“Optimising” or any derivative of the word isn’t widely associated with the luxury industry. Luxury goods, by definition, refer to non-essential products wealthy individuals buy with surplus income.
After selling thousands of diamond engagement rings over the past decade I can promise you that more often than not an engagement ring is saved up for, and seen as very essential, mind you.
Whether you’re spending R50 000, R100 000 or R500 000 - it’s not pocket range, and any jeweller should approach your purchase with due care and respect. From your side, it’s worthwhile to ensure you have a good grasp of the basics (At least the 4Cs (link) and the remainder of this post) before you move into diamond buying mode.
First Of All; What’s Important To You?
With decent round GIA certified 1,00ct+ diamonds (J-colour, 100% eye-clean, Triple Excellent Cut) starting at around R60 000 - R70 000, and settings rarely moving over R20 000, you have some room to play with if your mark is R100 000.
If your budget is beyond the R100 000 mark, all these principles apply just as well. You’re in the position to improve the appearance of your diamond by even further increasing the size well beyond 1,00ct and/or to move up the colour ladder.
Your budget will most probably not be a constraining factor. I’d say 99,9% of engagement ring designs you see online and at high-end jewellers are feasible at this price point, exclusions and selections will be down to your preferences.
Even if you have a very plain or popular ring in mind, the words “I had it specially designed and manufactured for you around the diamond I liked best” will move the ring into a bracket you can’t reach with any amount of money. Your effort and mindfulness will be deeply appreciated.
You have a good shot at proposing with the perfect custom engagement ring.
Let’s get that to 100%.
The “Perfect” Engagement Ring.
To get an engagement ring to the “perfect” level, its two components should be harmoniously balanced;
- The main diamond should have optimal visual appeal which includes being white in colour (unless you want a coloured diamond) and 100% eye-clean to the naked eye (free of visible imperfections).
- The engagement ring setting should be designed with her preferences as the #1 issue and should complement the main diamond by stylishly taking the back seat. If you spend R100 000 on an engagement ring your main diamond should be the star of the show.
Separating these two elements is the first step to optimising your engagement ring purchase.
This 2 Component Approach Is Rarer Than You Would Imagine.
If you’ve been out engagement ring shopping in malls you probably have the idea of an engagement ring in its entirety. Every store has around 20 - 40 styles, all pre-set with centre diamond.
Switching out the pre-set diamond to one of your choice is risky, and generally a bad idea.
Every time the diamond prongs are bent open you significantly weaken the whole structure. The same drill as when you bend a paperclip a few times.
Even if the prongs weren’t weakened the setting would probably not be the optimal fit for a diamond of your choice. If you find a great design set with a 0,90ct diamond that setting can probably accommodate a 0,88ct - 0,92ct diamond. Any larger difference and the diamond won’t have its snug fit and will be infinitely more prone to dislodge and fall out of the setting.
To get the optimal snug fit, every ring we manufacture is close to redesigned, even if it’s a stock Poggenpoel design. The measurements of your chosen diamond are scanned into a design program and then the design is digitally adjusted to ensure the diamond has the absolute safest fit. That model is then 3D printed and a gypsum mold is made that will be used for casting the specific ring. Baking the gypsum to a ceramic type state, takes 16 hours and temperatures well over 1 000’C. The 3d model evaporates and melts, leaving a perfectly detailed mold.
Pre-set Engagement Rings Seem Convenient, But They’re Never First Prize.
Buying an engagement ring with a pre-set diamond is like buying a house that comes with a car that in itself is worth more than the house. You can’t exclude the car from the deal. You can’t test drive it. It’s just there and part of the house purchase price.
You wouldn’t buy a house like that… Unless...
There is one exception though. If the owner of the house stashed his old 1973 2.7 RS Porsche in the garage and is comfortable with a fair house-market related price, and R1 000 000 for the car part... buy. Believe or not, that car is worth a cool R10 000 000+.
Choosing the Right Design (House)
More than 80% of the work we do is custom. Regardless of how current we keep our “standard” designs, everyone has their own version in mind. First prize is to sit down with a designer, run through images and samples of what you like and dislike, and have those ideas distilled into a custom design.
The importance of working with an experienced and brilliant designer cannot be overstated.
Whenever we hire designers we ask for a 3D design, based on 8 or so images we send over. This is a very real world example where a couple would visit our studio with a Pinterest board of her favourite designs.
A bad designer will copy and paste elements from the supplied images onto the basic frame of a ring. It might even look OK… until you see what an artist can create.
A brilliant designer will understand the essence of elements and create a harmonious piece by fusing the main themes into one.
Think of them as those kiddie rails at the tenpin bowling rink. They’re there to ensure you don’t go off track. You can bowl however you want - you’ll hit some pins. A great designer will never let you completely miss the mark.
Some Good Tips From Christo, Our Head of Design;
It is always my job to showcase the main stone as much as possible, no matter the budget. (and darn it, am I good at it!) but I experience a strong focus on this when we get to bigger stones. Let me be the first to say, this is totally justified, you are buying an impressive stone and you get to be proud of it. I am here to make sure your chosen design and setting complement the main diamond.
The proportions of the design are worth discussing. Few people consider this, but as a diamond gets bigger it also gets higher. The minimum height of a ring is the diamond’s depth plus 1 mm from the finger. We do not want that sharp tip touching your lady's tender flesh, now do we? In a time when 70% of my clients tell me to go “as low as possible” I can think that this is disheartening news for some, but I would like to convince you of the contrary.
The artist in me loves these diamonds, just adding that touch of height to a design makes it proud and rich. I am using abstract concepts to describe a ring, I know, but your curves can be made fuller, your angles crisper and your motifs stronger.
I would also like to add a point on small diamonds. They look more delicate in relation to the centre stone.
We are also in a space where most motifs and designs can be executed properly without overpowering the stone. If your lady is into vintage, floral or any high detail styles you are at the right place. The advancement of 3D design and printing technology makes these styles highly accessible without making them comparatively more expensive.
Pintrest boards or that file titles “Rings” on her phone is your best friend. She will most likely have a wide collection of images, but I will help you decipher them. A design should have a central, well executed theme and it is usually easier to pick it up than you would think.
The internet is not always your friend. I have been presented with some viciously unpractical design concepts and it always sucks to tell someone that a given picture will just not work. This ring needs to spend a lifetime on a finger, and will go through everything that finger goes through. You need a certain level of durability. The thickness of your claws, amount of contact points on the diamond and metal thickness needs to be right. Firstly, I got your back and will not draw you a ring that I am not confident will last. But I also understand that you want something unique and some ladies want the ring as delicate as possible. Here is where I would like to invite a conversation. We are a expert team and we excel at sorting out a plan to accommodate your ideas. Our workshop manager sits in the room next to me, when I propose a plan you can know it was checked with the guys who are responsible for making it work.
Choosing The Right Diamond (The Car)
It shouldn’t just be there. This is the bulk of the purchase! You need to understand how the specifications affect the appearance and price. Not all diamonds are good buys, and I’ll bet you anything there isn’t a single jewellery store in the world that has all their stock set with your perfect specification. You need to see and compare different diamond colours, shapes and sizes. Picking the right diamond is just as personal as finalising a custom design.
The #1 Goal Of Optimisation.
Before we set out, I want to emphasise that optimisation should improve the appearance of a ring. My goal in writing this is to get the best possible rendition of the engagement ring you have in mind.
We’re not cuttings costs or trying to play how low can you go with diamond specifications.
Ok, we can play that at the end of the post.
Some diamond specifications have a greater effect on a diamond’s appearance than others, and there’s a systematic approach to engagement ring buying that will trump any deal you can do in a traditional jewellery store.
*And even if do choose to buy your engagement ring from a mall-based jewellery store this guide will also benefit you tremendously. I know we’ll see you sometime in the future.
There Are Poor, Nonsensical Diamond Combinations.
By just using three characteristics in the basic 4C diamond model you have around 13 000 possible combinations of colour, clarity, shape and cut. I’ve deliberately excluded weight (carat) since that bumps the number into infinity.
If you’re not familiar with the 4C model, I’ll give you a quick rundown, but I do recommend you hop over to our '1 Page Diamond Guide (2017 Edition)'. It covers the most important areas and is a very quick read.
- Carat – The international measure of diamond weight. 5,00ct = 1 gram. Head over to this post (link) for detailed information on diamond size (carat weight) considerations.
- Colour – Diamonds are found in a variety of colours, but the most common tones are brown and yellow. Alphabet letters are used to specify the colour of a diamond. Starting at “D” which is 100% colourless and as “white” as it gets all the way down to “Z” which will be prominently yellow or brown.
- Clarity – Diamonds are viewed at 10X magnification and then a grade is issued considering the amount, type, and severity of impurities in a diamond.
- Cut – Refers to how well a diamond has been cut and polish, not the shape. This is the most important “C” and regardless of the carat, colour and clarity of a diamond, if it’s been poorly made you’re stuck with a dull piece of diamond that looks like glass. Stick to Excellent and Very Good cuts to ensure your diamond has optimal life, brilliance, and the X-factor (the sparkle issue everyone has a hard time verbalising).
*These specifications only apply to round brilliant cuts. For more information on oval and cushion cut 4C's you can head over to this page (link).
A top colour (D-E-F) paired with poor clarity (SI2) is a typical mismatch. There are combinations that offer much better value.
I’ve drawn up a chart to bracket these specifications and help you spot odd combinations. Ideally, I would recommend combinations that all fall within the same bracket below. If needed your combination can comprise of specifications in 2 adjacent cells. Not more.
Our diamond stock is very finely curated to ensure the combinations we offer make sense and optimise your purchase regardless of which bracket appeals to you. We’re complimented daily on our advisory role, and we’ll gladly help you select a diamond.
When only the best will do. If you’re working with an uncapped budget, or optimising diamond size isn't your #1 goal, the thrill of owning one of the highest quality diamonds on the planet can be appealing.
Optimisation; In terms of optimisation, these specifications come at a hefty price and they don’t offer a prominent upgrade in visual appearance over the “Premium” category. After seeing these diamonds with their own eyes, most couples opt for a “Premium” diamond of a larger size. I’d say about 10% of our sales fall into this bracket.
High-End Price Indication: A 1,00ct Round Brilliant E-colour, VVS1-clarity, Triple Excellent Cut would cost you around R150 000. Maxing out the specifications on a 1,00ct diamond to D-colour IF-clarity would be around R200 000. Take a look at the Premium prices below… R200 000 gets you much further…
These diamonds are still very white and all round well beyond average. In a controlled, clinical environment where you can view one of these right next to a “D” or “E” colour, you might see a slight difference in colour, but once you’re out and about these are pretty much indistinguishable from the High-End spectrum unless you have a very, very well trained eye.
Optimisation; These are the highest specifications we generally recommend. Unlike Premium vs High-End where the difference is very hard to see, these offer an upgrade in colour/appearance over the “Value” range.
Colour; G and H colours offer the best value. Most people have a hard time finding any colour in even a “H” colour.
- Clarity: Keep it eye-clean. No need to go crazy on clarity when the imperfections are only visible under magnification. VS1 and VS2 would be my recommendation for a diamond up to around 1,20ct. An increase in size over this makes imperfections slightly more visible and bumping the clarity to VS1 should guarantee an eye clean diamond.
- Cut, the most important C, and never worth compromising on. We have a nice post on the importance of cut that you can find here. Excellent cut is always a good idea, but you might find VG cut diamonds that are indistinguishable from excellent cut diamonds. Always ask to see VG diamonds next to Excellent cut, to make the call for yourself.
This is a very popular specification range, and around 30% of the diamonds we sell fall into this bracket.
Premium Price Indication: A 1,00ct Round Brilliant G-colour, VS1-clarity, excellent cut would cost you around R90 000. R200 000 should get you close to a 2,00ct H VS2 diamond. See the appeal?
This bracket is our best seller, with a small lead over Premium. If you’re out to maximise size without having an obviously non-white diamond with visible inclusions this is a great range to consider.
- Colour; I’ve never heard anyone describe an “I” colour diamond as yellow. Even “J” and “K” colours are surprisingly white to most folks. Internet diamond colour charts are inaccurate, and it’s worth your time to visit our studio and take a look at these colours unset and in rings. They’re far from yellow or brown.
- Clarity: In a recent survey 65% of women indicated that they don’t want any visible impurities in their diamond - no matter how small. If you’re not too fussy about the diamond being eye-clean there might be good SI1 buys out there. Once you hit the 1,20ct mark please move up to VS2 or better.
- Cut; I’m sticking to my tune. It’s the most important C, and still not worth compromising on. You can access our post on diamond cut’s importance here. Very Good cut diamonds don’t come at a significant discount to their Excellent cut counterparts.
Value Price Indication: Decent 1,00ct diamonds in this price range start at around R60 000. Earlier today I listed a round 1,52ct J Vs1 Excellent Cut diamond at R115 300. You can mail me directly if you’re interested in this stellar option. A 1,52ct looks significantly larger than a 1,00ct. Regardless of your budget - these diamonds allow you to up the size of the main diamond considerably.
How Low Can You Go?
These are our lowest recommended specifications before a diamond just loses its appeal. These specifications are on the edge, and ensuring that you have a properly certified diamond is of paramount importance. If the diamond is over-graded you might be venturing into the No-Go-Zone.
Not everyone is upfront when it comes to diamond size, but a few couples per month make it clear they want to focus on size. “What’s the largest diamond we can get for X budget?”. The context would always be set with a side-note along the lines of “as long as it’s not very yellow or full or obvious imperfections”.
Colour; Blue diamond fluorescence is your new best friend. On “L” or “M” colour diamonds strong fluorescence can up the perceived colour by around one shade. That’s pretty neat. Ensure you have this extra bump with medium to strong blue fluorescence that will be indicated on the grading report.
- Clarity: As mentioned, most Si1 diamonds that I cross paths with these days have tiny, but visible, inclusions. If these aren’t a deal-breaker for you or seen as a characteristic of a naturally occurring precious gemstone, view a few Si1 and Si2 options. Our suppliers know the bulk of our order would be VS2 and better, but every now and then they’ll recommend an SI1 diamond that's eye-clean. They’re rare - but sometimes available. We usually have one or two in stock, but I’m more than willing to reach out to the suppliers we order from monthly for recommendations from their side.
- Cut; Never drop it below Very Good or Excellent. It’s never worth it.
No Go Zone (It’s not that bad...)
The colour of these diamonds can still be beautiful.
Some ladies, including my wife, actually prefer diamonds with a light colour tinge.
They’re only in the No-Go-Zone if you’re looking to maximise a R100 000+ purchase and feel set on the diamond being prominently white.
Colour; “N” might seem a bit off-white, but when you get to “P” and lower, the yellow tinge is obvious, and then you can appreciate the unique colour of the diamond. It’s not trying to look white. It’s a nice light yellow diamond.
- Clarity: Unlike colour, bad clarity is never a novelty. From SI2 and below you’ll have obvious imperfections including small black specks and lines that are often cracks. Rather buy a smaller diamond, than move into this clarity range.
- Cut; Poorly-cut diamonds look like dull pieces of glass. If you’re spending around R100 000 or over, dull shouldn’t be an option.
Your R100 000 or more should buy you a high-quality diamond, preferably larger than 1,00ct in size, set in a custom design.
I invite you to visit our studio to see the diamond colours for yourself. Start at the lower colours and work your way up. I’m sure you’ll find your perfect colour before we hit D and E colours. And even if the perfect colour is the top of the line, you made an informed decision.
Ensure the clarity is eye-clean by viewing the diamond under magnification and then trying to find that spot with the naked eye. There’s no reason to buy the highest clarities unless you’re out to get nothing but the best.
If you stick to very good and excellent cuts, your diamond will have stunning life, fire and brilliance. Don’t compromise on this C.
Lastly, the size of a diamond has a massive effect on the appearance of the ring. Rings set with larger stones just look much nicer, I promise you. There’s no shame in optimising for size if the rest is all in check.
Thank you for reading, and feel free to reach out to me directly on email@example.com . I’ll gladly answer any questions and get quotes over to you if you’re interested.