By Candice Choi, AP Personal Finance Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — One engagement ring costs $1,000. Another is $10,000. You may wonder why there's an extra zero if you can't tell them apart.
For anyone mulling the big question on Valentine's Day, the cost of the ring can weigh just as heavily as making the commitment. The romance of the affair can make it hard to ask blunt questions about whether you're getting a good deal. But failing to do so could mean paying thousands more than necessary.
The average amount spent on an engagement ring last year was about $3,200, according to The Wedding Report. Several factors can move that price up or down, including the shape of the diamond you pick. Then there are the four Cs — carat, clarity, color and cut, the last of which refers to the stone's overall craftsmanship. You should be able to compromise on one or more areas to save and still get what you want.
You'll also want to consider where to get your diamond, and whether the stone is certified.
So don't buy into the idea that price shouldn't matter when it comes to love. Here's what you should know.
First off, don't confuse carat with karat. The latter refers to the purity of gold, while a carat measures a diamond's weight. A one-carat diamond weighs about as much as a paper clip and is smaller in diameter than an eraser on a pencil.
Most diamonds you see are a carat or less, although high-end jewelers carry heftier rocks.
Prices jump substantially with size. So a one-carat diamond won't be merely double the price of a half-carat diamond.
A half-carat engagement ring at Tiffany & Co., for example, costs $3,200. If you move up to a one-carat in the same model, the price nearly triples to $9,200. Go for a two-carat version, and it's $28,200.
So if you can't afford a one-carat ring but fear a half-carat is too small, try playing around with the ring design. A ring with three smaller stones will still cost thousands less than a single one-carat diamond ring.
CLARITY & COLOR
A diamond's clarity doesn't refer to how clear it is, but to the stone's natural characteristics such as stress fractures and other blemishes. These marks often are only visible when magnified. So even if a diamond is graded as "flawless," you may not be able to differentiate it from diamonds with lower clarity grades. There will be a huge difference in price though.
For a full list of clarity rankings, check the Web site of the Gemological Institute of America (www.gia.edu), which issues diamond grading reports.
Prices also climb for diamonds that are clearer, or have less color or tint. Color grades range from D to Z. Grades D, E and F are considered colorless; G, H, I and J are near colorless; K, L and M are slightly tinted. Anything below an M grade might have a yellowish or brownish tint.
The average person can't tell the difference between several color grades, however.
"I have a box of 10 diamonds from D through M. When they're sitting face up, nine out of 10 people can't see the difference," said gem and jewelry expert Antoinette Matlins, who is also author of Engagement & Wedding Rings: The Definitive Buying Guide for People In Love.
Remember that the ring band can affect the diamond's appearance too; a yellow gold band can cast a warmer tint, while a white gold band might help mask any unwanted tinting.
CUT & SHAPE
The cut grade is based on the diamond's symmetry, proportions and polish. The cut can have perhaps the biggest impact on the sparkle. It can also affect the diamond's durability, because a thinly cut edge can chip more easily.
The GIA ranks cuts as excellent, very good, good, fair and poor.
Next time you're in a jewelry store, ask to see diamonds of varying cut grades. You'll notice that those with lower grades aren't as brilliant, said John King, chief quality officer at the GIA. That said, you may not be able to tell the difference between one or even two grades — at least not enough to warrant the difference in price.
If you want the best cut possible, you may be willing to compromise on the diamond's shape. Round diamonds are the most popular and usually the most expensive. Go with an oval or pear shape, and you can lower prices by about 15%. You can usually save even more with a princess cut, Matlins said.
CERTIFICATION & RETAILERS
Most diamonds larger than a half carat will be accompanied by a grading report, usually from the GIA or the American Gem Society Laboratories. If the jeweler can't provide a report, proceed with caution.
"The certification allows you to look under the hood of the diamond," said John Baird, a spokesman for Blue Nile, an online diamond retailer.
Most jewelers will magnify the diamond so you can see the identifying traits noted in the report. Some diamonds graded by the GIA are inscribed with the report number.
Matlins also recommends getting your diamond appraised after you buy it, to confirm that the diamond goes with the report and that it hasn't since been damaged.
Finally, you can save if you buy from sites like BlueNile.com, Diamonds.com or Ice.com. Blue Nile's prices are between 20% to 40% lower than mall jewelers, largely because of lower overhead costs. The drawback is that you won't be able to see the diamond before you buy it, although you can return rings for up to 30 days.
Of course, you could simply want the experience of walking into a jewelry store, or the name associated with a high-end jeweler.
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