How to Buy an Engagement Ring Online

Twenty years ago, people were worried about typing into a chat box online.

Today, people are meeting their life partners online with dating sites like Match, OKCupid, Bumble, and Tinder.

Twenty years ago, buying a book online made people nervous.

Today, it’s nothing to buy a car online. (I bought my first two cars on eBay, an Acura Integra from a dealership and a Toyota Celica from a retired police officer)

If people are buying cars online, and saving a fortune, doesn’t it make sense to make other major purchases online too?

Yes.

My 2nd eBay Car

I saved so much buying my first car online that three years later when it was totaled in an accident deemed not my fault, the insurance company cut me a check for exactly what I paid three years earlier.

You can buy a diamond engagement ring online because it’s not that different than buying a car. You can spec out exactly what you want, comparison shop among all the reputable vendors, and get a certification from a trusted national organization (GIA or AGS). Once you buy it, get it independently appraised and evaluated to ensure it matches the certificate. If it doesn’t, or you’re otherwise unhappy, you return it at no cost and try again.

The time has come for you to make the last commitment – you better get this next step right! 🙂

Talk to your partner!

A marriage proposal may be a surprise but never unexpected.

If you were going to wear something for the rest of your life, you want to have a say in it.

Well, that’s exactly what an engagement ring is! You need to talk about what she likes, what styles and settings she prefers, and how much she wants to spend — get as many details as possible. Go ring shopping with her if you’re brave enough. 🙂

(for this article I’m using the predictable male and female pronouns to simplify things, it doesn’t change the underlying principles and analysis)

If you feel weird asking her, ask her best friend. Ask a few of them. She’s probably talked about it at some point. If you don’t know who her best friend is, you probably shouldn’t propose!

Find out not only what she likes in a ring but how important it is to her. Some women care a lot about the ring. Some women don’t care one bit. Some want you to go all out and show her your commitment. Some see it as a waste. You probably have a good idea but it never hurts to find out for certain. It’s a significant purchase, you want to make sure you understand her expectations.

Financial expert Erin Lowry doesn’t wear an engagement ring… they went to South Africa instead!

And don’t be surprised if she doesn’t want a ring at all. I spoke with my friend Erin, who writes at Broke Millennial and is author of a great personal finance book also titled Broke Millennial, and she told me that “decided a year or so before our engagement that I didn’t want an engagement ring at all.”

Here is why she and her partner skipped the traditional diamond:

First, I dislike that only the woman in a heterosexual relationship was expected to wear an engagement ring. I asked my partner if he’d wear one too and he preferred not to. Had he worn one then I would’ve been more comfortable with the idea of having an engagement ring. It also would’ve served as my wedding band, so we wouldn’t have bought a second ring for the wedding ceremony. We will both wear a wedding ring.

Second, I prefer simple jewelry and rarely wear any sort of gem. I did spend time researching rings online and even going into a few stores, but I never found a traditional ring that resonated with me, especially for the price points. My wedding ring is a simple trio of interconnected gold bands, so that’s what I would’ve ended up getting as an engagement ring if I’d been inclined to wear one.

Third, it’s just not something either one of us wanted to spend money on. We’d rather that money go towards our two-week honeymoon to South Africa.

When our engagement did happen, it was a perfect and intimate moment between the two of us. A few married women had told me I’d “miss a ring” when the proposal happened, but I’ll be honest that it wasn’t a thought. He completely surprised me with a thoughtful, emotional and tailored proposal that fit us and our relationship perfectly.

This underscores why it’s so important to ask!

Why spend money, and a lot of money at that, on something she wouldn’t want! She offers this advice to if you find yourself in a similar situation and feel social pressures to conform – “Do what resonates with you. Some people love the symbolism of an engagement ring and others don’t. Just make sure you and your partner are making the choice because it’s what works for the two of you – not your parents, grandparents, friends, or co-workers.”

If you do have this chat and she does want a diamond engagement ring, you may be saying –

“But Jim, I don’t know what to ask!”

No problem! Let’s talk about diamonds and rings.

How are diamonds measured & graded?

Diamonds are measured on four C’s – cut, color, clarity, and carat.

They’re known as the four C’s:

  • Cut – A diamond is a stone and the cut is the shape of the stone. The cut has an impact on the sparkle of the diamond because less light will be lost out of the bottom and sides of the diamond. This is often considered the most important of the 4Cs.
  • Color – A diamond is not perfectly clear, it’ll have some color to it and the “whiter” it is, the more it’s valued. This is the second most important C.
  • Clarity – A diamond is also not perfect, it will have imperfections known as inclusions. A higher grade means fewer visible inclusions. This is the third most important since inclusions aren’t usually visible to the naked eye. Anything graded SI2 or higher has no visible (to the naked eye) inclusions.
  • Carat – The weight of the stone.

As for the fourth C, carat, since it’s a measure of weight it’s standard across all groups – each carat is 0.2 grams. The average raindrop weighs 0.2 grams!

The two rating agencies you can trust are the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Gem Society (AGS). I’ve seen GIA more often than AGS but both are reputable organizations. Any diamond you buy MUST come with a certificate from one of these two. The scales each organization uses for cut, color, and clarity are slightly different but the basic scale is the same.

There are two others, the International Gemological Institute, and Gemological Science International. I can’t speak to them other than to say they exist.

When you look at the certification, there is a report number. Confirm that the report you’re reading matches what is archived in the respective databases.

Here’s how each rating system works for the first three C’s:

Gemological Institute of America (GIA) Rating System

The GIA rating system rates a diamond on three C’s (cut, clarity, color) but doesn’t use a simple 0-10 scale but has it’s own letter rating system.

For Cut, they simply call it Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor. No numbers.

For Color, they use the letters D – Z:

  • Colorless: E – F
  • Near Colorless: G – J
  • Faint: K – M
  • Very Light: N – R
  • Light: S – Z
  • Fancy Yellow: Fancy Yellow

For Clarity, it’s an acronym with subscript grades:

  • Flawless/IF: Flawless/IF
  • Very Very Slightly Included: VVS1, VVS2
  • Very Slightly Included: VS1, VS2
  • Slightly Included: SI1, SI2
  • Included: I1, I2, I3

American Gem Society (AGS) Rating System

The AGS rating system rates a diamond on three C’s with a 0-10 scale, with the highest rating being a zero.

For Cut (whole number increments):

  • AGS Ideal: 0
  • AGS Excellent: 1
  • AGS Very Good: 2
  • AGS Good: 3-4
  • AGS Fair: 5-7
  • AGS Poor: 8-10

For Color (half number increments):

  • Colorless: 0.0 – 1.0
  • Near Colorless: 1.5 – 3.0
  • Faint: 3.5 – 4.5
  • Very Light: 5.0 – 7.0
  • Light: 7.5 – 10.0
  • Fancy Yellow: Fancy Yellow

For Clarity (mostly whole number increments):

  • Flawless/IF: 0
  • Very Very Slightly Included: 1-2
  • Very Slightly Included: 3-4
  • Slightly Included: 5-7.5
  • Included: 7.5-10

What are the ring settings and design?

Now that you know about the diamonds, it’s time to design your ring online. The ring itself will be inexpensive compared to the diamond. A diamond may run a few thousand but a setting/ring will often only run a few hundred. If you add more stones to the setting, that’ll increase the price.

The first step is to figure out your ring size.

Then, you can design the entire ring online right now. An engagement ring is just two things – the diamond (or another gemstone) and the setting.

The setting is everything else about the ring except the main diamond.

There are a few settings (this is by no means a comprehensive list of names):

  • Solitaire – When it’s the band and just the stone, no adjacent stones, nothing else. Also known as a “prong setting,” refering to the metal claws holding the diamond (4 or 6 prongs).
  • Tiffany – A setting developed by Tiffany & Co., but can be done by anyone, which is a 6-prong setting meant to maximize light from a diamond.
  • Bezel – A bezel setting is when the diamond is encircled by a metal rim that holds it in place. It’s popular because the prongs can snag on material or become damaged and break off. There are partial and full bezel settings, which refer to how much of the diamond is encircled.
  • Tension – A setting where the band has small grooves for the diamond to sit in and then the pieces press together (creating a teshion). The band will be thicker, to ensure this tension remains in place, but there’s less metal around the diamond itself.
  • Pavé – It’s French for pavement, but refers to a ring where no metal is visible and the stones are set close together.
  • Channel Set – Where the band is a ring of diamonds set in a “channel”
  • Three-Stone – A setting where there are two smaller diamonds or other gemstones flanking the main diamond.

Find a reputable online retailer and play around with their ring builder. It’ll give you a better sense of how the different settings look and what your partner may like.

How to save money when buying a diamond

You have a budget and it’s time to make some tradeoffs – which are the “smart” ones to make?

If you have an infinite budget, you can get the best of everything. You can get a massive colorless, flawless, ideal cut diamond.

Since you don’t, you need to make tradeoffs to match your budget. You have a set number of points and you have to decide which of the four C’s you’re going to put those points.

Here is where having that conversation with your partner is so valuable – you want to get exactly what she wants.

If your fiancée wants a yellow gold ring, then you don’t need to get the highest grade on color (colorless). If your fiancée wants a platinum or white gold ring, then you’ll want to move higher on the color attribute. Color matters more because the diamond can appear yellow against the white band as a backdrop. Those are the types of things you should think about.

6 Ways to Save on Buying A Diamond

First, you could consider a synthetic diamond. They are often much cheaper plus you can avoid any of the ethical considerations since it was made in a lab versus mined from the Earth.

Here is how you might make tradeoffs:

  1. Get the best cut you can. Cut is the best determinant of “sparkle” and the better the cut, the more it will reflect the light and “sparkle.” A lot of people will think that size is the most important, and it is to some degree, but it’s this inherent sparkle that makes people go wow.
  2. Give a little on color. Colorless (white) is ideal but you can sacrifice a few steps on this and never really know the difference. If you set it in a yellow gold ring, it’ll matter even less.
  3. You can’t see most inclusions. Clarity measures how many inclusions are in a diamond and a stone graded VS1 or higher has no visible inclusions. Even the ones rated slightly lower, like in the SI1 range, can save you a ton on cost and the inclusions will be hard to see.
  4. Consider a novel shape. The classic round cut diamond is most common but you can save money by going with a different cut, like Princess or Emerald. On James Allen, a Princess .76 Carat K SI1 costs $1,080 but a Round 0.76 Carat K SI1 ranges anywhere from $1,500 – $1,900.
  5. Give a little on weight / carats. Most people expect a 1 carat or larger diamond in an engagement ring, but you can save a lot (relatively) by going with a slightly smaller stone (0.95-0.99 carat).
  6. Consider a fancy color diamond. The white diamond is the standard but you can get them in any other color – Yellow, Pink, Purple, Red, Blue, Green, Orange, Brown, Gray, and even Black. Some colors are extremely vibrant – you will not mistake it for a white diamond – while others are more subtle. In many cases, they are subtler than other gemstones. They aren’t going to be significantly cheaper than a white diamond but the combination of color and size may sell you on the idea of a fancy color diamond.

Is it safe to buy online?

You should buy from a trusted jewelry retailer that has been around for a long time and with a solid gold reputation.

The two companies I trust are James Allen and Blue Nile. They have both been around for a long time and they have strong reputations. They have no physical stores so there’s nowhere for you to visit, so their online reputation is the only reputation they have and they guard it carefully.

There are two things all retailers must offer:

  1. Shipping Insurance with Signature Required – Since they have no physical locations, they ship your diamonds (or ring) to you via FedEx or UPS, make sure it is shipped with insurance that requires a signature. You don’t want the package stolen off your porch and if it is lost in transit, you’ll want insurance to protect you (and them) from loss.
  2. A “No Questions Asked” Return Policy – Since you cannot see the diamond or ring before you buy it, a no questions asked return policy is key. What if you get the ring and hate it? What if it doesn’t match what you expected? What if you want a bigger one? Return it and get what you want.

(sometimes, an online store also has a showroom where you can visit – James Allen has one available by appointment only on Fifth Avenue in New York City)

Both Blue Nile and James Allen offer 24-7 customer service, a lifetime warranty, free shipping, and returns, plus a 100% refund policy within 30 days. They do not charge a restocking fee or return shipping. If your vendor does not offer this, walk away. These should be standard and two of the biggest retailers offer this, so why settle for less?

James Allen, and many others, offer a lot of services they don’t even advertise prominently:

  • Free cleaning every 6 months – I’m not sure how comfortable I am shipping a ring away just for a cleaning but they also offer free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating, as well as cleaning.
  • Free appraisal – Every piece of jewelry they sell over $1,000 will come with a full insurance evaluation you can use to get coverage.
  • Lifetime warranty – They warrant against any manufacturing defects at the time of delivery. This lifetime warranty is what provides the prong tightening, polishing, etc.
  • Free shipping & shipping insurance – They ship for free everywhere, regardless of the order size. And fully insured.

What about eBay? Ehhh, some folks have had success buying diamonds on eBay but I’m hugely skeptical. When you deal with private sellers, you have to learn the intricacies of escrow and all the steps you need to take to protect yourself. eBay has some great protections too and you may be able to find a deal, but if you’re unlucky then things can become a much bigger headache than you anticipated.

I felt comfortable buying a car on eBay (twice, once from the retired cop and once from a dealership) because no one makes a fake car. A vehicle identification number (VIN) is easily and quickly identified so no switcheroo games. While I could still be scammed, it’s less likely because it’s a car and even then there’s escrow to protect me.

What about financing?

It’s not recommended you go into debt to buy an engagement ring. If, however, you choose to do so it’s important to know your options.

The financing options are similar to how you might make any large purchase like furniture or electronics. Jewelry stores offer two types of loans – deferred interest and a short term loan with a relatively low APR loan.

At James Allen, the deferred interest offer is 0% for six months with a $1,000 minimum purchase. You don’t pay any interest in the first six months and you have six months to pay off the financing. If you don’t, all that deferred interest will come due on 6 months and a day. This is typical of this type of financing and you frequently see this offered with furniture and electronics stores.

The short-term loan is a 9.90% APR loan for 24 months with a minimum purchase of $2,000. You will have to compare this with what you might get from your bank as a personal loan. At the time of writing, Discover Personal Loans had rates starting at 6.99% APR up to 24.99% APR but much of that depends on your credit.

Conclusion

If you want to save a lot of money on a diamond engagement ring, the first step is to educate yourself on how they’re graded, how they’re priced, and where you can make tradeoffs.

When you buy at a retail store, you’re paying for the rent, the utilities, the employee salaries, the insurance AND the diamond engagement ring.

At the very least, you can use the free diamond ring designer at James Allen to see what design you might want. It’ll help you price it, so you have a good frame of reference, and then go to the mall or jewelry store. Once you’re there, you’ll find out just how much those stores mark up jewelry – it will shock you.

(read our full review of James Allen for more on them)

Then, once you’re ready to buy, come back online because you can save 20-40% off retail prices quoted in a physical store. If you don’t do this, you’ll overpay which is why so many people get so very little when they sell jewelry. With all the protections and bonus services in place, it’s usually an even better buying experience than in person too.

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Jim Wang

About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of three who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and a farm in Illinois via AcreTrader.

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These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

  1. Jay says

    When I proposed, I bought the engagement ring on James Allen. The UI was easy to use, they offer a 360-degree picture of every diamond, and I can zoom in on the computer to see things I couldn’t with the naked eye, and the money back guarantee is hard to beat. I shopped around in-store and online, and ultimately went with James Allen and got a higher quality ring at a fraction of the price of what retailers were trying to charge me for rings with more imperfections.

    The ring came in a beautiful box with all of the corresponding papers I would need. When I shared the info with my wife, she loved it as well and we decided to get our engagement rings from them as well to save. I was even able to get a unique wedding band with a wood inlay (I like woodworking) and a metal alloy with no nickel (I am allergic), something I could not have found in store for sure.

    • Jay says

      Correction to my original comment. We decided to get our wedding bands from James Allen as well once I shared with my now wife that it was where I purchased her engagement ring.

  2. Drew says

    One correction to your article – there are no visible inclusions in a clarity grade of S.I.2, or higher. You stated V.S.1. If you can see any inclusions with the naked eye (always graded with the diamond face up) the clarity grade is I1 or lower.
    For reference, I’m a G.I.A. trained Gemologist.

  3. GYM says

    My engagement ring was bought online and I love it! It is from Adiamor, which is another retailer that skips the traditional brick and mortar store.

  4. brian says

    How about not buying a diamond? They are not scarce or beautiful. Simply look at the environmental destruction-that’s NOT beautiful, not to mention all the other ethical issues. It’s a waste of money that can be used for buying something useful like a rental or an index fund…

  5. Elizabeth says

    My husband used my M-i-l’s pearl ring to propose; I don’t care for diamonds and I knew I wouldn’t wear an engagement ring after we got married.

    Our wedding bands were the same simple gold bands that my grandparents wore for 60 years (they fit without adjustments!).

    We used the money we saved to go toward a down payment on a house.

  6. Dr. Linus says

    I left a comment on twitter but figured not everyone is on twitter ….

    I bought my wife’s engagement diamond & later 2 earring stud diamonds online … took them to a local jeweler to set and saved a bunch of money and got much better quality.

    If you start searching online retailers you will start to realize they all use the same wholesalers because you will see the same GIA certificate on multiple sites. I bought all 3 on b2c jewels and even returned one because I decided on a different size after the initial purchase

  7. Shaun says

    I bought my wife’s engagement ring online from Blue Nile. I found the whole process to be very easy – Just select your choices for the 4 Cs and you’re good! I echo the bit about staying close to but under 1 carat. You’ll never be able to see the difference between a 0.95-0.99 carat but they are so much cheaper than 1.0 carat. Also, once the ring arrives, get it appraised by a third party and add a rider that covers it to your home insurance policy.

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