Engagement rings are really emotional and they signify a couple’s first step together. In our personal opinion, the engagement ring means more than the wedding band. The moment you pop the question, all nervous and flustered, and your partner says ‘yes’ is more honest, raw, and emotional than the wedding itself.
So how do you do this without breaking the bank ? Unless you’re a super-special celebrity, you’re likely constrained by a budget. How big or small that budget is completely up to you and your situation, but it means there is an upper limit to how much you can spend.
We’ll walk you through what you can tweak to get your engagement ring within a reasonable amount of money. Let’s take a look.
When buying an engagement ring, you’re likely looking for a diamond. That is the most expensive piece on the ring, and that is where you can tweak most of the cost of the ring. After that, you need to look at the metal your ring will be set in. Platinum is more expensive than white gold, and 18k gold is more expensive than 14k gold, yet wears down faster.
So plan your budget according to your debt and expenses, and be realistic about it. Would a $5000 engagement ring destroy your finances ? If yes, opt for a more affordable ring, and look for alternatives. Here’s what you can do.
Consider natural vs lab-grown diamonds
The diamond is the most expensive piece in the engagement ring. The traditional engagement ring is a 1 carat white diamond set in platinum, or 18k gold. But no one says your engagement ring has to be that way.
Consider whether you want a natural, mined diamond or you’re comfortable with a lab-grown diamond. To the naked eye there is no difference, especially if you or your partner are not well versed in diamonds (most people aren’t). Here’s some pros and cons of natural and lab-grown diamonds.
Pros of lab-grown diamonds:
- better price, about 40% lower than natural diamonds
- better color and clarity, since the environment is easier to control
- same optics as a natural diamond
Cons of lab-grown diamonds:
- are lab-grown, so if you’re attached to the notion of natural stones these will be lacking
- little to no resale value
Tweaking cut, color, carat, and clarity in diamonds
If you decide to get diamonds, don’t fret too much about imperfections. All diamonds are rated accorded to cut, clarity, color, and carat. All of them are a bit imperfect, and you can find a diamond that is within budget if you’re willing to tweak your four Cs a little.
Color. Diamond colors start from D and go all the way down to Z, from white to yellow. D-E-F are the whitest and most expensive diamonds. You’ll find the best value are G-J diamonds, with G and H being the whitest of the near-colorless range. For each color grade lower, the price drops $800-1,200. The best part ? G and H diamonds still look pretty white, even set in white metal like platinum or white gold.
Read also: Diamond Engagement Ring Alternatives
Cut. The cut quality is the one factor you shouldn’t compromise on. While ever other factor on this list can be tweaked, compromising on cut quality is going to get you a poorly cut diamond that won’t sparkle or look that great, even if you get the best color and clarity. Cut quality is the sum of the girdle thickness, symmetry, polish, culet, table, depth, and so on. The top rating is Excellent on the GIA report.
Clarity. Clarity is the degree of inclusion found within the diamond, going from Flawless (FL) to Included 3 (I3). Obviously you want the clearest diamond possible, since inclusions can obstruct light and also be reflected within the diamond, darkening it. FL and IF clarities are eye-clean, but so are VVS1-2, and even VS1-2. SI1 is usually a bad idea, especially for a step-cut, but if you can find one that is eye-clean, or has the inclusion somewhere near the culet it should be decent. Still, we recommend you stop at VS2.
Carat. This is the size of your diamond, and it actually measures the diamond’s weight and not its size. The standard diamond in engagement rings is the round brilliant, usually 1 carat in size (about 6.5mm wide). Every other diamond shape (emerald cut, oval, pear, marquise, princess, etc) is going to look larger at 1 carat than the round at 1 carat, due to the round hiding most of its weight in the pavilion. Carat can easily be compromised on, if the diamond looks good enough to your eyes. Don’t get too hung up on it.
Rising trend: going for the smaller diamonds
In recent years, more people have started taking an interest in smaller carat diamonds. That is, diamonds that are small in size, but are not 1.00 or 0.50 carats. The ones at 0.98 or 0.44 are cheaper than the 1.00 or 0.50 ones, though the size difference is not noticeable unless they’re under a magnifying glass.
So take a look at your trusted jeweler’s options, and see whether they have any smaller diamonds. You can actually construct your fiancee’s ring this way, with a diamond cluster setting. Or, you could go for a halo ring with a more affordable center stone, surrounded by small diamonds.
A word of caution: more people looking for an item means prices can surge. Check prices in your area.
Consider other white gemstones instead of diamonds
Another option is to ditch diamonds entirely. Yes, the traditional engagement ring is a diamond, but who says there is no wiggle room ? If you want that traditional white, clear stone but don’t necessarily want a diamond, there are plenty of options to choose from. Below are the best options for engagement ring center stones that are not diamond, are still white, and will hold up well to daily wear.
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This white stone is originally from meteorites, and for many decades it was the only place to mine it. To get a feel for how ancient and alien these stones are, they’re considered presolar grains, as in they existed before the Sun was formed in our galaxy. As awesome as this all sounds, the moissanite you’re going to find in stores is lab-grown, and has been since the late ’90s. This has been a common diamond alternative and a fairly popular option.
1.5 ct moissanite solitaire ring, with scrollwork on the shank. Set in 14k gold. See it on Amazon.
In terms of durability, it scores a 9.25 on the Mohs scale, while diamond scores a perfect 10. This makes moissanite an excellent option that’s going to last about as long as a diamond would. Do keep in mind that moissanites have more fire (rainbow sparkles) than brilliance (white sparkle). If that is something you’d like to avoid, then a crushed ice cut will break up the sparkles into smaller shards, and get you a more toned down moissanite.
Moissanites are, on average, about 12-15 times more affordable than a diamond of similar specs (cut, color, clarity, carat).
White sapphires are a very rare occurrence since they almost always have at least some color in them. Natural white sapphires are very rare, but you can easily find lab-grown white sapphires. They’re not as brilliant as a diamond, yet will sit nicely on a ring. They’re rated a 9 on the Mohs hardness scale.
White sapphire ring with diamond halo, set in 14k gold. See it on Amazon.
One thing to note, white sapphires can be a bit gray/dull and appear in direct sunlight like a diamond would in office lighting. So don’t expect a white sapphire to dazzle you. You’ll find white sapphires for an average of $800/carat.
These are very common diamond alternatives, and should not be confused with zircon, a similar stone with a lower score on the hardness scale (6.5).
Cubic zirconia is heavier and reflects a bit more light than diamonds, yet its edges dull in time. It scores an 8 on the hardness scale, while diamond is a 10.
That being said, cubic zirconia is the most affordable diamond simulant out there. A 1 carat CZ usually doesn’t exceed $50.
Opt for lower karat gold (price and durability)
Alright, those were all the white stones we think work well instead of diamonds. Now let’s talk about gold and its karats. Normally you’d want to go for platinum, but it’s very expensive (and you’re on a budget).
Lab-grown 1 carat cushion cut diamond solitaire ring, set in 14k gold. See it on Amazon.
Jewelry gold is not pure gold, because pure 24k gold is soft. It scratches easily, and it’s simply not a good idea to use in heavily worn jewelry (like rings).
So gold is blended with different metal alloys, in order to get a more durable metal. How much gold is left in that mix is equal to how many karats you see on the label. 18k gold is the most common one to buy for engagement rings, but consider going a bit lower to 14k gold.
The main differences are:
- for yellow gold, 18k gold is a deeper, warmer yellow
- for white gold 14k gold shows up as a brighter white
- for rose gold 14k gold is that pink you’re looking for
- 14k gold is always more durable than 18k gold, simply because it’s got less soft gold in it
So take look at what your jeweler is offering for 14k and 18k gold, see if you can’t mix and match the right stone with the right metal to land within your budget. And before you do any of that, we recommend you read the following part as well.
What to know before buying an engagement ring at all
Before you buy anything as big as an engagement ring, you need to take a few things into account. This is a big decision, and you need to take a look at your budget, savings, and spending habits (both of you).
But before all that, there’s the sentimental value you have to look at. Here’s what to remember.
Engagement rings are sentimental, go for something meaningful
Engagement rings are for your partner to wear, chosen by you. It’s one of the most beautiful gifts you can make.
So whatever you end up choosing, always ask yourself if this would remind your partner of anything about your relationship. Maybe it’s a stone your partner has always wanted, or it’s a ring that is similar to a piece of jewelry your partner loves.
It could be, if you’re feeling romantic, a stone from where you first vacationed, or maybe you can inscribe the date of your first date.
What we’re getting at is that the engagement ring doesn’t just have to cost something, it has to mean something.
Always take your partner’s taste and lifestyle into account
Suppose your partner likes all things shiny and sparkly, yet works as a nurse and their hands are constantly gloved or working. Does this mean you can’t get a big ring ?
It means you shouldn’t get a tall ring since it will only get in the way. However an eternity ring with small diamonds is easier to work with.
And does your partner prefer simpler, no-fuss clothes and jewelry ? Then it might be overwhelming for them to receive a big ring, so something without a stone or with a smaller stone may be more in their comfort zone.
There are plenty of rings to choose from, from the most outlandish and extravagant to the most simple and understated yet elegant. Take a look at your partner’s usual jewelry and see what you can get inspiration from.
This is a ring they will be wearing every day and possibly not take off even when showering. It has to go with everything else, and not in the way of everyday life.
An engagement ring should NOT cost a 3-month salary
Finally, we’re getting to how much an engagement ring should cost. Choosing your budget is not easy, but following fixed rules isn’t really a good idea either. The silly 2 or 3 salaries idea has long been debunked as a DeBeers ploy to make you spend more on diamonds.
Really, how much you spend on the ring shouldn’t matter that much because afterwards you have a wedding to plan. That comes with higher costs, and the more money you pay for the ring, the less you will have leftover for the wedding.
Don’t fall for the more is more idea, there is such a thing as too much for your personal situation. Take an honest look at your overall budget, savings, expenses, upcoming expenses, and then figure how much you can spare for the ring.
I’m the main author for jewelrymaterialguide.com. I started this site after we did tons of research before our wedding and noticed that there is information about rings, jewelry, and so on that is really hard to find on the internet.