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Bling Rings!

By fitzgeraldj7873291, Jul 13 2016 08:34PM

Buying an engagement ring is a daunting task. But, fellas, be a gem and do your homework.

By LISA MUÑOZ THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

For many men, the only thing more daunting than "til death do us part" is buying the diamond engagement ring that begins 85 percent of American marriages. But the intricacies of diamond buying probably wouldn’t be much clearer if women did the buying.

There are the pushy salespeople. With new meanings to words such as girdle, pavilion and dispersion, there is almost a new language to learn. And the biggest anxietyproducer? The lingering worry, sometimes even after your beloved sports her new sparkler, that you paid too much for what you got.

The reality though, say many jewelers and diamond experts, is that while each diamond is unique, there are clear guidelines for buying an engagement ring to fit any budget. And in recent years, consumers have had more opportunities than ever to teach themselves the ins and outs of diamonds before they face a salesperson.

"At the start I was completely ignorant about diamonds. It felt at some places like I was going to a used-car lot. Once I understood that all diamonds are based on major criteria, it became a lot more straightforward and easier to compare," said Aliso Viejo electrical engineer Matt Knebl, who bought a three-stone engagement ring and wedding band for his fiancée, Marissa, for their May wedding. "At first, they all sort of looked the same, especially to a bachelor’s eye."

They may look the same, but there is a big difference in color, clarity, cut and carat – traditionally known as "the Four C’s." And with those differences come a big difference in price. Those qualities matter, too, because they determine how well the stone will hold its value over time. (Like gold and most real estate, diamonds do not depreciate.)

More than 60 percent of respondents to a recent jewelrybuying survey spent from $1,000 to $5,000, according to the Diamond Information Center, the publicity arm of the De Beers Group, the world’s largest diamond producer. An additional 5 percent spent more than $10,000.

Before you lay out that kind of money, said Ladera Ranch jeweler Barbara Parker, it’s important to know your intended’s taste in jewelry. She suggested looking at rings in advance or bringing in magazine photos of styles they like. When men come to her showroom to buy any kind of jewelry, she peppers them with questions about the women in their lives.

"I want to know them as well as I can. I want to imagine them with that ring on," said Parker, 50 percent of whose clients are young couples marrying for the first time.

If you are unsure about what to choose, most jewelers suggest buying the largest, best-quality diamond solitaire ring you can afford, rather than a ring with several low-quality stones.

Earlier this year, Laguna Niguel financial analyst Hector Alcantar, 31, set out to buy an engagement ring for his wife, Veronica. He went to a mall jewelry store, but said it was too "high pressure."

"I felt like I was there to buy a used car," said Alcantar, who got married last month. "They said things like, ‘Isn’t this something she would like? What kind of deal can we make you to have you walk out of here with the ring today?’ "

Like many consumers, Alcantar spent hours reading Web sites to learn about diamonds and prices, rating his knowledge at a level 1 at the start and an 8 or 9 by the time he bought the ring from Ruth Fitzgerald at Jewelry Designs by Ruth Fitzgerald in Laguna Niguel.

"The most confusing thing was the different organizations that rate the diamonds," Alcantar said. Nearly all jewelers recommend buying diamonds that come with certificates that authenticate the stone’s characteristics. Most common are certificates from the Gemological Institute of America and the European Gemological Laboratory.

Both are helpful and sometimes necessary for insurance if the jewelry is lost or stolen, but jewelers say GIA certificate guidelines are stricter than EGL’s, and so carry more weight with insurance companies. For example, a diamond that the EGL would give high marks to in color and clarity would likely merit lower grades from the GIA.

"Especially when you get into the diamonds that run into $5,000 and above, it’s wise to go ahead and get that GIA certificate," said Jerry Davies, with the Personal Insurance Federation, an industry trade group.

In the end, Alcantar’s homework served him well. He went with a GIA-certified princess-cut diamond in a platinum solitaire setting. Choosing the stone and the setting were the only real tough decisions, he said. He declined to say how much he paid, but he said he was able to get a better ring than he had first expected because he knew what to look for.

"You know," he said. "Once you find the right one, it’s easy."

Cuts of diamonds Round cuts

Old mine/European: The oldest cut, with 58 facets. Resembles a modern round brilliant. Rose cut: Cut to come up like a rose, with lots of sparkle. Modern round brilliant: the most common cut bought today.

Other cuts

Asscher: A square or rectangular, emerald cut stone with concentric squares from a top-down view, it is described as a "square emerald cut" on GIA grading reports. Baguette: Typically rectangular, small accent pieces, sometimes with tapered edges. Cushion: Usually square with rounded edges, facets on surface and shorter pavilion but wider table. Emerald: Can be square or rectangular. Heart shape: Shaped like a heart. Marquise: Longer shape cut point to point. Oval: Shaped like an oval. Pear: Teardrop shape Princess: Square shape Radiant: Oblong or square with cut or rounded corners but with the sparkle of a round brilliant. When shopping for a diamond

Educate yourself.

You should never shop for a car before doing at least some research. Diamond shopping is no different. If you can spend just an hour reading through some of the numerous Internet sites, books and articles that teach consumers about diamonds, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.

Know your budget.

Make sure it’s your budget and not what others would have you believe should be your budget. Diamond retailers say the diamond industry would like consumers to think that the average price or carat size of an engagement ring is one and a half to two times what it really is. Case in point: the average carat weight of a first-time engagement ring is about .8 carats, not 2 carats as the diamond industry says.

Be nosy.

You or your intended probably have admired rings of friends, relatives or colleagues. Ask these people for tips on where they shopped, what questions they asked and how much you should expect to spend.

Take a close-up look.

Always ask to see the diamond on its own, outside the setting. Ask the jeweler for a loop, or even better, a microscope so you can inspect the stone more closely for imperfections not visible to the naked eye, including inclusions, fractures, black marks, dimensions. If possible, also ask to see the diamond in natural lighting to make sure there is little or no fluorescence in the stone, which can make a diamond appear milky. One note on inclusions: While an internally flawless diamond is the pinnacle of clarity, keep in mind that some inclusions can be the fingerprints of your diamond, making it distinguishable from other stones or cubic zirconias.

See the report card.

Always ask if the diamond comes with a certificate, preferably from the Gemological Institute of America. Certificates from the European Gemological Laboratory are also common, but jewelers say the group commonly overestimates the quality of a stone. A stone that would only merit a J rating from the GIA, for example, could be graded as an I by the EGL. GIA certificates also carry more weight with insurance companies, ensuring your insurer will replace a lost or stolen jewelry with the exact same quality of stone.

Simple is best.

When in doubt about the setting, spend your money on the stone and go simple, with a solitaire setting.

"Especially when you get into the diamonds that run into $5,000 and above, it’s wise to go ahead and get that GIA certificate," said Jerry Davies, with the Personal Insurance Federation, an industry trade group.

In the end, Alcantar’s homework served him well. He went with a GIA-certified princess-cut diamond in a platinum solitaire setting. Choosing the stone and the setting were the only real tough decisions, he said. He declined to say how much he paid, but he said he was able to get a better ring than he had first expected because he knew what to look for.

"You know," he said. "Once you find the right one, it’s easy."

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