gives you the "fire" of a diamond and what really makes it sparkle. This is one of the hardest qualities to determine on your own, which is why certification for a stone is a good idea. Below, you will find gradings for the quality of clarity, which are self-explanatory. This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
FL and IF = flawless, no inclusions at 10X magnification

VVS1 and VVS2 = very very slight inclusions

VS1 and VS2 = very slight inclusions
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
SI1 and SI2 = slight inclusions

I1, I2 and I3 = imperfect stones with visible inclusions that are usually visible to the naked eye


Perhaps the most confusing quality to explain is the cut of a diamond. The shape of the stone is related to the cut in the sense that there is an optimal cut for each shape. It is related to the clarity of a diamond in the sense that a good cut makes the clarity of a diamond more apparent. It is related to the "fire" or sparkle of a diamond in the sense that a good cut will bounce the light around better and cause more fire or sparkle to be apparent in the stone. The cut is not the shape, but it instead produces the best shape. The cut is also important because a wrong cut can split on it's cleavage. Certain cuts can make a stone appear larger and can also make the shape of the stone appear larger. Cut also can make a diamond appear clearer and make it appear as if it has more clarity (it doesn't, it's just that the cut makes the other qualities more apparent). It's important that you remember that only one thing is truly important (in regards to the purchase) with cut. Buy something that looks nice and that your partner loves. Each facet of a diamond (and each stone shape for that matter) has different cuts (percentages) that make it wonderful and it depends on proportion as well. It would be quite a bit to explain it in full in one article and nearly impossible in one paragraph. As a result, I am instead including links where you can find more information on this quality.

Cut Quality - This cut guide goes into details that help you understand why cut is important and they have numerous diagrams that show you optimal cuts.

Grading a Diamond's Cut - A detailed guide to diamond cuts that explains thoroughly and in simple language so that most people should be able to better understand why cut is important.

Guide to Buying Diamond Engagement Rings: Diamond Myths
copyright Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of

Pages In This Article: Pg 1: Preferences, Pg 2: Metals, Pg 3: The Four C's, Pg 4: Diamond Advertising Myths, Pg 5: Further Diamond Buying Resources
The biggest thing about diamonds are the myths surrounding them. I've covered diamond advertising myths before, but it can be truly difficult to cover the myths exhaustively. That's because there are so many of them. There are advertising myths, societal myths, myths about the tradition of diamond engagement myths and myths about the worth of diamonds. I've covered the history of engagement rings in a four page article that exposes the actual tradition of diamond engagement rings. Diamond advertising myths is one of those subjects that deserves it's own article, but is also important enough to include in any guide about buying a diamond engagement ring. In the future, I hope to give this subject it's own article and give the subject the attention it truly deserves. For the moment, I will be including numerous myths (not only those related to advertising) and include a short description and/or explanation of why I consider them to be myths.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
A Diamond Is Forever - I'm sure you've seen the commercials that state "a diamond is forever". This simply isn't true. Diamonds are the hardest gems on the MOHS scale (at 10) and if they are set and cut correctly, it's very unlikely that they will break. This doesn't mean that diamonds don't break. While diamonds are a hard material, they can also be brittle. This is the result of something that is called perfect cleavage. Perfect cleavage means that the gem/stone has four directions of cleavage. If any of the four directions of cleavage happens to receive a blow, the diamond will split in that direction. A good cut and setting will cut down on this possibility, but it's simply not true that diamonds are forever. They can and do break.

If It's Under A Carat, Don't Wear It - This myth is societal in nature, but in a sense it's also an advertising myth. You see, an advertising campaign by De Beers (Harry Oppenheimer) and Gerold M. Lauck (of the N.W. Ayer advertising agency) decided that something had to be done in order to increase the demand for diamonds. One of the ways that they advertised diamonds was to cleverly place large diamonds into movies (and give them to various movie stars) and thereby start the myth that a bigger diamond was better and showed more love than another stone or a smaller diamond. Society took over from there and has continued the myth. If you look at this myth logically, you'll realize how truly ridiculous it actually is. If you read the last page of this article, you already know that size is the least important aspect of a diamond for most consumers. Many couples end up sacrificing quality for size and end up with a stone that has very little sparkle, fire and inner beauty. The truth of the matter is that it is not a diamond (of any size) that determines how valuable your partner finds you. It is actually the love of your partner for you that does so.

Spend Two Month's Salary - This myth states that you should spend two month's salary on a diamond for your partner. Most often, this little bit of advertising states something like "Isn't she worth two month's salary?". First of all, how much you love your partner has nothing to do with the size or price of the diamond. Let's look at this logically though. If you are making $40,000 a year, they want you to spend $6,667 (rounded up) on a ring. If you are making $20,000 a year, they want you to spend $3,334 on a ring. If you are living below poverty level (2002 figures state $11,940 for a couple) and are making $11,000 a year...they want you to spend $1,834 on a ring. To state it more simply, a diamond costing two month's salary is a diamond that is 1/6th of your entire yearly salary. According to these "guidelines", my $600 ring should have been purchased by someone making only $3,600 a year. That's only $300 a month or a $75 a week paycheck and that's gross wages. Now do you see how ridiculous spending 2 months salary on a ring is?
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
If It's Not A Big Diamond, He Can't Afford to Marry Her - This myth comes in many different forms. You might hear things like "Are you sure you guys can afford to get married", "where is it?", "it's so small!" and "You guys must be having financial difficulties". The message is the same with all of these (might I add, very rude) statements. In answer to this, I have only one question about status symbols in general. Would you rather have a nice house, a college education, a nice car, a nice wedding...or would you rather have a flashy ring? In my state (as of this writing), it would cost me between $25 and $40 to pick up a marriage license and I would give a justice of peace at least $50 to thank him/her for marrying me, which means that I could get married in my state for under $100, and I would be just as married as someone who wanted to spend thousands on their wedding. Another personal observation, we were able to afford our house YEARS earlier than we would have been able to had we spent the money on a flashy ring or an expensive wedding. Let's not ignore the fact that it's not always a man proposing to a woman. A woman can propose to a man...or another woman. A man can propose to a woman...or another man. This is another myth that should be looked at logically. Why in the world would someone think that you can afford a "nice" wedding if you spent all of the money on a ring? Doesn't it make more sense to assume that someone who didn't spend as much on the ring can afford a nicer wedding?

Only A Diamond Will Do - Some people don't like diamonds. Some people don't like wearing rings. Some people can not wear rings all of the time (I happen to be one of those people and in my case, it's due to carpal tunnel in my left hand). Some people can not wear rings at all because of allergies to certain metals (most gold rings are a combination of metals). Some people love the different colors of other gemstones. Some people like it plain and simple and prefer a gold band. You'll never know unless you ask. Besides, should we really listen to someone else (as in an advertising agency) when we know what we like and prefer? Only a diamond will do? Hardly.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
Surprise Her With A Diamond - This myth is one of the subtlest and one of the easiest to fall for. Societally, we are conditioned to believe that a proposal should be a surprise. This whole idea is romanticized by movies, literature and the media. Surprise proposals are becoming more clever and more unique. By extension, the man (or woman, just who are they advertising to anyways!) often buys the engagement ring in secret as well. This advertisement encourages this and for good reason. I used to work as a "jewelry sales associate". Do you want to know who bought the most expensive rings? It was the people who wanted to surprise their partner, the people who didn't bother to research the subject and the people who needed the ring as soon as possible because they planned to surprise their partner within the next week (or month). The people who are selling you the rings don't have your best interests at heart, most of them work on commision and are trying to sell you the most expensive ring you will buy. They're very subtle as they point out this lovely ring that "would really impress her and her family!" or this ring that "will show her how much you love her" because it's so big and impressive. It's a high pressure sales tactic couched in the form of a societal belief and trust me when I tell you that you will spend more if you don't discuss, research your purchase and spend some time to figure out what you actually want to spend your money on. Take some time before making such a large purchase and you won't regret it.

You Must Have A Ring To Propose - I'd love to know the history of this particular myth as I haven't taken the time to research it. My guess is it's about half societal and half advertising myth. I've had a number of friends who have gotten engaged without a ring and the first thing they generally hear is "where's the ring?". When they explain that they aren't getting an engagement ring or that they will get one later, they hear "But you have to have a ring to be engaged!". The truth of the matter is that all you need is one person to propose and another to accept. To further express your desire to be married to one another, you should also announce your engagement to all friends and family. That's what you need to be engaged. You don't need a ring, and it's not a requirement that the judge or officiant see your engagement ring prior to marrying you. It's a nice symbol of intent, but that's all it is...a symbol. Other things can show your intent as well. For example, some couples prefer something built by hand (and generally to be used in the home) while others tend to prefer that the money be placed in a savings account to help pay for the wedding or a house. Everyone is different and though a ring is a nice symbol, it is by no means mandatory.
This article is copyrighted by Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast of and
Only A Diamond Will Do - Lest you think otherwise by my rants in this article, I happen to like diamonds. That doesn't mean that everybody likes them or even wants them. Despite the fact that I like good diamonds, my personal preference is for a nice beryl, whether that comes in the form of an aquamarine (my birthstone), an emerald, a heliodor (yellow beryl), a morganite, a goshenite or even a very rare red beryl. Given the choice, I would rather have any of them over a diamond (which everyone has!). As for hardness, beryls are generally good choices for a ring because the hardness of the stones is usually between 7.5 and 8. Other people may prefer other stones over diamonds. For example, a nice corundum (ruby, sapphire) with a hardness rating of 9. Or perhaps a nice garnet (the green variety is called tsavorite garnet and has a gorgeous color to it). Of course, there's always the option of your birthstone. Many people prefer no stone at all and some people even prefer no ring. When you take all of these factors into consideration, it's pretty obvious that it's not true that "only a diamond will do". Diamonds aren't exactly the unique choice or the personalized one.

*Author's note: This guide is a revised, updated and totally re-written edition of my "Diamond Buying Guide" that originally appeared on the Weddings page at in December of 1999. In it, you will find updated links, updated information and lots of information that wasn't included in the original guide. If you've already read my "Diamond Buying Guide", this version is worth a second look.



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