The popular diamond engagement ring was, famously, invented by a ad campaign at a time when the market was flooded with the gems. The price of diamonds was tumbling in the late 1940s when a New York advertising agency “set out to persuade young men that diamonds (and only diamonds) were synonymous with romance, and that the measure of a man’s love (and even his personal and professional success) was directly proportional to the size and quality of the diamond he purchased.”
Seventy years later, this clever etiquette prevails: not just the idea that when it comes to engagement rings, diamonds are forever, but also the idea that the “correct” price for an engagement ring is two months’ salary.
The thing is, whether you wish to obey or defy convention – and there is no judgement here: it is really up to you to decide what you want – most guides to choosing and buying engagement rings tend to focus on spending money. Lots of it. And let’s be honest: even if you are ready and willing to spend two months’ salary on an engagement ring, then don’t you want to stretch that sizeable amount of money as far as you can, to buy the best ring possible within your budget?
If you are in the market for an engagement ring, there are plenty of clever ways to save money. Here are your starters for ten.
As tempting as it is to stick the cost of an engagement ring on plastic, don’t. An engagement ring shouldn’t be an impulse buy – and splashing out via a credit card will only encourage you to spend more than you can reasonably afford. What is more, once you are formally engaged and planning your wedding, you will likely be horrified at how the wedding day costs begin racking up. The last thing you need is a whopping great engagement ring-related credit card bill hanging over your head.
Scrimp and save. Set a target amount, and work towards it. I’ve recommended You Need A Budget before and I’ll recommend it again here: when you aren’t great at saving but you have a savings goal, this software is perfectly suited to your needs. It helps you to get your finances into ship-shape, gets you on track and empowers you to save more.
I find it interesting how the recession of a few years ago has shaped and shifted attitudes. Back in 2008, The Daily Telegraph published a wedding special: it featured a guide to buying super-expensive designer wedding dresses, as worn by celebrities, and also a guide to buying super-expensive engagement rings. Naturally, any ideas that readers might have held about economies were swiftly scotched. At the time, this line caught my eye:
The problem with a “used” ring is that sentiment, tradition and superstition are involved, too. Bride Magazine’s fashion editor Bryony Toogood says that some women believe used jewellery carries “vibes” from the last wearer. One happily married man agrees: “A used ring carries a finger ghost. I think the giver of a used ring has to be a number one crass chap.”
Ridiculous! My own engagement ring (pictured) is a used ring – and I love it. It’s a pre-war ring that, while characteristic of its time, is relatively unusual these days. It is a platinum pavé ring, set with 15 tiny diamonds. Frankly, we would never have been able to afford a piece of jewellery like this brand new; they certainly don’t make rings like this one now.
That Telegraph piece was published eight years ago, but times have changed. Even the name has changed: we call them vintage engagement rings now, darling, not “used rings.” And vintage engagement rings are very, very popular here in the UK right now. So popular, in fact, that there are as many people searching Google for ‘vintage engagement rings’ as there are searching Google for ‘diamond engagement rings.’ (Twelve thousand searches per month, if you are interested in that sort of thing.)
The Antique Jewellery Company has some amazing-looking Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco engagement rings, starting at £675. Confident bargain-hunters, take note: there are also plenty of vintage engagement rings for sale on Etsy. Buy within the UK to avoid customs charges.
Confession time: one reasons why I am so fond of my own finger ghost is that it is an upcycled family heirloom. My engagement ring originally belonged to my paternal great-grandmother. It was bequeathed to me in my grandfather’s will, and passed to me when I turned 21. For years it sat at the back of a drawer in its original little box, which is faded on the outside and plumped, grubby velvet on the inside, with an old East End jeweller’s address printed on the inside of the lid. It was too special; I was too afraid to wear it.
When my husband and I decided to get married, we weren’t in a position to go and splash two months’ salary on a ring. A lightbulb appeared above my head: I realised this was the perfect excuse to dig that beautiful old ring out of its dusty box and put it to good use. I haven’t regretted doing so for a second.
That said, vintage engagement rings aren’t always smooth sailing. I had to pay to get mine resized: Grampy, what big fingers you had! What is more, worn engagement rings can be, well… worn. I had a hairy moment when one of the tiny diamonds fell out of its setting and was retrieved, to be reset by a local jeweller. Another diamond wriggled free a couple of years ago, but this time the jeweller said the ring couldn’t be repaired: the setting was too old and worn and fragile.
This is where the upcycling comes in: if you find yourself in a similar position, with an engagement ring that is fragile or a shiny piece of family heritage that isn’t to your personal taste, why not have that ring redesigned and reworked into something new and beautiful? Oftentimes, this works out much cheaper than a brand new ring – and you’ll also come out of it with something unique and special to you.
If this option interests you (It is what I am saving towards…) I recommend doing a Google search for ‘custom jewellery’ and the name of your nearest town or city. Also check out this post by Shannyn over at Frugal Beautiful, about how she upcycled four vintage family rings into an amazing engagement sparkler and two wedding bands. She saved a heap of cash in the process, and points out that you can upcycle old necklaces and brooches into engagement rings too.
Round diamonds carry a price premium; other shapes are often cheaper. However the weight of the stone(s) is also a factor: prices tend to go up at the quarter-carat, half-carat and full-carat marks. This means you can save money by purchasing a stone that comes in just under one of those marks: a 0.95-carat stone, for example. The catch: such stones can be hard to find, so you’ll have to search them out.
If money is very tight and your preference is for silver over gold or platinum, check out Hot Diamonds: sterling silver rings set with teeny-tiny diamonds, for £80 or less. (For the uninitiated: sterling silver is a silver alloy containing 92.5% silver.) Many of the rings are around the £50 mark. Obviously this is a budget option, but some of the rings on the site are very pretty – and look far more expensive than they are.
Summer is wedding season. The most popular time of the year for wedding proposals is around the Christmas break: specifically, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. For this reason, Summer can be slow for jewellers and ring retailers – and is when the best sales, bargains and haggles can be had.
That’s the theory, anyway. I haven’t tested this one out, for the reasons listed above, so let me know in the comments if this has or hasn’t been your experience.
In case you are wondering: YES, you can haggle – or to put it more politely, “negotiate price” – in a jewellery shop. All you need is the gumption. If you are a nervous negotiator, or new to this money-saving skill, my guide to haggling will help.
Go digital (pun intended) to take advantage of online-only offers and cashback. There are decent deals, if you look for them. At the time of writing, if you go hang out on the Goldsmiths website, you’ll get a pop-up offering 15% off diamond engagement rings purchased online, plus free delivery, in return for your email address.
If you shop online, you will also find there are lots – and I mean LOTS – of engagement rings at discounted prices, from the larger jewellers. F.Hinds, for example, has no less than 410 different diamond rings in its current sale.
Once you have zoomed in on your favourite, I recommend checking out the cashback sites, Quidco and TopCashback, to see if you can score some additional money off. Most of the retailers, large and small, are there. I have noticed that many of the bigger high street names don’t pop up in searches for ‘diamond rings’ and ‘jewellery,’ but do come up when you do a direct search on the brand name. Anyway, the cashback rates on jewellery tend to be 5-15%. Depending on your budget, that could amount to a fairly hefty wodge back in your pocket.
If you have money to spend and you are determined to do your research, browsing away until The One Ring hovers into view, there is a downside to shopping online. It is this: once you get stuck in, it is easy to be bamboozled by all the talk of the 4 ‘C’s: cut, clarity, colour and carat. Where do you begin – and how do you avoid becoming swept away and spending more than you had originally intended?
There is an answer (or rather, many answers), in the form of a website called ringspo. The man behind this website spent six months(!) searching for the perfect engagement ring for his wife. In his words:
By the time it came to buying the ring, I knew exactly what I was looking for and what I wanted to pay for it. And I got a great result – I spent less than my friends, and less than I originally budgeted, but ended up with an eye-popping ring that Faith (my ladyfriend) loved. I nailed it.
The ‘Education’ section of ringspo sets out pretty much everything you need to know about engagement rings, from diamond shapes to setting styles, in an easy-to-read format.
For some sweethearts, only diamonds will do – but of course, you don’t have to buy a diamond engagement ring. Romantic convention is overrated. Other gemstones are less expensive – but are quite as beautiful. Pink morganite rings seem to be rising in popularity; if you want to flout convention entirely, you can ditch gemstones in favour of bespoke wooden rings.
Get the ring size right. Some online sellers will resize their engagement rings for free. Otherwise, it’s going to cost you to get that ring shaved down, if you don’t get the sizing right first time around.
These days, you can size at home. I’d recommend a free printable, such as this one from Blue Nile (an American jewellery site), which includes an international sizing chart and can be printed in English or one of six other languages.
The easiest way to use a chart like this is to filch an ring that fits the intended finger, and lay it on top on the ring sizes on the chart until you find the match. If the ring falls between two sizes, opt for the larger size.
If there isn’t an existing that fits the intended finger, you can use this free printable sizing tool from Goldsmiths.
…Here is a neat idea. If you wish to propose with a ring, but don’t want to risk splashing out on an engagement ring that your partner will dislike or – even worse! – refuse, there is a solution. Have you heard of Marry Me rings? Retailing at around the £50 mark, these are essentially “placeholder rings,” to be presented and worn until the real thing is chosen. RA Designer Jewellery, here in Manchester, sells a popular Marry Me ring in sterling silver, which can be purchased online. If your partner says “yes,” you can return the ring to the store for a £50 credit towards any ring the two of you choose together.
Image credit: AlwaysThirteen, used under a Creative Commons licence.