Print Edition: January 14, 2015
Buying an engagement ring, when it comes down to it, can be a big thing. Even if you’re going to spend as little money as possible, you have to explain to everyone that asks to see the ring — and yes, a lot of people ask — why the ring is so simple.
Not many people getting engaged these days want to spend $5k on a ring. First of all, we don’t have that kind of money. We just paid tuition! Second, the knowledge that 5k is a two-month backpacking trip across Europe might shift your priorities.
You want to buy something that is meaningful and represents who you are. As someone who has gone through the shopping process, my advice is this: research, research, research. Research. You’ll come to know what you’re looking for. You’ll understand the terms that salespeople use, and you’ll be able to ask them the important questions.
My own research brought me to consider a few different options for purchasing an affordable engagement ring. Here’s a brief list:
Sales, sales, sales!
As soon as a diamond nears a ring, the prices shoot up. Because diamond equals engagement equals wedding equals money! A diamond is expected on an engaged woman’s hand. But it’s also the most expensive choice. You’re not going to get a lot of bang for your buck. People’s, for example, sells itsy-bitsy diamond rings for an average of $150, and you have to get up to the $500 range for something more substantial. Even then, you don’t have a lot of variety. The joy of inflated prices, though, is that there are sales. Ask a salesperson about their annual sale. Pick a ring. Lie in wait, like a tiger stalking its prey. Get that ring.
A ring of a different stone
Diamonds weren’t always forever. In fact, it was clever marketing campaigns that pushed them to popularity. But if you want something orginal, try a different stone. A salesperson will tell you that diamonds are hardy and will last … forever … but consider that if a diamond is a 10 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, corundum is a nine. Not much difference. The stones that derive from corundum include ruby and sapphire. The colour of these stones range from clear as diamond to black, blood red, and light pink. With the engagement label taken off, prices will be lower.
Cubic zirconia is a man-made diamond stimulant. They look exactly like a diamond to the untrained eye — in fact, they might look even too sparkly. They are very affordable, ranging from $50 to $300 for beautiful rings. One huge upside is that you don’t have to worry about the ethics of your ring. The downside is that they may not last forever. The stone itself is softer (8.5 on the Mohs scale), and can be chipped, nicked, and scratched. You have to remove it when dealing with handing chemicals or doing something active. Cubic zirconia is the whiny little sibling of the diamond, but it’s affordable!
My family is Dutch, and this is the route I chose. In Holland, the engagement ring is traditionally the wedding band. The couple wears a band on their right hand, and then when they marry they switch it to their left hand. I chose gold. Ten-carat is your best option rather than a higher carat, because the higher you go the softer the ring is, and the less hardy. Before buying my ring, I asked to see my Opa’s 10-carat ring. He’s had it on his hand for more than 50 years, and it still looks very good. While I don’t have a stone, the upside is that there is a nice equality to the purchase — one partner doesn’t have a ring three times more expensive than the other. You can buy the rings together and then not worry about it.
Whatever style you lean towards, do your research! Don’t take a single salesperson’s advice, and shop around.