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December 30, 2010


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The 'rule' to spend 1-3 months salary is an invention of the diamond industry. Typical median/average spending is closer to 1 month salary level. Clever on their part to over state how much everyone spends to create false peer pressure. They've also been increasing the number. Originally the 'customary' guideline was 1 month. Then it became 2 months. Now all the sudden we are hearing 3 months. I bet within 10 year's we'll hear people citing 2-4 months as if 4 months has been written in stone for centuries.

I recently did this and I have a few pointers as well.
Avoid jewelers in shopping malls. Their overhead is higher for their space and the cost is passed on. I went to a family owned jeweler located in a stip mall, referred by a friend. Had a really good experience and got an excellent deal.
Also ususally diamonds slighly under a carratt, (.95) are considerably less expensive than those right at a carratt. I ended up with an idea of where I wanted to be with the 4Cs, and the jeweler showed me 4 diamonds. Seeing them in person made a big difference, one that looks good on paper (and higher quality Cs) could not be as brilliant as a lower C one. Good luck.

I knew for years before getting engaged that I wasn't interested in having a diamond engagement ring. First of all, the diamond industry disgusts me - from exploitative mining in developing nations, to the suppression of lab-manufactured diamond technology, right on up through the top-brass dictating that one should spend a specific number of months' salary on a ring. It is all truly ridiculous. But beyond that, I was incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of wearing an asset so valuable on my hand.

When it became obvious that my husband and I were heading for marriage, we talked about style and stones and such, and I told him I particularly loved blue stones, such as sapphires, and would prefer white gold over yellow. I showed him a few rings online that I liked the design of so he could get an idea of what my style is (since I don't ordinarily wear jewelry), specifically looking for ones that were well under the $1000 mark.

Ultimately, he worked with an artist to design a custom ring that is truly beautiful and does feature a gorgeous sapphire.

One day when discussing our insurance policies, the value of the ring came up and I was STUNNED to learn what he spent on it. It was many multiples of what I was comfortable with and far more than I'd imagined any non-diamond ring could possibly cost.

And while I do love the ring, in retrospect, I really wish we would have talked more specifically about budget, because to this day, it makes me uncomfortable that he spent so much.

I got married in 1984--my ex-husband and I selected a smallish diamond engagement ring in a traditional setting together at the jewelry store. It cost $1500 but seemed affordable since we each made about $20K/year at the time and we rented a studio apartment and didn't have kids or even a car. We paid cash--I don't think we had any credit cards back then. We didn't shop around, but we did go on a day when the store had everything "50% off" (yeah, right!). I think we checked out a different jewelry store first, but the salesperson ignored us--a couple of punk kids in tattered jeans--so we left. My ex liked to show it off to people but I was self-conscious about wearing it because we lived in a really bad part of town. Even so, I wore it all the time the whole time we were married. But I always turned it around so no one could see the diamond when I took public transit or we went out to a club.

I got married again in 1996--this time my ex and I each made over $100K. We had purchased a house together the year before. We went to the jewelry store together and picked out gold wedding bands for each of us with engraving inside, plus a diamond ring for me--the diamond ring wasn't that expensive--only about $1500 again and I think I even paid for it myself (cash). We didn't shop around for price, but we did go to a few places looking at different styles. I usually wore only the wedding band, adding the diamond ring on top of it when we went out or got dressed up. My ex bought me a ton of other jewelry that was much more expensive, but I didn't like it -- it was too showy for my taste, and he liked to brag to people (even strangers!) about how much it cost if I wore it which was embarrassing. When we split up I gave a lot back to him and what he didn't want I sold, except for the gold engraved band which I saved for our kids.

I guess my point is that to me anyway the engagement/wedding diamond ring is mainly an emotional symbol--it isn't an investment. The colors/quality blah blah affect the cost, but you end up not caring at all about those things. (Also, if you try to sell it later, you will never get more than 1/3 what you paid for it no matter how flawless the stone is). If I ever got married again, I would want to get the ring as a symbol again, but this time I wouldn't worry at all about the stone quality--I'd just get something that I and my husband both liked.

My wife and I found a custom jeweler in our area through our insurance agent who she recommended for appraisals and also had some jewelry made by him. He and his wife operate out of their home and have something like 50 years combined experience at a major jewelry store. They are semi-retired and do this as a hobby. We found a style we liked and discussed the design of the rings and what we wanted to do in the future.

In discussing the design, they explained the limitations and advantages of certain mounts and (thankfully) steered us away from what we originally wanted which was a tension mount. Tension mounts, though beautiful and trendy, are the easiest to lose the diamond from and hardest to remount. We ended up with a .5 ct VS1 F princess cut diamond in a cathedral mount with plans for a diamond solitaire wedding band and an anniversary band to complete the symmetry. Each of the smaller bands has a .15 ct VS1 diamond.

The ring was expensive, especially for a college kid, but we completed the ring over 2 years - finishing it by adding the last band on our 1st anniversary. It ended up costing about half of what we would have paid at a national chain for a similar ring. Plus, we got to choose our diamond out of several in the style we wanted.

If I were to do it again I'd go the same route with the custom jeweler but I'd probably spend a little more.

In addition to the above comment -

I'd heard of the "3 month's salary" thing and pretty much blew it off. I didn't care what the "rule" was, we spent the money we were able to spend on what we wanted and liked. Once you figure out that this is a ring you will wear for the rest of your life, you think about the purchase in a different way.

i proposed to mine at a beach in India with a plastic heart ring i bought at the local market for 15 rupees (just some cents). it was pitch dark and we were sitting on the rocks watching the waves. so all that was the surprise factor. then, we talked about the specifics of the ring. from a financial perspective it was (and still would be) a poor decision, but one we conscientiously and prudently agreed to. getting a ring, and specifically this one had a lot more to it than finances however.

my tip: if you can and have the access, shop for diamonds in import duty free / tax free jurisdictions. we got ours from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. it is a 2+ carratt ring. we got it appraised based on USA and European standards and the value came out at 25% more than what we had paid.

@ Michele - just an awesome response. Loved it.

I just mentioned what we paid (roughly) for my engagement ring to a coworker who is thinking of proposing. HE didn't think his girlfriend woudl go for it. LOL - we spent $260 on the ring, and another $250 on the matching band. We went to a jeweler who makes jewelry to sell to stores, so we were missing a full markup on it. The main stone is 1/2 C sapphire, and it has two smaller (~.1) diamonds on each side. The matching band has a row of small diamonds across the top.

I knew what I wanted, my husband (BF at the time) and I looked around together, and then he went back and bought it at a later date.

The price of gold has gone up since then (we got this around 4 years ago). But I love my ring. I get complements on it all the time. My husband just got a plain white gold band that has a stripe of "brushed" texture in the middle, and his was around $200 - $250 (I don't remember exactly).

My husband talks about wanting to upgrade my ring someday, but I don't want to. The only thing I'm thinking of doing is getting a 3rd band to sit on the other side, that has a row of birthstones to represent us and the kids - that otherwise matches the wedding ring.

Money that could have been spent on more expensive jewelry was instead spent on paying down debts & paying for the wedding and the honeymoon.

5. Get a lab-created diamond and save thousands of dollars while ensuring it was not mined by a kid in Africa. My husband did this and was able to afford a pink diamond, which usually costs tens of thousands of dollars.

If I ever do this again I would take my future wife out so that we could both chose together. If she chose one that was going to cost me 3 months of my salary, I would have to reconsider if this was really the women for me after all. ....sorry folks ... thats just me. ;-)

Buying the stone and then finding a jeweler to design the ring can be a good option. I have friends who ordered their diamonds off Blue Nile. Of course here in NY we just pop over to the diamond district. No jewelery stores for me.
Michele -- I am the same as you! I am totally anti-diamond and love sapphires.

We just got married in August 2010. I like the surprise factor, and I'm fond of jewelry, but also didn't want to break the bank.

So for my ring, after we got engaged, I left a few brochures out for my husband-to-be with a few different options circled of widely varying price points (from $200 to $10,000), and let him surprise me with the one that worked for his budget and taste.

For his ring, we took a different approach. He rarely wears jewelry, so it had to be something he'd be comfortable wearing. I took him to the jewelry store, had him try on 4-5 options, and found the one he wanted. Then, I started to negotiate. Ultimately, the jeweler was willing to knock 1/3 off the price to get our business -- and this was at a national chain! With jewelry, I've found it never pays to take the first price offered.

My now husband was very smart when it came time to go ring shopping. He let me pick! He knew that I didn't want a traditional setting and wanted a ring that laid low on my finger (I teach ice skating and didn't want a stone that would cut into my gloves). I am also not a big ring person and was afraid of losing one or both rings.

We planned a trip around a special jewelry designer I found in upstate New York and spent three hours on our first visit with the store owner/master jeweler. Before we left town 2 days later he made sure I was able to try on a prototype of my ring. My ring is great, and has alot of our personalities in it, the engagement band is white gold with irish knot work and a square .66 diamond (that we picked out). My band is yellow gold with our initials in a scrolling pattern around the band, and the best part is that my wedding band fits inside of my engagement ring.

We also ordered my husbands band from him (simple palladium with two lines etched in). All told, we spent $2,800 for everything.

the much older tradition was for the man to go to the jewelry store right before he proposed, and ask the jeweler to set aside rings within his price range. once the woman agreed to a wedding, the two would go back to the store and she would pick the ring from the selection. I have no idea how the diamond industry managed to convince everyone that the couple should not both buy the ring together... it's crazy if one person loves an expensive piece of jewelry and the other doesn't.

I had an inexpensive titanium ring set with a white sapphire as my "engagement ring" - cost around $60ish? I think. It was lovely and I did pick it out just having fun looking around the internet, but I was surprised when my hubby proposed with it. Two years later when we did get married I was given the chance to design my own wedding set with the option of using a diamond from my husband's late grandmother's rings. I chose a simple very low set solitaire in white gold with a simple white gold band notched to fit against the engagement ring. The bands together cost us around $400 - the diamond is priceless for sentimental reasons. My husband's platinum wedding band cost slightly more than my two.

When my boyfriend and I started talking about getting married I told him that I didn't want a big rock on my finger - it's just not practical. I also don't see the point of having a house downpayment on my finger. I think I told him a number he shouldn't go over...gave him a ring I already had and really liked the style of. He picked out a ring I love for about $500. We went back to pick our wedding rings and I think they came in around $1200. That puts the whole thing at less than half of one of our salaries for the month :)

My wife didn't really want a huge engagement ring. 1) It made the ring look ridiculous when compared to her finger size. 2) The large size would just get in the way of her day to day activities.

I'm no where near being engaged, but I would not want my future husband spending a lot of money on a ring! I really hope he'll feel comfortable discussing budget with me. I'm not a diamond person, and I have some nice stones that I'd love to have reset into a ring. I'm also open to lab created stones or estate jewelry.

For those of you interested in history, it was the diamond industry that crafted the diamond engagement ring tradition itself. There was a book a few years back, "The Diamond Myth" I think it was called, but I don't remember who it was buy. It was all about diamond marketing. It's amazing how our habits were crafted over the years!

I'd second JM on lab-created diamonds. I proposed to my fiancee with an unmounted blue diamond from D.NEA, and then we went to a local jeweler to have it mounted in a ring of her choice. She chose a thin white-gold band. The resulting ring is ethical, looks very nice, and cost less than two weeks' gross pay. We've talked about wedding rings, and would both prefer simple un-worked bands, but we haven't actually gone to buy them yet. I hope to get mine for 1 to 2 days' pay.

The three months "rule" is crazy. Even if you make only $20k/year, $5k is quite an opulent ring.

Two years into my first marriage, I stopped wearing the half-carat solitaire portion of my wedding ring set, since I was nervous about having a small rock be so valuable and so easily bashed/dirtied/possibly lost. Now that I'm marrying again, I've put my foot down: no stone at all, please! I'm not even sure I want a gold wedding ring, since they scratch so easily and eventually wear away. I've been admiring some engraved stainless steel bands, that cost all of $50. I want my fiance' to put his money on the wonderful house we're buying, not a miniature millstone on my finger.

My wife and I went to shopping for the ring together. She was accomodating to the cost of the ring in that she selected something she liked and something she would wear without having a ROCK that she was afraid to wear and hide in a safe. It is symbol of our marriage. I did the same. Even though our rings cost differed ,mine has a special meaning in that it is a rope of three strands of white, rose and yellow gold. The three strands represent our lives intertwined with each other and God.

Rules of thumb are just that.....It works for some and not others. It all depends on how big your heart wants to be when you buy your first one!

In our case, we bought a ring, and have been upgrading it every 5 years. We will hit our 25 year anniversary and we just upgraded this year by adding 2 matching diamond studs to our collection. These were really out of our range, but it was well worth the investment. We were lucky to find 2 matching 1.5Carat, VVF1, Color D, X, X, X and No Flour diamonds. They match in diameter, height and other table figures. We bought it outside of USA at 31% off the Rapaport pricing (the mother of all pricing of diamonds). It took me 5 years to learn all about diamonds, understand how to be a smart diamond buyer, and then invested this huge bundle of money to buy the pair. Oh by the way, these diamonds have a laser incription on it where the certificate number matches with the number inscribed on the diamond-girdle!

Good luck.


My wife gave me parameters about what types of jewelry she liked (no yellow gold, a fondness for sapphires), so when I was shopping for a ring, I picked out a photo from a bridal magazine that I thought she would like. And she loved it! There's just no beating the surprise factor.

I popped the question on April 2nd. 1954, of course after asking her father for permission to marry his daughter. We're still married and our next anniversary will be our 55th., which is somewhat unusual these days now that the divorce rate has skyrocketed.

I was a very impoverished student at that time in England and had been saving up for months to buy the ring. It was a diamond solitaire and we bought it together in an antique shop so it had already been owned by some other bride. The cost, converted into dollars, was $46. Considering that when we emigrated to Canada (and later to America) in 1956, we only had $400 between us when we stepped off the boat, $46 represented quite a bit of money to us. Fortunately life has been very good to us and we are now multi-millionaires but my wife still wears the ring on occasion.
Personally I have never bought into all the hype over diamonds. The price of diamonds is artificially maintained at a very high level by the De Beers company in South Africa. It's worth googling De Beers if you are interested in the history of diamonds and Cecil Rhodes who founded the company in 1888. Cecil Rhodes was the founder of former British colony Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and also the man that in 1902 endowed the most prestigious international scholarships in the world at Oxford University. Recipients have included Presiden Clinton and several US senators.

As I understand it, the whole concept of an engagement ring is rather recent and was first created & marketed by DeBeers... similar to Hallmark creating holidays to sell more cards. Unfortunately, I cannot remember where I read this to give a source, but it did not surprise me. As is my penchant for flouting "tradition", no engagement ring when my spouse and I decided to marry, but I'm not a jewelry-type of gal anyway.

KH...great point about an engagement ring being mainly a symbol of a couple's emotional bond, rather than an investment. I wish more folks realized this.

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