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How to deal with the shrinking engagement ring budget and still exceed her expectations.

Lately, just mentioning lockdown or pandemic make me cringe, hence I will not elaborate on my opinion of the veracity of this global situation, but rather look up for solutions of it’s effects on the jewellery industry and the engagement ring in particular, as our best seller.

The jewellery industry suffered for almost two decades as the gadgets took over as a preferred gift for almost any occasion. Smart phones, tablets and the likes are cheaper and more practical than a piece of fine jewellery and although their life span seldom exceeds few years, the young generation minds are set. Engagement rings and wedding rings are making 95-99% of the jewellery sales in South Africa now, and it does not look that this is going to change any time soon. Due to well executed marketing the diamond engagement ring and the wedding band are still almost mandatory. Over the past two decades the jewellery industry witnessed steady decline in the size and quality of the diamonds set in the engagement rings. At first glance the amounts spent looked the same, but the buying power of our SA Rand declined more than twice against most global currencies and today South Africans are getting much less value for their hard-earned cash. In 2000 the average engagement ring was set with a diamond of about 0.70 ct H-VS quality. Then the size dropped to 0.50 and even less and first the clarity then the colour followed. Now the hot sellers are stones in 0.40 to 0.60 J-SI bracket with the average somewhere in between. It was declining, but it was steady and predictable until the virus came along and together with the inadequate measures, destroyed the economy and the livelihood of millions. Even the ones lucky enough to keep their jobs are uncertain about the future and reluctant to spend on non-essentials in anticipation of the immanent crisis. It makes perfect sense and I am trying to do so myself. Still people fall in love, guys propose to girls and get married. Life goes on and traditions are kept although with shrunken budgets. The two main requirements of the engagement ring are beauty and pride of ownership and they are both affected by the dwindling spending power. The size of a diamond set in an engagement ring is quite important and although we, as designers use many tricks to make a small stone look bigger, it is not possible to emulate the striking look of a proper size diamond. Then lurks in the uneasy feeling that one’s gift of love might look insignificant and even result in decline of one’s proposal.

So, are there alternatives that keep both, the fiancée to be and the bank account happy? There certainly are. Let’s look at the available options and the comparison table at the end.

Using smaller diamond

As mentioned above this is not the best solution, however using halo or three stone setting can result in decent looking ring. My opinion is, that the entry level size for solitaire engagement rings should be over 0.5ct (5mm). I have done few with 0.40-0.45ct by customers request and it is possible to get reasonable visual impact, but only if the finger size is well under average. The average lady’s finger size (L, M) requires bigger diamond (0.5ct+) for solitaire ring or a setting that enhances the diamond size. Sizes of rather large diamonds of 0.8-1ct can also benefit from designs enhancing the size, if simplicity is not a requirement. Ask your jeweller to recommend the diamond and design which produces the highest visual impact within your budget. Visual impact I call the “wow” effect of the ring on presentation and the size of the stone is quite important prerequisite.

Using lower quality diamond

I’ve explored this topic in many of my articles dedicated to wise choice of diamond. Increasing the size of your diamond by reducing certain aspects of its quality can bring fantastic results, yet decent looking size and quality remains rather expensive. In a nutshell one can easily compromise on clarity and quite a bit on colour. Size matters and so does the cut. For these who want to know more I will recommend reading the article focused exactly on this topic or contact me and use my knowledge and expertise to get objective advice.

Using man made diamond

Now this is new and considered by few, but it is a fantastic solution for level minded, down to earth people. Man made or Lab created diamonds are real diamonds. As real as the ones mined from the Earth. The difference is in the process the product is achieved and since creating diamonds in the lab is far more cost effective, the price is much lower, and it is getting better as the technologies are improving. Conservative jewellers refuse to touch lab diamonds, fearing this might tarnish their reputation, yet one cannot stop the coming future. Even De Beers, the body controlling the entire diamond industry, recognized the potential, and started trading in man made diamonds few years ago. The often-asked question is: Can you differentiate the man-made diamonds from the natural ones? The answer is no. Even a savvy expert is unable to do that without special equipment. The prices however are dramatically different and allow great quality and size diamonds within relatively low budgets. Today lab diamonds are also offered in pink, blue and golden yellow, stones otherwise completely out of reach in their natural mined version due to their astronomical prices.

Using diamond substitute

Diamond substitute is different than man made diamond simply because is not a diamond although it looks like one. If it is called a substitute, then it does not exist in nature. The closer the substitute’s properties are to the ones of a diamond the better option it represents. The long-time only diamond substitute cubic zirconia I will mention only briefly since I don’t find it a worthy option. Although very cheap (usually I don’t add it to my cost when I quote a CZ ring) I don’t find it a good value for money.  CZ is easily recognizable by a trained eye and although not soft (8 by Moos) it is not hard enough to withstand the requirements for everyday ring. CZ will keep its look for about a year or two and then the micro chips on the edges of the facets as a result of its low hardness, will give it a milky unpleasant look. Moissanite appeared first in South Africa in the late 90s and the fact that many jewellers were initially tricked in buying it for a diamond proves its high quality as a substitute. The first moissanites were low in colour (J, K) but now they are available in top DEF colours. The advantages of the moissanite are that it looks like diamond and it is almost as hard as one. At 9.5 hardness on the Moos scale (a diamond is 10) the moissanite is possible to scratch only with a diamond and if not unwisely stored together with diamond jewellery it will last as long as a diamond. Even corundum (ruby, sapphire) is softer than the moissanite, meaning conventional sandpaper will be unable to scratch it. If your fiancée loves large diamond styles and the budget is tight, moissanite is the solution. An expert will be able to  distinguish moissanite from a diamond only with a 10X magnifying glass.


Comparison table

The numbers in the table below represent the retail price per stone. It is in US$ and the rand value can be calculated by multiplying it to the current rate. In the zero column is the size of the stones compared, in weight (carat) and diameter. In the fist column are the prices of top quality natural diamonds, the second indicate the prices for an average quality (which is the most popular in SA at present). The third is for top quality lab grown diamonds and the fourth for moissanite.

0 1 2 3 4
Ct/diameter Natural diam. D-VS1 Natural diam. J-VS1 Lab diamond D-VS1 Moissanite
0.5/5mm 2200 1300 700 125
0.8/6mm 4800 2560 1350 195
1.00/6.5mm 11900 5900 2850 235
1.25/7mm 14800 7380 6550 295

The stones from columns 1 and 3 are indistinguishable even by an expert armed with a magnifying glass. The stones from column 4 look the same as the ones from 1 and 3 and only an expert can notice difference with a magnifying glass. The stones from column 2 will look slightly yellowish if compared to the others but viewed on their own will be perceived as rather white. When the lab grown diamonds first came to the market their price was about 30% less than the natural ones with the same quality. Currently the gap is much bigger. Lab grown diamonds’ price constitutes approximately 1/3 of the price of the natural ones.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for more information as well as discussing the available options within your budget frame.