Updated December 9, 2016

How to Buy an Engagement Ring Online

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Ready to pop the question? Buying an engagement ring online is a brilliant way to save big. Read on for the ultimate guide, so you don't get ripped off.

How to Buy an Engagement Ring
How to Buy an Engagement Ring © CreditDonkey

Congrats! You've found the love of your life and are ready to propose. And if you're reading this article, you're considering buying a diamond engagement ring.

In this article, we'll discuss:

Do you already have a specific budget in mind? Read our in-depth guide to shopping for the best engagement ring at every price point. We offer suggestions for how to get the best ring for your budget - whether that's $1,000 or $10,000.

Buying a diamond sight unseen from a website is intimidating. After all, a ring is a huge purchase. More importantly, it's a symbol of your love. Can you really just buy the ring without seeing it in person?

But buying online has advantages, especially in the savings department. Buying an engagement ring online can save you 25% or more. That's a significant discount. And another big plus - no more dealing with pushy salesmen!

The biggest concern is whether online stores are legit. It is safe as long as you stay with proven online retailers and certified diamonds. And make sure you understand the retailer's return policy.

Our guide will take you through everything you need to know about buying the perfect engagement ring online, so you can hit "confirm purchase" with confidence.

Diamond Engagement Ring Online

BUYING ONLINE VS YOUR LOCAL JEWELER

© foreverphoto (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

If walking into a jewelry store makes you nervous, you'll appreciate the ease of online. Online retailers have made the shopping experience easier, cheaper, and sometimes even more fun. But there are some drawbacks too.

Let's break down the pros and cons of buying diamonds online.

Pros of shopping online:

  • You get a wider selection: Online jewelry stores offer an unbeatable selection. You'll be able to find diamonds and ring styles at every price point. This is particularly good if you're looking for a specific style or want to design a customized ring.

  • You could get a better price: The other big plus is that prices tend to be lower when you're buying online. A website doesn't have the same overhead costs of a physical retail store. Many online jewelers also offer free shipping or cash payment discounts. No matter what, it's much easier to comparison shop online than it is to go to several physical stores.

  • There's no pressure: Walking into a jewelry store is daunting. Online, you won't have a pushy salesperson following you around, trying to convince you to spend more money than you can afford. You can take your time learning and choosing a ring on your terms.

    60% of brides and grooms do their ring-buying research online. You may even find that you have more customization options when you order from a website.

Cons of shopping online:

  • You have to take a slight leap of faith: Often, buying a ring online means you can only go off the grading report. You can't hold the ring up close to examine flaws or see how it sparkles. Sites like Blue Nile let you custom build a ring but again, you won't know what the finished product actually looks like until it arrives on your doorstep. Make sure you understand the site's return policy in case you're not happy with what you get.

  • You may want to split the order: Another option is to only purchase the loose diamond online. And then have it mounted at a local jeweler. This way, you're still saving some money on the stone itself, but you're designing the entire ring blind.

  • You're more likely to be dealing with an unknown company: Be aware that not all diamond online jewelers are on the up-and-up. Do your homework first to check that the company is reputable. Especially if you're going with a smaller company versus a well-known brand name. Reputable brand name diamond retailers we're partial to are James Allen and Blue Nile.

COST: DETERMINING YOUR BUDGET

First things first: determine how much you want to spend on your bride-to-be's bling.

Diamonds don't come cheap. On average, guys spend just over $5,200 on an engagement ring. Don't let the national average pressure you into spending a similar amount. It's more important that you be realistic and work out how much you can afford.

Tip: You've probably heard of the "2-months rule". This says you should spend 2 months' salary on the engagement ring. This has become the accepted norm in the jewelry industry. This is because it shows that you are investing in your future together. The sentiment is nice, but quite unrealistic for the average person.

So what should you spend? This is a very personal decision. A reasonable price range would be something that shows your beloved that you have saved and are serious about the commitment, but still within what you can reasonably afford without going into more debt. For example, let's say you sacrifice and can only put aside $300 a month. After 5 months of saving up, you have $1,500 to spend on the ring. Then that's a good budget for you.

Remember, you have your future ahead of you. You may want to save for a house down payment, your future children's college education, or your retirement. And the last thing you want is to start your married life in debt over the ring.

Tip: A diamond engagement ring is not an investment. Treat a diamond like a depreciating asset (similar to a car). If you want to build wealth, invest in stocks instead.

SHOULD YOU FINANCE THE PURCHASE?

We understand that a diamond ring is a large purchase. And that you may not be able to pay straight up cash for one. Most of us have multiple loans these days. It may be unreasonable to wait until you're debt-free to pop the question.

In this case, borrowing money for the ring could be an option. Just make sure that you buy one within your budget of what you can pay off. Don't think just because you're financing a ring, it means you can now go and pick out the largest, most expensive diamond you can charge!

Here are some points to consider if you're thinking about financing a ring:

  • This is another area where buying online gains an advantage. You don't have to listen to the spiel from a store salesperson about your financing options. The options are totally in your control. A low interest credit card is usually the way people go.

    Another good option is to get a 0% promotional deal on a new card. This will give you time to pay off the big purchase. Just be sure you can pay off the full balance by the time the deal ends.

    Tip: If you have saved up the cash, some online retailers will offer a 1.5% - 3% discount if you pay upfront by wire transfer.

  • Many credit cards offer protection. This could come into handy if the retailer doesn't send you what you ordered or sends you nothing at all.

  • See if you can get extra value out of your purchase. Why not get something in return for your ring purchase? A smart move is to use a card that offers rewards on your purchases. For example, some American Express credit cards (a CreditDonkey advertiser) offer additional cashback or rewards at select department stores, such as Bloomingdales (which sells engagement rings)..

  • Consider the retailer's financing option: Some retailers offer nice financing deals. But do some math to see whether you'd pay more under their terms or your credit card. It can be worth factoring in to your purchase, but pursue this route carefully.

Best Place to Buy Diamond Ring Online

CHOOSING A RETAILER

© CreditDonkey

And now comes the tricky part: choosing a retailer you're comfortable with.

Just as guys like to compare different TV models before purchasing, you'll also want to check out different retailers. Do some shopping around and see which retailer gets your vote of confidence. Consider the following:

  • Does the retailer get decent, credible reviews?
  • Are the pictures you see online of the actual stone you'll be getting. Or are they just sample photos?
  • Does the retailer offer assistance?
  • How long does the warranty last? Some do offer lifetime warranties.
  • Is the return policy clear and reasonable?

Buy Diamond Online: Here are two reputable online diamond jewelry stores we recommend:

  • Blue Nile's wide selection of diamonds simply cannot be beat. They also have some of the most competitive pricing around. They are able to offer a huge selection because they do not actually own their diamonds. So the downside is that you won't be able to see actual photos.

  • James Allen takes the online diamond shopping experience to a whole new level. They offer an HD 360-degree interactive video for every diamond they sell. Certified diamond experts are available online to help you compare diamonds. You can be confident about your purchase as you can see the actual diamond you will be receiving.

Tip: Don't forget the wedding ring. You can score a huge discount by buying the wedding bands online. Confused about the difference between engagement ring and wedding ring? Don't worry, a lot of first-time ring buyers are. Here's the difference.

 

Blue Nile

James Allen

 

Benefits and Features

SelectionLargest selection of online diamonds, sourced from suppliers around the worldInventory sourced from local diamond suppliers
Data
Grading report
Grading report, 360-degree HD video
Return Policy30-day money back guarantee. You will pay for shipping and insurance fees. Items must be in their original purchase condition, including all product documentation.If you are not 100% satisfied with your purchase, you may return it in its original, unworn condition within 30 days for a full refund or exchange. Free return shipping only applies to U.S customers and is limited to three per customer.
WarrantyLifetime manufacturer warranty. Terms and exclusions apply.James Allen warrant that all items will be free from any manufacturing defects at time of delivery. James Allen will repair and maintain your jewelry for a lifetime. Lifetime warranty offers free prong tightening, re-polishing, rhodium plating and cleaning services.
BuybackDiamond buyback program through Mondiamo based on market value. 
Customer Service
24/7 customer service
24/7 customer service
ResizingBlue Nile provides complimentary resizing for Build Your Own Rings®, and Diamond Bands when within the manufacturer's recommended sizing range, during the first year.All engagement rings and wedding bands, excluding eternity bands and alternative metals, may be resized once for free within the first 60 days of purchase.
Upgrade PolicyLifetime diamond upgrade program on all GIA and AGSL graded diamonds. You will receive credit equal to 100% of the original price toward the purchase of a new diamond. The price of your new diamond must be at least twice the price of your original diamond. Your diamond must be in its original condition with the original diamond grading report.Any loose diamond purchased from James Allen can be exchanged at 100% credit for any replacement diamond of at least 2X or greater value. The diamond that is being upgraded must be in original condition and accompanied by the original laboratory grading document.
Price
Selection
Data
Customer Service

Blank fields may indicate the information is not available, not applicable, or not known to CreditDonkey. Please visit the product website for details.

Related: Blue Nile vs James Allen

James Allen

KNOW THE RETURN POLICY

© CreditDonkey

This is extremely important. Make sure you know the store's return policy.

Tip: It may be tempting to buy from an online site like eBay and Craigslist. But watch out. You are at the mercy of the seller. There are reports of scams and rip offs. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. We recommend readers buy from reputable online diamond jewelers.

Online diamond retailers understand customer concerns, so they usually have generous return polices. But! They tend to come with a time limit and conditions. Read the fine print carefully. Some rings may not be eligible for returns.

Also, make sure you have built enough time between receiving the ring in the mail and getting the courage to pop the question.

There are a variety of reasons why you may want to return a ring. You're not happy with how it looks, you change your mind about proposing, your bride-to-be isn't so impressed with it, or (we hate to say it) you didn't get the yes.

FIND OUT THE SIZE

touch
touch © bpprice (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Before you purchase, first, you need to know what size ring you need to buy. There are certain settings that are hard to resize or require a custom fitting. So you don't want to take that gamble if you can help it.

So how can you find out the size? It will take a little detective work.

Did you know? Over 40% of brides-to-be want to involved in the ring selection process. After all, this is a piece of jewelry she'll wear for the rest of her life, so she wants to know she's getting a ring she'll love. So consider if you really want to do a surprise proposal with ring in hand.

If you are set on a surprise romantic proposal but ALSO want to make sure she gets the ring of her dreams, a good compromise is to pick out the diamond and set it in a cheap temporary setting. After she says yes, you can take your time looking for a permanent setting she'll love.

Check out her jewelry box for any other rings she wears. If there's one that she doesn't wear that often, discreetly "steal" it. You can then take it to a jeweler to find out the size or use a cool little online tool. Just make sure you choose one that she wears on her ring finger. (If you're not sure what rings she wears on what fingers, start paying attention.)

What if you can't get away with taking the ring? You can trace it carefully on a piece of paper. Be sure to trace both the inside and outside for the most accuracy. While it may not be exact, it'll still give you and the jeweler a rough idea. Taking an impression in a soft bar of soap is also a good way.

You could always ask her friends or family members. But this is risky too if one of them is a blabbermouth. You could also ask your bride-to-be in a roundabout way. For instance, if you normally wear a ring, you could have her try it on and then casually ask about her ring size.

As a general rule, the average woman's ring size is usually 6 to 6.5. If you're not able to score any intel on her actual ring size, you can use this as a guide. If you're really not sure, go up half or a full size, and get it resized later. Remember, it's much easier to make a ring smaller than making it bigger. But watch out, not all settings are resizable.

Did you know: the holidays are peak proposal season. Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve are two popular days for men to propose.

Choosing a Diamond

The most popular shapes are: Round, Princess, Cushion, Oval, Marquis, Pear, Emerald, Radiant, and Heart.

Diamonds can run from a few hundred dollars all the way up to millions of bucks. There are 4 factors that measure the quality of a diamond and influence the price. This is known as the 4 C's:

  • Clarity: This is the number of imperfections that can be found in an individual stone. You'll pay more for fewer flaws. Clarity is rated on a scale from FL (flawless) to I (flaws that you can see). You may hear jewelers refer to imperfections as "inclusions."

    There are six primary grades of clarity that you need to be familiar with:

    • FL Grade: A perfectly flawless diamond. Only about 2% of the world's diamonds fall into this category.
    • IF Grade: Internally flawless, but has tiny surface faults only visible under extreme magnification.
    • VVS Grade: The diamond has very, very small inclusions that are hard to find under magnification. You will not be able to see them with the naked eye.
    • VS Grade: The next grade down applies to diamonds with flaws more visible under magnification. Most likely still cannot see with the naked eye.
    • SI Grade: Stones in this grade feature small inclusions that are very easily seen under magnification. May also be visible to the naked eye.
    • I Grade: This is the lowest grade of clarity. It generally includes diamonds that have major faults that affect its transparency or brilliance.

    Tip: VS2 diamonds offer a lot of bang for the buck. They have minor inclusions that are difficult to see to the naked eye. While the inclusions are visible under 10x magnification, they are usually considered minor. That's why it's useful to shop at retailers like James Allen that offer 360 degree HD videos. That way, you can examine the diamond in detail to see if the diamond is eye-clean.

  • Color: Most white diamonds do have a yellow tint due to trace amounts of nitrogen. Completely colorless diamonds are super rare. The Gemological Institute of America grades color using a scale that runs alphabetically from D (colorless) to Z (yellow/brown):

    • D-F Grades: These diamonds are considered to be completely colorless. Accordingly, they're the rarest and most valuable.
    • G-J Grades: Stones in these grades (such as H diamond color) are categorized as near colorless.
    • K-M Grades: At these grades, the diamonds will have a faint yellowish tint.
    • N-R Grades: The color begins to be more obvious at this level and is seen as a very light yellow hue.
    • S-Z Grades: Color concentration is greatest in stones at this level, where a definite light yellow tone is visible.

    Don't confuse the yellow tint with a yellow diamond. A true yellow diamond is known as a Fancy Colored Diamonds. They also come in shades of pink, blue, green, purple, orange, and red.

    Tip: It's not necessary to get completely colorless diamonds. Color doesn't affect brilliance, as it's actually the cut that gives the diamond its sparkle. Diamond in the G-J (near colorless) range offer a good value. The average eye cannot detect the slight yellow tint without a side-by-side comparison. But your wallet will appreciate it, as D color diamonds are a lot more expensive than H color diamonds.

  • Cut: The cut determines how brilliant the stone appears. Cut is how well the diamond's proportions reflect light. The Gemological Institute rates a diamond's cut in one of 5 ways: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor.

    Tip: Want a pretty sparkly diamond? Don't skimp out on the diamond cut. Try to go for Excellent if you can. The diamond cut has the single biggest impact on the diamond's appearance. For round brilliant cut diamonds, view our Whiteflash review.

  • Carat Weight: The carat weight has the largest impact on the diamond's final price tag. Diamonds are measured in carats, with one carat equal to about 0.2 grams. This is roughly the weight of a paperclip. (Please note that this is different from 'karat', which is used to measure gold purity.)

    The more carats a diamond has, the larger it is and the more expensive it is. Diamonds are priced on a per-carat basis. Of course, clarity, cut, and color also play a part. The more refined each of these features is, the more pricey the diamond.

Tip: Our suggestion is to always go with a GIA or AGS certified diamond. These are the world's two most trusted laboratories. Even if you could see the diamond in person, we would never recommend buying a diamond that's not certified by GIA or AGS.

If you're having trouble choosing a diamond, many online retailers offer customer support from their in-house diamond experts. James Allen even offers a Real Time Diamond Consultation where you can get advice as you're considering your options.

STYLE: CHOOSING A SETTING

Once you've settled on a GIA certified diamond (or AGS certified), the next step is to pick out the right setting. It's important that the setting reflects her personal style.

Tip: Have a specific setting in mind? You can buy loose diamonds from Blue Nile and James Allen. If you already have a setting, Whiteflash can set one of their loose diamonds into your own setting for a $100 mounting fee.

Here are the factors to consider when making your choice:

  • The size and shape of the diamond
  • The diamond's color
  • What metal your significant other prefers
  • Her lifestyle and personal taste
  • If it will coordinate with the wedding band

Diamonds can chip and break. Consider your future wife's lifestyle when choosing a setting. Also, over time, your diamond may become dull due to exposure to the dirt, sweat, makeup and other environment factors. Regular cleaning is a good idea, but be careful not to use any harsh chemicals. Cleaning your diamond over the drain is an accident waiting to happen.

In terms of the types of settings, here's a rundown of the ones that are the most popular:

  • Prong: The classic 4-prong setting is the best for showing off the stone's brilliance. Nowadays, a 6-prong setting is also popular. The downside is the stone is more exposed to potential chips.

  • Bezel: In this setting, a metal rim surrounds the diamond. This is a good choice for active girls as it protects the stone. But choosing the wrong color metal can accentuate any existing tint in the stone.

  • Tension: The diamond is suspended between the two band ends for a unique look. But this setting has to be custom-sized, which makes a surprise proposal out of the question.

  • Pavé: This setting makes the center stone pop by featuring small diamonds on each side of the band. Keep in mind there's more potential to lose one if the fitting comes loose.

  • Channel: This setting has a band of small diamonds set into a "channel". The small diamonds are more secure than on a pavé band. But this kind of band can be difficult to resize.

  • Halo: A halo setting features a larger center stone bordered by smaller diamonds for extra bling. This a popular setting to make the center stone appear larger.

  • Bar: Vertical metal bars hold the diamond in place in this setting. This is usually used when you have more than one stone. Be aware that this setting makes the stone more susceptible to nicks and loosening.

  • Cluster: A cluster setting groups several smaller diamonds together to give the appearance of one large stone. You'll save money on the diamonds because multiple smaller stones cost less than a large one. But the setting may cost more as they're harder to make.

Did you know? Men often get hung up about the diamond size and characteristics, but most brides (a whopping 88%) care more about the overall design of the ring. This includes the shape of the diamond and setting style. Both of those should reflect her personal style.

James Allen

Tip: Think about the wedding ring too. Does your girlfriend prefer white gold, yellow gold, or platinum? Many people prefer gold as it's usually easier to resize than platinum. If you do go with gold, 14k may offer a better value than 18k. For most non-experts, it's difficult to tell the difference with the naked eye. And 14k gold is more practical for active lifestyles as 18k may show marks after rough use. For men, most guys generally prefer classic wedding bands.

Are There Cheaper Alternatives to Diamonds?

For this question, we're going to assume that you want the look of a diamond (i.e. not a colored gemstone) but without the heavy price tag. Luckily, there are a few options:

Moissanite: This rare natural mineral is literally a space rock. It was first discovered in a meteor crater a century ago. But the ones you buy now are lab-created. Moissanite has similar properties to diamonds in terms of brilliance and hardness. So it has become a fairly popular budget-friendly "diamond alternative".

But there are still differences to be aware of:

  • The biggest is the difference in type of brilliance. A diamond displays brilliance (colorless sparkles caused by reflecting light), fire (rainbow sparkles), and scintillation (flashes of light on the surface). All three together contributes to the overall "sparkliness" of the diamond.

  • Moissanite on the other hand, displays incredible fire. More than any other gemstone, in fact. This means that moissanite creates more rainbow sparkles than colorless sparkles. You can especially notice this in sunlight. Some people love this, while others think it's a bit too much and looks "fake".

  • Price-wise, moissanite is just a fraction of the price of a diamond. A 1-carat moissanite gem starts at just $500. In comparison a 1-carat near colorless, well-cut diamond with slight inclusions can start at as much as $5,000.

Just remember: moissanite is a gorgeous gem in its own right. It is not meant to be nor should be thought of as a fake diamond. Enjoy moissanite for the beautiful properties it has. The cheaper price point is definitely a plus too!

Did you know? When moissanite was discovered in 1893, it was the most brilliant gem that's ever been unearthed. Its brilliance and fire far surpasses that of a diamond's, causing amazed scientists to name it a gem "born from the stars".

Cubic zirconia: This man-made material is basically a fake diamond. It's a way cheaper alternative that performs exactly like a diamond. The average person usually cannot tell the difference between cubic zirconia and a diamond without a loupe or performing tests.

The selling point of cubic zirconia is that they are virtually colorless (the perfect D) and flawless (the perfect F). Their brilliance rivals that of diamonds. In fact, CZs can be even more brilliant and fiery. Most people will not be able to tell the difference easily, but CZs do shine in more of a colorful rainbow brilliance. You can decide if you're okay with that.

Of course, the cheaper price is attractive too. A 1-carat flawless cubic zirconia can be as low as $20. If you do decide to go for a CZ ring, we recommend setting it in a nice setting, as you would a diamond.

But one thing to be careful of is that CZ is not as hard as diamonds. It's graded as 8.5 on the Moh's Hardness Scale, as opposed to the diamond's 10. So it's more prone to chipping and scratching.

White sapphire: This is worth mentioning as this is also quite a popular option as a cheaper diamond alternative. But to us, it's the weakest one. White sapphires are colorless sapphires untouched by trace elements from the earth. But they are not completely colorless and often have a slight cloudiness.

Again, the major difference is in the brilliance. You can get a 1-carat white sapphire stone for under $1,000. But they simply don't have the brilliance and light performance that a diamond has. White sapphires do not give off any fire or scintillation. So if sparkliness is what you're after, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Thinking about going the alternative route? Make sure you have discussed it with your sweetie. Modern society places a high pressure on proposing with a diamond. It's supposed to symbolize an investment in your future, after all. Your sweetie may not think a $20 CZ is enough of an investment (no matter how often you send them an article on why diamonds are bad investment). Make sure you are both happy with this decision. Personally, we think it's responsible to be conscious about affording something within your budget.

BOTTOM LINE

© joshsherill (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

A diamond engagement ring is meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. It's a deep, meaningful symbol to the woman you love. It deserves careful thought.

Buying an engagement ring and wedding band online is not as intimidating as it sounds if you do your homework. Take the time to research the company carefully. Also review their return policy before you hit "confirm purchase". You don't want to spend thousands of dollars on a ring only to have to take it back for some reason or other, and find that you can't.

Do your research, have fun selecting the perfect ring, and good luck!

Search James Allen for the Best Online Experience

Search Blue Nile for the Biggest Selection

Search Whiteflash for the Most Brilliant Diamonds

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a diamond jeweler comparison and financial education website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped young adults make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy financial decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

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