The Guide to buying an engagement ring
Buying the perfect engagement ring used to mean setting aside 2 months’ salary and spending a huge amount of time scouring jewellers’ windows looking for a suitable design. These days the internet has opened up a whole new world of possibility, enabling you to choose from a bewildering range of stones and rings from around the world. “As well as saving up to 80% of the cost of a diamond, shopping online at certain sites allows buyers to match up the exact combination of the 4Cs that they want. Online has completely changed the diamond industry, Going online gives guys access to the best choice and the best prices.” (Guardian.com) As with any important purchase, selecting an engagement ring must begin with a budget (although this doesn’t need to be as large as you might think). With this rough figure in mind, it is time to consider first the type of ring you prefer and then the gemstone(s) to adorn it. We will look at the key aspects of these in turn.
(Gold, Platinum & Palladium, the precious metals most often associated with engagement rings)
Selecting a metal type
(For a more detailed examination of precious metal & jewellery making techniques, read our article: The art and science of jewellery manufacture)
The ring you chose is entirely personal preference and the London Diamond & Emerald Exchange can build bespoke creations from any design. Below are just a few examples of popular designs but a good jeweller can produce almost anything your heart desires – let your imagination run riot!
Selecting a stone
As discussed in earlier articles over 90% of contemporary engagement rings contain a diamond centre stone, due in no small part to the powerful advertising and marketing activities of De Beers in the 20th Century. However coloured gemstones are making a comeback, a point emphasised recently by Jean Ghika, Head of European Jewellery at Bonhams, when she stated we are seeing “some prices per carat of coloured stones outstripping those of diamonds.” Each of the four precious gems (diamond, emerald, ruby & sapphire) undoubtedly have their own unique and highly personal attraction to collectors and purchasers of engagement rings alike. The value of a precious stone is determined by the four ‘C’s’ (Cut, Colour, Clarity & Carat). The key characteristics of each are outlined below:
(A collection of white and coloured diamonds)
Diamonds are the hardest known natural material on the planet. Indeed the etymology of the very word diamond derives from from the ancient Greek adamas (αδάμας), meaning “invincible.” Diamonds are available in every colour of the spectrum by virtue of geological processes and the presence of minor impurities in the crystals that formed the minerals millions of years ago. When they are saturated enough with colour, they are referred to as fancy coloured diamonds. White diamond colour is classified by the letters D-Z in alphabetical order, where D is “colourless” and hence the most sort after (A-C were deliberately left off the scale in case even ‘whiter’ stones were discovered in the future).
(Some of the more common diamond shapes or ‘cuts’ used for engagement rings and jewellery)
(An example of piece created recently by the London Diamond & Emerald Exchange: 1.03 carat Colombian Muzo Emerald, set in yellow gold with a diamond halo)
Then name emerald heralds from the French esmeralde literally meaning a “green gemstone.” Emeralds are among the most valuable precious gems in the world and they have been revered since the time of Cleopatra in ancient Egypt. Softer than diamond but harder than quartz, emeralds are a green variety of the mineral beryl. Like a fingerprint, every emerald contains a unique set of fissures and inclusions and no two are every truly identical. Today, Colombia leads the world in terms of the number, size and value of emerald deposits and production. Emeralds can also be found in Brazil, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indian and Russia. Deep bluish and yellowish hues and a general depth of colour can greatly enhance the value of an emerald and these qualities are found most commonly among fine Colombian emeralds.
(Earlier articles on emeralds provide hints and tips regarding oiling, fracture filling with resins and other things to look out for when buying emeralds).
The ruby simply derives its name from the Latin word ruber meaning red. Akin to sapphires, rubies are a variety of the mineral corundum and the red colouration is the result of the presence of small amounts of chromium in the crystals. Rubies are mined in a disparate group of countries around the world, including: Myanmar (Burma); Sri Lanka; Madagascar; Kenya; Thailand; Australia; Greenland and USA. All natural rubies have small natural imperfections, including colour impurities and inclusions of rutile needles known as “silk.” More than 90% of rubies undergo some form of heat treatment and it is unusual for a ruby not to be heated prior to cutting. As with other precious gems the value of a ruby is often determined by the depth of its colour, chief among the ‘4 C’s.’
Sapphire, from the Latin sapphirus and Greek sappheiros, is a variety of the mineral corundum. Pure corundum is composed of aluminium oxide (Al2O3) and is colourless, but trace amounts of various elements produce a range of colours, such as blue, green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, and red. The term sapphire is commonly used in referring to the blue variety, but nearly all the colourful gem-quality forms (except red) are classified as sapphires. The red variety (produced by the presence of chromium) is known as ruby. Historically, most sapphires have been mined in Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Myanmar (Burma) and Australia, the world’s most prolific sapphire producer.