All about the bling

By Mir
June 29, 2006

I have to say that I love this question because this is one of those issues I could talk about forever. (Yeah, I know I can talk about almost anything forever, but this is different.) It’s just—well, you’ll see.


You are pretty. Your site is seriously brilliant and very helpful. I thought twice about purchasing toilet bowl cleaner at wal-mart today, your words were in the back of my mind. I totally breezed by the batteries that were like 4AA for 5 bucks! I thank you for that.

OK, here is my non-general finance question, forgive me:

Engagement ring? A good friend desperately wantes to marry his wonderful gal, but is totally tight on cash. I worry he’ll end up with something she will be less than thrilled with due to cost. (not that she’s greedy, totally not) Do you have any experience with jewelry?


Ahhhh, engagement rings. If there’s another issue that causes men to gnash their teeth and women to weep the way this does, I can’t think of it. Just let me put on my asbsestos suit, here….

Okay. Let me just say right up front that I may not actually be a girl, because there’s a lot about this issue that I Just Don’t Get. Some of that is because I’m very pragmatic about money, sure. Some of it might be because there are just a lot of things I worry about more than diamonds, like whether or not a potential mate is capable of getting his dirty socks into the hamper. But there is one thing I can say here with absolute certainty:

Couples should talk about this stuff.

A man would be stupid to buy me a big diamond. (Quite frankly, for that kind of money, I’d rather have a lawn tractor. Yes, it is a wonder I’ve not been snatched up.) And in a perfect world, yeah, he’d know that, but maybe some discussion is required to be clear. Likewise, some women really want the big diamond. Some women would be crushed not to receive The Perfect Ring Of Her Hopes And Dreams and would want to help pick it out, and others feel very strongly that the man should pick out the perfect ring all on his own or he doesn’t really know and love her.

(Guys, allow me to apologize on behalf of the entire female species. This is one time I would not wanna be in your shoes.)

So the first step, guys, is to figure out what she wants, in general. Hint around, if you must, or just come right out with it, or—if that feels like it would be a violation of her expectations and really you never talk anyway—pump her friends/family for info. But I submit to you that if you have no idea what she wants—or the two of you have vastly different ideas about what makes sense—you may want to rethink that whole marriage thing. Just sayin’.

Okay, that said? Let’s assume she wants a ring. We’ll talk about buying diamonds in a minute. Let’s review some other options, first.

Family jewelry. Is there a meaningful ring in either your family or even hers (this depends on how close you are to her family) that might be suitable? If there’s a ring that’s available and holds some meaning but is ugly (hey, it happens), don’t rule out having the stone(s) set into something more modern/pretty. That’s also a possibility for making a ring out of earrings or a necklace, if there’s a family piece available. This is a nice option because it’s meaningful as well as significantly cheaper.

There are other gems besides diamonds. Go back to that bolded line up there about discussing things. Maybe she wants a diamond, the end, and you can skip this part. Maybe you’re thrilled to discover that she really loves emeralds, or lapis lazuli, or pink amethysts. You won’t know unless you ask. A diamond is traditional, yes, but it’s not the only option.

Something old, something new. There are some beautiful finds to be had at estate sales or antique stores, and not everything is hugely expensive. You’ll tend to find (in general; this is not a hard and fast rule) smaller stones but more intricate metalwork. Again, this may not be an option given her preferences, but it’s worth considering.

Jewelry as art. This isn’t a cheap option, per se, but depending on her taste it’s something to consider: For the cost of a sizeable diamond in a plain band, you could likely buy a one-of-a-kind piece from a local artisan. If she’s into that sort of thing, don’t overlook your “artsy” options.

Now, let’s get back to diamonds. Let’s say you’re die-hard traditionalists and nothing other than the perfect solitaire will do. Now you’re looking to get the most for your money, or maybe just to make sure she doesn’t start hitting you when you open up that little velvet box.

Buying a diamond is no less complicated than buying a car. Educate yourself beforehand so you know what you’re doing. You wouldn’t walk into a car dealership and say, “Oh, well, it’s got four wheels… and it’s really pretty… okay! I’ll take it!” You don’t want to walk into a jewelry store and end up with an unexamined purchase, either. Learn how to look at diamonds and what all of the terms mean before you head out.

Let’s take a break for a minute. I’ve pointed out that I’m not exactly a huge fan of diamonds. The flip side of that is this: I believe that if you’re going to go ahead and invest in diamonds, you should buy quality. Hey, they cost a lot pretty much no matter what. You might as well get the best for your money.

That means that I’m not a big fan of mall stores for diamonds. It’s not impossible to find something high-quality there, but it’s a lot harder than at an independently-owned jeweler. Here’s a handy litmus test for you: Can you look at the diamonds loose, at the store? If all the diamonds are mounted, you can’t really get a good look at them, and it also tends to be the mark of a store carrying mid-quality, mass-produced jewelry. Avoid.

(Those are also the sorts of stores where everything is periodically 50% off, which is your first clue that their regular prices have no basis whatsoever in reality.)

Ask around. There are bound to be some jewelry places near you known for quality and decent prices.

What about online shopping? Well, yeah… there are certainly deals to be found. This is one area where I just don’t recommend it, though. Dude. This is an engagement ring. A symbol of pledging your lives together, blah blah blah. (Oops, sorry.) You want to see it in person before you buy it. The only exception I would make to this rule would be if you find a mass-produced ring you love (to which I say a tolerant “ick”) and you’re able to find it online cheaper than the store where you saw it. But in general? No.

A few final notes:

Will finances be changing? Is your friend who is tight on cash likely to be more flush in the not-too-distant future? Maybe they hold off on the actual ring for now, if buying something bigger seems more important than having something this very second.

Is buying a ring going to cause hardship? If buying a ring means that the newly engaged couple has no money for a house, or whatever, then is it really important? Again, if the bride-to-be requires it but it creates an impossible financial situation… think less about the ring and more about your priorities.

Are you in a position to finance (wisely)? Very few men walk into a store and plunk down cash for a diamond. Just about everywhere will offer financing programs. As with any type of loan, you need to consider the terms and read the fine print carefully, but if this is a priority to the couple (worthy of borrowing money), that’s something to consider. But for heaven’s sake DO NOT put a diamond on your 19.5% interest rate credit card or I will come over there and beat you to death… assuming your fiancee hasn’t already done so.


  1. My husband bought his ex-wife (before they were married, not recently)a nice engagement ring, but it wasn’t good enough for her, so she made him take it back and get a more expensive one. There’s a clue right there that he shouldn’t have married her, and that wasn’t even the first clue. Two years later, he was still paying on the ring she picked out AFTER they were divorced! She’s since sold it and kept the money. Men can be really dumb. My mom gave him her engagement ring she got from my dad way back when (they are no longer married)which he gave to me, and I am fine with that because we built a house with the money we saved.

  2. my ring is an antique that i picked out myself. i love it so much and it only cost us $500! (for both the engagement ring and the wedding band)

  3. Two of my brothers-in-law have surprised their wives with a diamond ring (one was an engagement ring, the other an anniversary band); neither ring was QUITE what the lady had in mind. Fortunately, both brothers-in-law were smart enough to buy from jewelery stores that offered an exchange option, so my sisters-in-law were able to trade what they got for what they wanted. This also seems like something worth investigating, if the gentleman is REALLY intent on popping the question and having it be a surprise.

    And I chose a laptop over a diamond, so clearly I’m not really a girl ether.

  4. Let me give a hearty second for the non-diamond, artisan-crafted route. My husband and I were broke graduate students who realized that we would soon be broke college professors — needless to say, piling on debt was not in the cards. We opted for a nice sapphire set by a local lapidary artist; we got a lot more control over how the ring looked, we got to custom mix and match our wedding rings (his white gold, mine gold), and we saved a bucket of money. Ten years later, the ring (like the marriage) is holding up wonderfully well and still nets compliments everywhere I go.

  5. Um, also, let us consider: wholesale. Let’s all say it together: WHOLESALE.

    My grandfather gave my husband my grandmother’s ring. My husband wanted to get something for me all my own. So! He had two diamonds taken out of the sides of my grandmother’s ring, and he BOUGHT a loose diamond for a WHOLESALER at the World Trade Center, and then he designed this ring and had the WHOLESALER execute it.

    So now I have this great ring, with this great design, from this great husband.

    And it was cheap(er than buying a ring from a jeweler).

  6. Um, also, he didn’t buy it FOR THE WHOLESALER, as I wrote in my previous comment.

    He bought it FROM THE WHOLESALER.


  7. My husband was horrified at the thought of choosing a ring for me. We had talked about it enough that we knew we both liked the idea of including his birthstone (he wanted both birthstones, but I like his better), so he bought a necklace with an emerald pendant, planning to trade it in on a ring. Ummm, no, I wanted a ring, but would have gladly traded a smaller ring for keeping the actual piece he gave me when he proposed. This way, I did get to pick out my own ring, which means it is probably quite different than what he would have chosen on his own. Five years later, we are both still very happy with the ring, and I still don’t plan to trade it in to “upgrade” it, as he expected. The only downside here is that when you announce that “I’m engaged,” everyone wants to see the ring; “no, here’s the necklace he gave me” can sound a little odd. I’m pretty laidback about stuff like that (or at least try to be), but it is something to consider. It also helped that at the time, buying a (comparatively) inexpensive necklace and a ring was something he could financially handle.

  8. I lucked out with my ring. One of my best friends was engaged a guy for a short while. Things did not work out but she kept the ring because it had been bought on her credit card. I ended up buying it from her, having it reset in white gold, had the jeweler make a simple jacket for it and then had my husband-to-be pick up from the jeweler. He got to decide when he was going to give it to me. He totally suprised me at Thanksgiving dinner where we had both sides of the family at our new house for the first time. Cost a fraction of what we would have spent had he bought directly from a jeweler. Of course I don’t recommend trying to break up your engaged friend’s relationships in hope of scoring a ring…

  9. I’m with you, pretty Mir; I just don’t get the must-have-ring-before-marriage thing. And, I’m definitely a girl. I wanted a trip to Scotland instead, and thankfully my husband agreed. We are just as happily married (maybe more so) than those sporting the diamond bling bling.

    And let’s not forget — some (not all, but some) diamonds are mined on the misery and human rights abuses of miners. That sort of takes away the sparkle for me.

    Is the ring really a binding contract of love? Or, is it just a way to show-off wealth? I’ll borrow that asbsestos suit now, Mir. Sorry for the rant, but this issue one of my pet peeves.

  10. Hurrah! I knew I loved you, but I didn’t know how much. I have ranted about the diamond thing regularly (and my husband DOES know how lucky he got). I just don’t understand how anyone could love a diamond any more than I love my $500 black opal, so I get really frustrated when it’s treated as the only possible thing to get.

  11. I didn’t even want a ring. And luckily both my husband and I agreed on just getting simple wedding bands – which we got several months after we were married. Need I say we’re not traditional? My point is, I second Mir’s advice to make sure he knows what she wants. I would have been mortified if my husband-to-be gave me a huge diamond that would have cost what a great vacation/down payment on a house would have.

  12. I just have to wholeheartedly support the independent jeweler route. My fiance shopped around for months for my ring (unbeknownst to me) and ended up with a ring that was half the price but twice the quality of those at the chain stores. And then they gave us a nice discount on our wedding bands when we ordered them since we were now “loyal customers”. And they unlocked the doors a half an hour after closing for us when we went to pick up the wedding bands. Small shops actually care about your business and will do a lot more to work with you. So, go forth and find great prices and awesome service! Go!

  13. My engagement ring is the stone from the ring his bio dad gave his mom (dad later disappeared to join the Moonies, but that’s a whole different story). Hubby had it reset for me – I’m rather clumsy and it was a rather tall shank setting. Less than $200 for the new setting and transferring the stone. My wedding wrap has two small diamonds set in heart shapes on either side of the solitare. It was $175 and that included the cost of having the two rings connected. We just recently celebrated 10 yrs married and he surprised me with an anniversary band with 12 small channel set diamonds (one for each year married plus one for each of our sons). He picked it up at a going out of business sale for less than $100.

    Total $$ output for the 15 diamonds sparkling on my left hand? Less than $500! And I get compliments on them all the time! It makes me cringe when I hear people talk about how a man “should” spend at least 3 months salary on his intended’s engagement ring! C’mon I can think of so many better things to spend that $$ on!

  14. I have to chime in to advise going to small, locally-owned shops. My fiance and I went shopping together for engagement rings, went to a tiny shop owned by a woman who makes truly stunning works of art and picked out two (very different) affordable rings we both loved. Then I told him he could choose whichever ring he wanted (this way, he got to choose and I got to be surprised) and could give it to me anytime he wanted. We ended up with a beautiful and unusual ring that we both adore and it was completely affordable. And–because it’s a modern setting with eight tiny stones instead of one big one (hence: cheaper)–one of the stones has gotten loose twice now–both times I walked in and they fixed it in mere seconds for free.

    Anyway–lots of tiny bits of advice in there, all of which echoes Mir’s. 🙂

  15. I’m surprised you didn’t suggest checking out Overstock with the 15% discount for the ring:

    The gemstone jewelry I’ve bought from them has been pretty good and the one item that wasn’t, they happily exchanged for me, no questions asked.

    When my husband asked me to marry him, he took me into Tiffany’s and bought me a diamond chip attached to a platinum band (really pathetic excuse for a ring but it came in a snazzy blue box). 10 years later (nearly), the ring has been upgraded several times and has joined a couple of extra anniversary bands so my left hand literally blinds people with the bling. All good things come to those who wait. And, I might add, after 10 years, we are still happily in love.

  16. If you think you need a huge diamond on your left hand, then the diamond industry’s marketing ploys have worked their magic on you. Best friend, my arse!

    My husband wanted to get me the very best, and I couldn’t sway him, so my engagement ring is now my wedding ring. That was my decision. Sheesh, that money could have paid a LOT of our house off.

  17. We went to a local jeweler who let US design the ring using CAD software in his design studio. MY ring is 100% what I wanted, because we made it — from the initial sketch to the mold.

  18. I’m newly married and just went through all this with my husband, Mr. King of Coupons. After much comparison shopping and asking around, here’s my best advice.

    Look at the Mall jewelry stores to get an idea of current ring trends and styles, absolutely do NOT purchase here. Then go online to and use their diamond selector to see how changes in the 4 c’s change pricing, and then contact a local wholesaler. We found that wholesale prices compared very closely with blue nile. The problem with wholesalers is that they aren’t showing you finished rings. (usually they’ll show you 2-4 stones and no settings. Settings are ordered from a wholesellers catalog from small pictures.) So if you go to a wholeseller before you know what you want, you’ll get fewer options.

    We did purchase our wedding bands (mine had diamonds, my husband just wanted a plain band) from blue nile and were very happy with the results, they send you certification papers for the insurance company, really good customer service, etc. The best part is no tax and free shipping. Also, if you go online and create an account, put some things in the wishlist category and wait for a big gift-giving holiday (Christmas, Valentine’s, Mother’s day) you’ll get their coupon code emails. We got 15% off our rings right before Valentine’s Day.

  19. I didn’t want an engagement ring, mainly because I had never worn rings before and just didn’t like my fingers feeling claustrophobic. I couldn’t imagine having to wear TWO rings after the wedding!

    For our wedding bands, we were sooo smart. First, we used my husband’s rich, jewelry-obsessed aunt’s connections at the local jewelry store. We took her with us to shop for our rings and asked for the “Auntie Ludim discount.”

    When we picked out a style we liked, we asked them to custom make our set using titanium (which is fairly cheap) with a band of gold (most of which we provided via both our mother’s 15 year wedding bands – for a neat, nostalgic personal touch) in the middle.

    Auntie Ludim, horrified that I would not demand a diamond from my husband, talked me into the teensiest, tiniest little sparkly embedded in the middle of my wedding band. It’s beautiful and I’m so glad I did it!

    The set cost us only $600. Yay for family connections and cheap/donated materials!

    The other route you could go is what my brother-in-law just did. He went to a local store and asked if he could barter his stained-glass art skills in exchange for the engagement ring. They were more than happy to strike a deal with him. I imagine this would not work at your local mall, but there are plenty of little privately owned places who might need a website design, or, oh, I dunno, something. Use your imagination and it never hurts to ask!

  20. I am recently engaged, and the first thing out of my mouth after we decided to get married (there was no proposal, really), was you had better not buy me an engagement ring 🙂 We are getting a titanium wedding band set, but there are a lot of women who don’t want the diamonds (because of ethical issues, personal aesthetics, etc.) or anything at all….my recently married friend’s rings all came from eBay. So there’s that. Although not for me.

  21. ieatcrayonz is correct. Diamonds are actually a much more common stone than many of the colored ones, but because of DeBeers excellent ads and campaigns, most people think diamond when they think engagement.

    And after hearing of the horrors of war diamonds (diamond mining is funding many of the locals wars and dictatorial governments in Africa), I refuse to own one for any reason.

    I am one of those without an engagement ring. I didn’t want one. I have a wedding ring, but I really didn’t want that either.

    Susan, I’d rather have a laptop, too.

  22. I can tell you, without a doubt, do not buy from mall jewelry stores! In my my pre-Mommy days, I worked for the second largest jewelry company in the world, (first largest in this country), and guess what? All of those stores are owned by the same big company. The top 15 jewelry chain-stores are all owned by the same multi-national conglomerate. There is no comparison shopping to be had. They all have the same stuff that came from the same big vault warehouse.

    And Mir, you are correct, their prices are not based on anything except fantasy numbers pulled out of some marketing guru’s head. I worked for the buyer’s department, and without exception, most of the retail prices on their diamonds start at a mark-up of 15 to 20 times cost. Plus, they come rolling in from foreign countries in boxes of 20,000 pieces. Definitely not one-of-a-kind.

    When my hubby and I got engaged, I could have gotten our rings at cost, but we still went to a local, independant jeweler!

  23. When my husband and I got married 13 years ago we were both fresh out of high school and headed for college. We knew a diamond ring would be a stupid investment so I picked out two rings that I liked very much and all three rings ended up costing us 200.00. I got a “pink ice” stone rather than a diamond. I am one of those gals who doesn’t care for diamonds so the pink ice was perfect for me.

  24. Wow! Look at all those comments. Remember this topic, Mir, next time you hit a lull. (As if you ever will, you talented woman, you.)

    I have a nice little diamond cluster ring sitting in a dish on my dresser, from my first husband. It cost far more than he could afford, and was entirely his idea. Yes, I liked having that glittery thing, but my suggestion that we wait till we had the funds was brushed aside with some irritation. I saw his insistence on the ring NOW as a sign of generosity and love. Perhaps it was. It was also a sign of impetuosity and really, really poor money management. Two of the very many reasons why I am very glad not to be married to him any more.

  25. I was so lucky when it came to an engagement ring. When my husband and I were first together I knew that there was no way we could afford any kind of ring my “first” ring was a sterling silver clauder ring he got me in England. A year later he gave me his grandmother’s engagement ring from her first husband. She married her first husband 1929-1930, so not only did I get a lovely and unique family antique. I actually got something close to what I had seen in fancy schmancy magazines for absolutely nothing.

  26. I got a LOT of flack when I let loose that I didn’t want an engagement ring and my fiance went along with it. I was one who looked at the ethical, political, financial, and other reasons behind NOT getting one and just decided it wasn’t for me. I’ve always hated rings with stones, much preferring a simple band. I went engagement-ring-less and have been quite happy with that decision. We had our bands made from silver by a family company in Dublin, Ireland, who were more than glad to make them specially just for us. (The company normally only worked in gold.) We saved tons of money, both on our bands and the lack of engagement bling. This way was much more to our liking (especially since neither of us like gold). I got a wedding band I love and was lucky enough to marry a man who understood my point of view on the matter. Unfortunately, his friends berated me for this and took offense to the fact that I didn’t want one when they all had one or had given their wives one.

    Getting one or not should be the bride-to-be’s choice since she’s the one who will have to deal with the rock on her finger. If you want one, ask around at local jewelers and find out who is willing to work with you on design and price. We found a nifty jeweler for the bands who was willing to go the extra mile, losing out on a larger sale due to our preference for silver but still preferring to make us happy. Our saleswoman even sent us a card to congratulate us when she shipped the rings to us!


    That is, if you don’t mind a limited and quirky selection. My engagement ring was his grandmother’s (in a new setting), and I don’t even wear it because I’m so clutzy I scratch myself (or other things) with the stones all the time. My wedding band was from a pawn shop, and at the time, cost us only $10. Of course, I’m a gal with simple tastes, and just wanted a plain, narrow gold band, but still!

  28. Gosh I’m feeling so small and insignificant here! I love diamonds. After getting engaged, Dh and I picked out my ring set from a mall shop, minus the main stone. We then got the main stone from a diamond wholesaler. We did not go into debt, I got what I wanted, and we’ve been married nearly 18 years. For our 10th anniversary, we had a local jeweler make a matching anniversary band, with diamonds, attached to the engagement and wedding band. All for $250. What can I say? All girl, all diamonds, all the way.

  29. Thank you Mir, and all you ladies. Your input is very helpful. I appreciate everyone’s unique opinion on this particular issue. I had no idea it would be such a contraversial topic, but informative.

  30. count me in on the controversy (and hopefully on the information, too.)

    Another non-diamonder here, but I did look at a lot of diamond rings during the engagement process. Some conclusions in addition to the above:

    Cheap: synthetic diamonds. They’re just as hard and pretty as mined diamonds, but far cheaper and without the labor issues. NOTE: as far as I know, the synthetics still glow blue-ish under black light. Not a big deal to most folks, and some mined diamonds also flouresce, but that is the one place the synthetics show a difference.

    Estate jewelry: there are some gorgeous pieces out there, and they’re often *much* cheaper than first-run rings. Plus, you’re still not supporting bad labor practices.

    Labor issues: There are some certified conflict-free diamonds from Canada that you can ask for when buying new diamonds – more info is here:

  31. Sorry…but I love diamonds. I love antique diamond jewelry. And no its not more important than my fiance, and other factors are more important or we obviously wouldnt have gotten to this point in our relationship. But the engagement (including the ring) is a personal thing, unlike the wedding which is very public. The ring is a symbol and we all have different ways to express ourselves. I am the one wearing it and there is nothing wrong with stating liking or disliking. That does not discount the relationship nor is a sign of bad things to come.

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