Irish Tatler’s expert-approved guide to buying the perfect engagement ring – even on a tight budget
Preparing to pop the question? It doesn’t have to mired by style or budgets barriers according to Weir & Sons jewellery manager Andrew Dwyer-Joyce
Vintage or modern? Gold, rose gold, or silver? Lab grown or natural diamonds? The considerations that precurse buying an engagement ring are rarely clear cut; you want it to be perfect, but within budget, and you want it to be a surprise, yet still ace your partner’s style preferences.
It’s something best left to the experts, which is why Irish Tatler consulted best-in-class Irish jeweller Weir & Sons – the fifth generation family business has been guiding couples to find their faithful day jewels since 1869 – to get jewellery manager’s Andrew Dwyer-Joyce’s expert steer on a step-by-step guide.
How much should I spend?
As you might suspect, there’s no golden number when it comes to finalising your budget. Factors like the type of metal, gemstone, carat, and quality will influence how much you spend, but having a bracket in mind is a good place to start.
“Most people have a figure they want to keep to, and at Weir & Sons we have an extensive range to meet all needs and prices, but it’s important that we don’t sacrifice on quality here – it’s a lifetime piece so it has to be made to the highest grade,” Joyce says.
If you’ve done some research, chances are you’ve come across the ‘spending one month’s wages’ trope. But is there any rationale to this? “It’s a lovely sound-bite, and some jewellers might use it for marketing their products, but we all have other factors at play; whether that be mortgage repayments, a holiday or putting the kids in a certain school, an engagement ring takes financial planning so it’s always case by case,” Joyce says.
For reference, a simplified diamond ring would start at around €1,500, while some rings climb to the €100,000 mark, but the average Weir & Sons’ customer is spending between €2,500 to €4,500, according to Joyce.
The natural versus lab-grown diamond debate will have a bearing on your budget too, with lab-grown options now offering customers elaborate diamonds for considerably less than what you might pay for the natural kind – more on that later.
Finally, remember you don’t have to pay upfront: “We work with all of our customers on a payment plan; we facilitate instalments and deposits over a feasible period, and we work with an external platform called Humm where customers can receive a loan and pay it back interest free,” Joyce adds.
How do I choose the perfect style?
“When I started out in the jewellery trade 10 years ago, it was all platinum and white gold, then we had a run of rose gold, and now we’re seeing yellow gold making its comeback – especially where people want a similar ring to what their mother or grandmother had.
“In this sense, we’re seeing a return to classic four-claw engagement rings with a round stone now,” Joyce says. This point is particularly helpful for those whose partners have left them short on clues, Joyce adds, stating that “classic styles win out 99.9 per cent of the time. Some might consider it boring, and that’s okay, but we look for styles that were fashionable a century ago that will continue to be fashionable a century from now.”
And if you’re really struggling to pin down a style, consider the following: what kind of jewellery (silver or gold, modern, classic, or vintage) does your partner wear? Do they prefer clear white diamonds or coloured gemstones? Will they wear it all the time or keep it for special occasions? What is their lifestyle like – are they active? This will help to narrow down your search, but if there are adjustments you’d like to make to an existing style, or if you’d like a custom-made ring, these options are available too.
Naturally, celebrity culture will play its part; from Princess Diana’s halo cluster sapphire ring with solitaire diamonds influencing trends in the ‘80s, to today’s oval-cut diamond (courtesy of Hailey Bieber) and two-stone Toi Et Moi ring worn by Megan Fox spiking interest. “We carry up to 600 rings in Weir & Sons at any given time, from traditional to trending – there is usually the perfect ring for everybody,” Joyce says.
Lab-grown versus natural?
Essentially, lab-grown and natural diamonds are the same product; they are both crystalline forms of carbon – one is a natural piece of the Earth that has warmed for over three billion years to create a crystal that can be cut and polished, while the other is created in a controlled laboratory setting, which takes far less time to form, making it more accessible and affordable.
“There is a romanticism to a natural diamond – some people like the gravitas and luxury feel it offers. But laboratory diamonds have been around for the past 70 years, and in recent times they have become gem-quality diamonds meaning they match the grade of a real diamond. Structurally, chemically, their light return, their durability and the fire of the stone are the exact same, and they have the exact same certifications,” Joyce says.
As such, it’s not a case of one outdoing the other, it’s simply “the evolution of the jewellery industry” Joyce adds, but the determining factor here is budget: “The lab-grown market is proving that people can have a beautiful bright stone in a larger carat for a more modest price tag.”
The four C’s guide – and then some
The four C’s is a good measure for choosing your diamond: colour, clarity, carat, and cut. The less colour your diamond has, the more valuable it is (excluding fancy coloured diamonds in which the opposite is true). The clearer it is (i.e. less natural blemishes) the more expensive it will be. A higher carat (and therefore heavier stone) will increase the price, while square, round, or oval cuts will determine value too. But there is a final step that Joyce stresses the importance of: certification.
“We only work with impartial laboratories that exclusively grade stones – they don’t have a vested interest in design or profit. Each diamond that passes through the laboratories we work with are certified by the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) or IGI (The Institute of Geologists of Ireland).
“This means they are approved by The Kimberley Process which aims to prevent the flow of conflict diamonds [diamonds mined in a war zone that are used to finance rebel war efforts].
“All of our stocked rings have the certificate number lasered on the diamond so there is always traceability,” Joyce says.
Is there a recommended timeline?
For bespoke pieces, Joyce recommends allowing a four-to-six week lead time once the style has been finalised – but it’s worth starting this process three months out from popping the question, to allow for any design-related back and forth.
If you spot the perfect ring on day one of searching, then give yourself about three to five days to allow for it to be sized. “Or, if a customer would like to change certain design elements, or if they would like to make a few visits, we can roll out the red carpet, pop the bottle of champagne and take a couple through our styles.”
You might overlook it, but aftercare is essential
Like anything, a precious piece of fine jewellery needs its TLC. Joyce recommends having a safe space to keep the ring, to avoid chucking it in your gym bag, or wearing it during a workout or swim, for instance. “Cosmetics, the natural oils of your skin, and the increased use of hand sanitisers stick to the diamond and make it look cloudy,” he explains.
Weir & Sons offer a complimentary full refurbishment and professional cleaning before the day of the wedding to reveal that freshly-bought shine, while customers can avail of a steam clean at any time – and where a home-fix is more your sell, “fairy liquid, some warm water, and a soft-bristle toothbrush can work wonders”.