Ring shopping for the big M
July 29, 2008 8:58 PM   Subscribe

How much should I pay for an engagement ring?

I'm ready to pop the question. I've shopped around a little, and I think I have a decent lay of the engagement ring land. My question is this; where do I draw the line on how much gets spent on engagement? I want to make a big splash, but I also want a nice nest egg for upcoming stuff (bridal bands, honeymoon, etc.). Is there a good guide on this? I want to make good impression, but I'd like the post-engagement to be just as good as the presentation of the rock.
posted by Gilbert to Human Relations (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
the general rule is three months salary. it's really up to you and your future fiance's tastes, though. some people like big diamonds. others like down payments on houses.
posted by emd3737 at 9:02 PM on July 29, 2008

That depends.

Is your fiancee the kind of person who cares about the rock or the sentiment?

If the former.. well, frankly, rethink getting married.

If the latter, it's not the rock, it's that you found something that is a) her style, b) a symbol of what you two have.

Of the two, I think that a) is much more important. I know it was cliche, but on Sex And The City, Aidan bought Carrie The Worst Engagement Ring Ever. It was hideous. And while it's true that the sentiment behind it is what matters, it's also important that the choice of ring shows that you understand your fiancee's style.

Beyond all that.. I think that in this instance, you should spend a little bit more than you can comfortably afford, but not too much. And as a point of personal bias, an engagement proposal isn't about a 'splash'; it's about a private moment between the two of you that is suffused with meaning that is important to the two of you alone.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:03 PM on July 29, 2008

Your potential wife will be wearing it and looking at it for the rest of her life. If she cares how she looks, she will care how this looks. She will show all of her friends this ring. It will be compared with others every time someone else gets married.

So, how much should you spend on it? The answer is pretty simple - spend whatever you can afford to make your wife happy. That means both time and money. You are going to be with this person many many years. Most of the rules of thumb for ring cost vs. monthly salary were created by the diamond companies.
posted by netbros at 9:11 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

This thread got into a lot of stuff that might be of interest for you.

As for me, I'd find something that I want to get her and worry about the pricing afterward.
posted by theichibun at 9:12 PM on July 29, 2008

the general rule is three months salary.

The general rule that the jewelry industry wants you to follow?

The answer to this is you should spend enough to get her a ring she will like enough to wear every day for the rest of her live but not so much that you don't have money left over for "a nice nest egg for upcoming stuff (bridal bands, honeymoon, etc.)."
posted by Airhen at 9:17 PM on July 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

It really depends on what your future wife wants. I didn't care much about rings. I have brilliant diamond solitaire, but it's not as big as that of most people in the middle/upper-middle class area I live in now. And I don't care. We saved the money for a downpayment and got into the housing market. Of course, we also kept a very small budget for our wedding -- for the same reason. Three months salary would have been an enormous amount of money. I'd rather have a home and not have to worry that someone is going to steal my ring.
posted by acoutu at 9:33 PM on July 29, 2008

Here's how I'd approach the ring vs. cost question:

(1) First, take stock of her current jewelry collection. Does she seem to have a lot of cabochons? Square-cut stones? Does she completely avoid yellow gold? Is everything extremely simple? Is everything extremely ornate? Does she seem to adore (or abhore) antiques?

(2) Look for a ring that fits in with her collection, while keeping in mind your presumptive fiancee's style and habits. Does she work with her hands? Get something with a flat setting. Can't leave the house without lots of glitter and flash? Go for pave.

(3) With the above in mind, shop widely. (Hit diamond dealers. Hit custom jewelers. Look at estate and fine art jewelery galleries.) You will soon have a list of five or so pretty-much perfect rings. Rank them in order of perfect-ness, and then pick the most perfect one you can afford. This may be a 4g ring. Alternatively, it may be a $350.00 ring. (My ring cost about that much-- but it's absolutely ideal for me. I've had it for years and I still find myself gaze moonily at it at various times throughout the day.)

(3a) Make sure that when you shop for the ring, you make clear that it's for an engagement, and that it will probably be worn every day. Certain stones (tanzanite comes to mind) are too fragile to be subjected to that kind of wear. A good jeweler will understand this, and will help you make a good (and sturdy) choice.

(4) Present the ring. Your gal will be blown away because you picked something that was -right for her-. This is far, far more important to most of us that the raw cost of the piece.

Executive summary: The right cheap (ish) ring is a helluva lot better than the wrong (expensive) ring.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:36 PM on July 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

Airhen nailed it with this:
the general rule is three months salary.
> "The general rule that the jewelry industry wants you to follow?"

Only you can decide how much is appropriate or how much is too much, and you have to decide that based on your finances and how well you know your fiance.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:37 PM on July 29, 2008

Its worth noting here that the "general rule" was manufactured by DeBeers a long time ago and varies from country to country based on the perceived frugality of the culture (in other words, its one month's salary in the UK, two - three months in the US, six months in Japan, etc).
By this time, you should have a general idea both a) what your fiance thinks about diamonds or garish displays of wealth generally; and b) what she and you want your financial future and priorities to be. Both of these factors should play a strong role in your consideration. At the end of the day, though, the ring costs what it costs. There is no wrong answer.
Also, forgive the unasked for advice, but given the state of the diamond market, you really should consider buying conflict-free and fair trade if you haven't already. An outfit like Brilliant Earth will give you a really nice selection of settings and diamond sizes for whatever your budget is, and it comes with the absolute assurance (i.e. from Canada) that nobody lost a finger over it.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:40 PM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know your personal preference with regards to big science, high technology, etc., but if I could go back in time, I'd get my now-wife one of those diamonds fabricated in a lab (and trust me, I asked her about it when we learned about them, and she totally agrees). They're real diamonds, not that cubic zirconium crap, they're just cooked in an oven rather than pulled out of the ground-- how freaking cool is that? Flawless grade, perfect color and clarity, and you can get huge stones for less than the cost of the band.

I looked at the price of a 3 carat fabricated stone, and I just about cried when I thought of how much money I would have saved at the time. If your wife is a geek at all, she will love it.
posted by mark242 at 10:53 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Adding on to l33tpolicywonk's advice, I've heard good things from people who have found antique wedding rings. They are often much more unique than modern rings, if your fiancee likes that sort of thing. I tried to find out, but I don't know if they'd be more expensive (because antique things often are) or less expensive (because the price of new diamonds is artificially inflated and used diamonds aren't worth as much.) It might be worth a look to see if you can get something really nice for less money than you plan to spend.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:55 PM on July 29, 2008

Oh yes, yes please, either bloodless diamonds or something from an estate sale (as I think it's fair to assume that the karmic debt, or however you prefer to phrase it, has probably been paid on something that's already been owned). That is, if you're going with diamonds. My stepmother's engagement ring was rubies and diamonds; my mother's (third) engagement ring was a claddagh. Point being.. doesn't have to be diamonds.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:58 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Pricing shouldn't matter that much - just find her something she will like - something that shows her you put some thought into this. Anybody can lay down a credit card. That's hopefully not what will impress her.

The husband of a good friend of mine proposed to her with an engagement ring he'd found at an antique store. He originally spent maybe a couple hundred bucks on it because the the stone was fake and worthless. He could afford to buy her something much better, but he knew she'd like something old and unique more than something flashy and expensive. He was right. She *loved* it. Looooooved it. Showed it to all of us twenty times. There wasn't much time between the proposal and the actual wedding, but after they were married, he spent some decent money getting the fake rock replaced with a diamond and having the band cleaned up for her. That was just to ensure the ring would survive life, though. She loved it the way it was. Tell you something else - all of us were a little jealous when she got the ring. 'cuz it was sweet, you know? We women are into that.

So, no, it doesn't have to be something extravagant and expensive or three-months-salary or whatever. It just has to be something that shows you put some thought and effort into it and of course something of decent quality so that it won't fall apart.
posted by katillathehun at 11:10 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Does she even want an engagement ring? I didn't. Mr. F and I seriously discussed the selection of an appropriate and meaningful engagement Blu-ray player at one point.

'Course, we were engaged for six weeks, didn't bother changing the boyfriend/girlfriend naming convention, etc. Your mileage will almost certainly vary, depending on your longterm plans.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:33 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

A couple things:
* Don't buy from a mall jewelry store.
* Buy and read the book "How to Buy a Diamond" by Fred Cuellar.
* Compare prices at WhiteFlash.com to what you're getting locally. It looks like you can get a nice, very well cut 1.0 carat diamond for $5,000 to $7,000. A 3/4 carat can be had in the $3,500 to $5,000 range. Figure on $500-$1,000 for a simple setting.

Like everyone else says, the expectations depend entirely on your fiance-to-be. I know people who spent $20,000-plus on an engagement ring (and absolutely could not afford it) and other people who made engagement rings for each other and probably spent no more than a few hundred dollars.
posted by cnc at 11:46 PM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

* Make sure to get an independent appraisal of any diamond you buy.
* Adjust your renter's or homeowner's insurance to make sure the ring is covered. Diamonds can pop out and rings can get lost.
posted by cnc at 11:47 PM on July 29, 2008

Three months? When I were a lad, it was one month.

(I have a friend from Tibet. Really. His dad says that 50 yaks are acceptable).

Nosing out a meaningful design is much more important. Also, if you go for something cheap but appealing, it's not going to hurt so much if she wants to marry you but hates that damned ring.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:58 AM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh and with diamond pricing be aware that certain carat sizes will have proportionally higher pricing. A 1 carat, for example, will often cost proportionally more than (say) a 1.2, because a lot of people are focused on a 1 (3, 5, whatever) size.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:32 AM on July 30, 2008

The answer to this is you should spend enough to get her a ring she will like enough to wear every day for the rest of her live but not so much that you don't have money left over for "a nice nest egg for upcoming stuff (bridal bands, honeymoon, etc.)."

This is pretty much the "right" answer IMHO.

I spent, drum roll, $250. Sure, I could have spent ten times that very easily, but the point was to buy something that she would like and to retain as much money to invest in our future. People's logic seems to fly out of the window when it comes to certain "social conventions" and that needs to be undone, otherwise our economy will be even more up the creek than it is now.

If there's ever a choice between putting big money into paying off our mortgage and buying each other trinkets, the mortgage (and hence our family's security) wins every time.
posted by wackybrit at 4:19 AM on July 30, 2008

You may also want to check out Bluenile, as they have very good prices, and great quality rings as well. That's where I bought the ring for my fiancee, and a friend of mine did the same! However, we live in NYC, so maybe it just seemed cheap compared to the jewelry stores here? Either way, it appraised for 163% of what I paid for it.
posted by Grither at 4:25 AM on July 30, 2008

the general rule is three months salary.
Hmm, I remember when the figure was two months salary - and I'm pretty young. Ignore all of those rules and go with what you can comfortably afford. That "rule" was created by an advertising agency on behalf of DeBeers. Obviously they want you to spend as much as possible. As for the post-engagement stuff you want, I was really surprised at how much the honeymoons we want to take will cost and travel costs are increasing. So if that is a consideration check into those to find out how much you will need overall, and if you have to make cuts, decide where you want those cuts to come from. In addition to our normal savings, we set aside money each month for wedding costs and the honeymoon, which you guys could also do if you are concerned about having money for those items.

Seconding whiteflash.com. My ring and stone came from there and it is so so so so so beautiful (the third-party lab report actually says, "it just doesn't get any better than this.") You should also check out Pricescope. My fiance spent a significant amount of time on there and it played a major role in his research and decision-making process. Are you okay with her knowing it will happen? We talked at length about what we wanted and it really helped in the shopping process. There is a tendency to get carried away (which continues once you begin planning the wedding, by the way) and establishing goals and expectations upfront really helps keep everything, including price, under control.

Congrats and good luck.
posted by ml98tu at 6:39 AM on July 30, 2008

When I was faced with this decision, there was a huge challenge. Mrs. Advicepig-to-be didn't wear rings or other jewelry with the exception of tiny gold hoop earrings. I went into a local jewelry shop in dread. The wonderful sales guy kept reassuring me that I could return anything I bought from him for full credit on something else if the ring wasn't just right. I looked through a lot of rings without even putting thought into how much I was going to spend.

In the end I found a very Modern ring with clean lines in white gold that looked perfect, I've always been drawn to Mid-century Modern design. Even better, the ring looked best with a smallish stone. She loves it to this day. Not just because it's the ring that I picked for her, but because it also reflects a bit of my own style.

In the end, I spent about three weeks salary (at a non-profit job!). I went in thinking, what happens when I think "money is no object" and I came out spending way less than I thought I'd have to. I guess what I'm saying is look first and think about price second. I'm sure if the ring I really wanted cost a sum I was uncomfortable spending, I would have kept looking, but it didn't have to be. (I'll also note that her wedding band was less than $50 (USD)
posted by advicepig at 6:42 AM on July 30, 2008

Read this article about diamonds before you throw your money away. They are a completely fabricated luxury.
posted by pinto at 6:52 AM on July 30, 2008

Don't spend 3 months of your salary. That's fucking stupid. You need to figure out what sort of ring your fiancee wants and then figure out how much such a ring will cost. Walking into a store and saying, "I've got X dollars, give a me a ring that costs that much" is just silly.

My wife stopped wearing her engagement ring shortly after we got married. I'm not sure how common/uncommon that is, but it's probably something to keep in mind.

Also, you really have to look to find blood diamonds, so I don't know why people bring this up nowadays. We aren't living in the 80s. (Nevertheless, I have my doubts as to whether blood diamonds are actually kept out of stream of diamonds we buy. Also buying legit diamonds still keeps the prices for these rocks artificially high, which is really what makes selling diamonds worth selling for paramilitaries.)
posted by chunking express at 7:45 AM on July 30, 2008

Here's what my husband did 11 years ago:
-Scouted out jewelry stores until he found one he liked.
-Proposed to me using a stand-in ring (a diamond ring that my grandmother wore but that was not my style).
-Took me to the store and showed me a few rings that he thought I might like.
-Had me pick out the ring. I don't remember the cost, but it was an estate piece and cost way less that one month's salary.

Here's what (I think) my toddler did last year:
-Threw my ring away.

When we replaced the ring, I settled on a simple gold wedding band. My tastes had changed during the past decade, and I had found that having a raised stone on my finger really irritated me. But I'm also one of those people who doesn't wear jewelry that I can feel.

I liked how my husband balanced the surprise of the engagement and his pre-selection efforts with the idea that, since I would be the one wearing the ring, I would want some say in the process. And I'm glad it didn't cost that much money because a) I didn't want the responsibility for wearing an expensive rock, especially since I obviously didn't do a good enough job of keeping it safe and b) my tastes changed.

This advice probably won't work for most people. But I offer it as an example of how my husband didn't follow the tradition that the jewelry business has established but instead thought through why I, as an individual, would want, both in terms of the product and the process of getting engaged. That meant more to me than any rock ever could.
posted by bibliowench at 7:47 AM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I bought my wife a 1/4 carat stone. I paid around $250 for it. We're about to celebrate our 10th anniversary. She's happy with it, because she knows that our marriage isn't about the cost of the ring. Forget anything you've ever been told about diamonds and engagement rings (except the conflict-free stone stuff - by all means look for lab-created, screw DeBeers!) and get something that your wife can wear without being afraid of how much money is dangling off of her finger every time she goes out the door.

My wife actually picked out her own ring. She liked it, then my friend and I convinced her buying a ring right then was a silly idea. After dropping her off at home I ran back and bought it. If you can work something similar, without ruining the surprise, go for it. Otherwise, I like the stand-in ring idea. Much better than my brother's tactic of asking with no ring, and then making his bride-to-be wait a really, really long time before actually buying her one...
posted by caution live frogs at 8:51 AM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

If she's close to her mother, ask her what she thinks your fiance would like. See if her selection fits into your budget.
posted by desjardins at 9:22 AM on July 30, 2008

(I'm assuming you're male and that the engagement ring is for a female).

For a large segement of the population, if you are buying a diamond, you should aim for something around 1 carat. a 1 carat diamond will cost (depending on cut and quality of stone; aim for a vs1 and G or H color), around 4-5 thousand dollars. Another 500-1000 for the setting leaves you with a ring in the 5-6k range. If you are an average american and make 40k a year, this means that the ring represents around 2 months salary.

Now, on average, a wedding is $28000. The average engagement lasts 16 months. A weeklong honeymoon can be 3000. Bridal bands (depending on whether you get diamonds in them or not) can range in price from 500-3000. These are very rough numbers (and might not be entirely accurate but it's the only non-ancedote data that is currently available) but can be used as a basis for comparsion.

What you really want, however, is to find the ring that she wants and save up for it. Some gals, like the ones in the his thread, have no problem with a 500 dollar ring. Some value rings that cost over 10k. You're the only one who knows your future fiancee. Some will not want a diamond, others will only want a dimaond. Some will want a solitary stone, others will prefer diamonds along the band. Then some value specific cuts and others might just want it to be as sparkly as possible.

If you want to make a splash and your lady friend is traditional, buy a 1 carat solitary stone ring. A round/brilliant cut would be the most traditional and something in white gold might be nice.
posted by Stynxno at 9:23 AM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, DeBeers must have adjusted for inflation because it used to be TWO months' salary.

Either way, that's completely f'ing insane.

If I had a prospective fiance who made $48,000 year, and spent $12,000 (!!!) on a ring for me, or took home $60,000 and felt compelled to buy me a $15,000 bauble, I'd seriously question his financial sanity and ability to meet future long-range goals.
posted by availablelight at 9:44 AM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that a diamond, opposite to gold, has basically no "real value" since there is a tremendous difference in the bid/asking price and they can be artificially synthesized.

The value of the gold is somehow of "lasting value", the money for the diamond you will basically stuff up DeBeer ass.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 10:14 AM on July 30, 2008

Three months? 1 carat? Jeez! She'd better have some paws on her to carry that around! That would look so fake on my little hands.

Consider more, as others have mentioned.
Does she want a diamond, opposed to another stone? (Perhaps her birthstone or yours, or the stone for the month you met, or just another stone that she loves)
Does she wear gold/white gold? (Platinum, titanium, etc. cost more)
Is her style modern or traditional?
Is she involved in a career that might necessitate a certain setting (flush mount) or removal of the ring entirely?
Does she wear rings already, and what do they look like?

Take those into consideration, check online and educate yourself. Go to the store and be prepared to negotiate. Even better, buy the stone directly from a wholesaler and have it set.

Then propose in the most sincere, heartfelt, and awesome way you can. Anyone can have a ring (or steal it from you in a mugging), but she'll never forget the way you proposed (hopefully).

Never ever tell her what you spent on it. Never. Ever.

I'm guessing mine was somewhere between $300 and $1200. Dunno. Doesn't matter. It's the relationship that matters, not the bling.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 10:29 AM on July 30, 2008

The engagement ring for my fiancee was her pre-existing claddagh ring, moved to her other hand and oriented in the direction that suggests that she is engaged. Zero dollars, and yes, she is going to marry me next spring.

Jewelry, and especially diamonds, is a huge waste of money. Why would you spend what amounts to a down-payment on a house, or a new car on a RING? Pay less money and more attention, and your relationship will be richer for that.

Besides, if you really have to spend money on something stupid, make it the wedding so that you can have a fun time with great food and entertainment!
posted by explosion at 12:07 PM on July 30, 2008

I would ask her.

I didn't want my partner to spend much money on a ring without consulting me, because when we got married, that became my money (or my debt) and it wouldn't be right to spend thousands of dollars without getting my input.

I also think it's really bossy to buy something for someone that they're supposed to wear every day and give them absolutely zero choice.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:08 PM on July 30, 2008

They are a completely fabricated luxury.

Uh, yeah. Like most luxuries. This is hardly news.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:10 PM on July 30, 2008

I don't have a recommendation for how much you should spend, but you might want to check out Blue Nile. I am getting married soon and I've heard from many sources that they are the most cost-effective way to buy an engagement or wedding ring. I'm going to buy our wedding rings from there.They might help you stretch your budget a little further.
posted by bananafish at 1:30 PM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Nothing. Synthetic diamonds are getting bigger and prettier, making those who bought mined stones look foolish.

A couple scenarios:

  • Your fiancee will think it's cool, and be happy that you've got much extra money available for the wedding, for flying people out who otherwise might not be able to come, or for a downpayment on a house allowing you to buy with no PMI and while the market is low.
  • Your fiancee has friends who all got mined diamonds on which tons of money was spent, so she'll want the same so that she doesn't lose face with her social circle.

    What kinda girl is your fiancee?

  • posted by Mr. Gunn at 2:40 PM on July 30, 2008

    « Older Good moving companies in Seattle?   |   Know about a short-term rental in San Diego? Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.