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How to Buy a Diamond on a Budget

The average man spends three months shopping for a diamond engagement ring. It's a long time, yes, but it makes sense when you consider how much confusing advice he’ll have to wade through along the way—especially if he’s on a budget.

Style and personal preferences aside, deciphering what makes one ring more expensive than another isn’t easy. Family and friends don't usually know the nitty gritty of diamond pricing, and jewelers—who do—typically don’t want to share their shortcuts to maximing quality without paying proportionately.

So we asked John Baird, Blue Nile’s resident "Diamond Guy," to act as a bit of a middleman. Baird— and the company he works for—firmly believes that diamond shopping should be as transparent and informational of a process as possible.

But perhaps even more relevant than that, the man has sons. So we asked him how he'd distill the diamond pricing game for them if they were in the market for a ring. Ultimately, it seems, getting the most value for your money is just a matter of knowing where to compromise— and where not to:

Don't Sacrifice on Cut
A diamond has four major characteristics (cut, color, clarity, and carat weight, or the "Four C's") which determine its quality and price. While they're all important, the cut's the most critical because it dictates the diamond's brilliance. (Read: sparkle). So "even if a diamond has perfect color and clarity, but a poor cut, it'll look dull from across the room," says Baird.)

Buy Shy
Diamond prices jump disproportionately at the carat and half-carat marks, so look for stones just shy of these levels. For example, "instead of a 1 carat diamond, look for a .95," suggests Baird. You'll save a serious chunk of money, and the slight size difference will never be noticed.

The Sweet Spots
As color and clarity grades improve, diamond prices increase. But past a certain point, the naked eye can't detect the difference, so "you're paying for something that you can't see," Baird says. It's kind of like paying someone to paint the bottom of your house. To get the best value, consider a near-colorless (graded G-H) instead of a colorless diamond (graded D-F), or a VS2 (Very Slightly Included) clarity grade as opposed to a Flawless clarity grade.

Whichever tips you take, remember to make sure the diamond's certified by a reputable agency—preferably the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or the American Gem Society (AGS)—so that you're truly getting the quality you expect. Beyond that, "it's not rocket science," laughs Baird. "But it is true that the less you know, the more likely you are to overpay." With this arsenal of tips at hand, that fate's pretty easily avoided.

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