Everything You Need to Know About Shopping for Diamonds

With some help from retail pros, we're laying it all out for you

Updated 12/30/16

Marisa Holmes

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but every girl still needs to pick the stone for her engagement ring wisely. Today we're diving into behind-the-scenes details you didn't know about diamonds and the stores in which they're sold. For example, are those Four C's really that important? How much of a retail markup are we talking about here? And what kinds of sales tactics should buyers be aware of? With help from pros who work in the business, we're laying it all out there for you.

There Isn't a "Diamond Season"
Lawn mowers go on sale in the fall, Christmas trees hit rock bottom prices in early January. But diamonds? They're purchased year 'round, and therefore don't experience much of a price fluctuation.

"Diamonds are commodities, and prices are based on fair market value. This means that there isn't necessarily an optimum time of year to make a purchase," says Tirath Kamdar, a 10-year jewelry business veteran and the CEO of TrueFacet, on online marketplace for pre-owned jewelry. "Savvy consumers can follow the market through Rapaport, but prices don't rise and fall all that drastically. Make the purchase when you're ready and buy what you love."

If you're all about snagging a good deal, consider shopping for vintage and antique rings. Kamdar says these are typically priced lower than buying new, and are beautiful and unique.

The Markup Ranges from 20% to 250%
We'll preface this by saying that every operation has different markup strategies. Still, every store must markup the price, otherwise no profit will be made. We asked a handful of diamond retailers about markup percentages, and their answers varied from as little as 20% (especially for online retailers), to as much as 250%. Most fall somewhere in between a wholesale markup of 100% to 200%, though.

"A retailer has to factor in things like overhead, advertising, staff, and showroom," says Dan Moran of Los Angeles' Concierge Diamonds. "People can typically get costs closer to wholesale by working with a trusted private jeweler and diamond wholesaler."

The Four C's Matter, But Not As Much as You Think
There's a lot of hype around the Four C's of diamonds (cut, clarity, color, and carat), and you'll often be schooled on the topic as soon as you start shopping for rings. These C's do matter, and it will affect the overall price of the diamond. However, there's a balance between perfection and price that you should ultimately consider, especially since many of the "imperfections" that devalue the ring aren't visible to the naked eye.

"Two round-brilliant white diamonds that have the same [Gemological Institute of America] certification can look completely different when placed next to each other. Just like people, no two diamonds are alike; each one has its own unique characteristics and qualities that contribute to its outward appearance," says Kamdar. "To get the most beauty and value, it is really about a unique combination of qualities that make that particular stone special."

For example, a ring that's scored VVS1 is very clean while an SI1 stone is considered to have 'slight inclusions.' The latter will be less expensive, but will look the same to the naked eye.

"Work with a gemologist, educate yourself, and select a stone that fits within your budget and speaks to you," advises Kamdar.

Retailers Have Tricks to Create Extra Sparkle
Not unlike other retailers — hello, window displays on Fifth Avenue! — jewelry stores also have a few moves that really maximize the sparkle of these gorgeous stones when you're browsing.

"Most jewelry stores use fancy lighting and lots of mirrors to enhance the way the diamonds look," says Moran. "I have had clients come to me after they have bought their engagement ring at retail and tell me that the minute they took their diamond home and into natural light, that it looked dull and didn't sparkle like it did when they bought it." This type of lighting can also better conceal visible inclusions, he explains. "I have also seen some store owners spray diamonds with [glass cleaner] before showing them to people to give them an extra sheen and shine," says Moran. "The cleaning solution makes the diamonds sparkle, but once it wears off, the diamond goes back to looking lackluster."

It only makes sense for retailers to put their products in the most flattering environments, but be aware of that when making your purchase. Moran suggests looking at the diamond in natural light before purchasing just so you're aware of its "everyday" luster.

The best piece of advice, though, is to shop through vendors that are established, trusted, and that your purchases come with a "Not Satisfied — Money Back" guarantee.

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