It's almost 'engagement season': Here's how to save on a ring

  • Nearly 1 in 5 engagements happen in December, more than in any other month, according to WeddingWire.
  • The average couple spent $5,000 on a ring last year.
  • Understanding the four C's of diamond buying can help you stretch your budget.

Before you buy that engagement ring, strategize how to make the most of your budget.

Fall is a prime time for ring shopping, ahead of the holiday (and engagement) season. Last year, six of the 10 most popular dates to get engaged landed in December, according to a report from WeddingWire.com.

"Engagement season starts at Thanksgiving, and it runs through Valentine's Day, with a concentration at Christmas and New Year's," said Anne Chertoff, trends expert for WeddingWire. "It's family time… they want to show mom and dad the ring, and pop some Champagne."

Before you start shopping, assess how much you can, and want to, spend. (After all, you'll have wedding bills to wrangle next.) WeddingWire estimates the average couple spends $5,000 on an engagement ring; TheKnot puts that figure at $6,163.

Then start researching what kind of ring that budget could get you, said Ajay Anand, founder of RareCarat.com, an engine that compares diamond prices and ratings. The site's IBM Watson-powered search tool, Rocky, helps shoppers figure out typical stats for a stone in their budget and points to standout deals. (Click on graphics below to enlarge.)

"It's this massive purchase, in many cases, the largest purchase of your life at that point, and it's something that you know nothing about," he said.

Digging into the four c's of diamonds — color, cut, clarity and carat — are key, both to gauge the quality of a stone and understand where you might make trade-offs (or not), Chertoff said.

Yuri | Vetta | Getty Images

"You can probably save money by getting an H color diamond instead of a G," she said. "But you need to understand what that means."

Shape can have a big influence on price. Round stones are the most popular, with 40.1 percent of shoppers picking them, according to RareCarat data.

"Well, high demand means high prices," said Erica Hirsch, gemologist in residence for RareCarat. "So we suggest looking at ovals, which have a similar aesthetic, are cheaper for a given carat size, and look even larger on a finger."

But it also helps to know how that shape interplays with other aspects, like clarity. Shoppers can go fairly low on the clarity scale before inclusions or blemishes are visible to the naked eye, but cuts with large flat surfaces (like emerald shapes) are often less forgiving.

"Just imagine a black glove on an ice skating rink — it'll stand out," Hirsch said.

As Chertoff said, you can also save a bundle by going for a diamond that's lower on the color scale. Tricks like using a yellow or rose gold setting, and picking a stone with some blue fluorescence, can both make a stone with a low color rating look whiter, Hirsch said.

Once you buy, take the stone for an independent appraisal to confirm its quality and value, Chertoff said. Then get it insured, either as part of your homeowners or renters coverage (you may need a separate rider) or a separate policy.

"You don't want to be in a situation where the stone falls out, or is stolen, and you don't have coverage," she said.

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