Buying a diamond engagement ring can be a nerve-wrecking and stressful experience for the uninitiated. Trust me, I get it and I can fully empathize with feelings of being overwhelmed when shopping for an engagement ring.
Besides a need to learn about the 4Cs (carat, color, clarity and cut), the diamond industry is filled with technical jargon and pitfalls that can make the entire process very time consuming.
And that’s where preset engagement rings come into play. Jewelers often tout pre-set diamond rings as a fast and convenient solution to shop with minimal hassle.
But what exactly is a preset engagement ring and should you buy one? In this write up, we take a deep dive into the topic and highlight important things that you need to keep in mind when shopping for an engagement ring.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what we will be covering here:
Basically, a preset engagement ring is one that is fully complete and ready to go. Depending on where you are shopping, you can significantly cut down the time and effort needed to pick out a diamond ring.
If you are buying from a physical store, this means that the jeweler has already selected the diamond and mounted it into a setting for you to physically see and touch.
In general, there is no customization allowed to a preset ring except for changing the finger size of the ring. And if you like what you see, you can make payment and leave with a finished ring instantly.
For people who are shopping online, preset rings are often listed with a carat size and color/clarity specifications. The jeweler will basically choose a diamond based on those specs and assemble the ring on your behalf.
Depending on workload and shipping conditions, you can expect to receive an online preset engagement ring in a few days.
In theory, ready made diamond rings may sound like a really good idea. After all, the consumer doesn’t have to fret about the details and spend hours researching diamonds. The supposedly “professional” takes care of all the details and you end up with the perfect ring.
In reality, pre-set rings are a BAD idea in most cases. That’s because most “experts” are really bad at their job and/or do not have the consumer’s interest at heart.
First of all, I want to clear up a false narrative that a preset diamond ring is cheaper than a custom ring or a “build it yourself” ring where you pick out the diamond and setting separately.
Diamond prices are mainly based on the 4Cs and the seller’s margin. Technically speaking, a like-for-like diamond ring will cost the same regardless of whether it is pre-selected by the seller or yourself.
The most important flaw with ready-to-go rings is that most jewelers don’t give a damn about what goes into the ring. From experience, I can tell you that you will almost NEVER find truly well cut diamonds with the best light return in a preset ring.
Why? Let me tell you that 99% of salespeople and jewelers in the industry have no clue about what makes a well cut diamond. Yes. You’ve read that right. It’s a fact that most jewelers are just as clueless as you when it comes to assessing cut quality.
At best, they can read the cut grade from a grading report and parrot whatever marketing stuff that they are taught to say. But they are actually unable to discern what makes a truly well cut diamond. And that’s why you see a lot of garbage GIA triple excellent diamonds being pedaled in the market.
Another problem with ready made engagement rings is that you are likely to be constrained by what’s available in the jeweler’s inventory. This means that you might have to compromise on the 4Cs and specs that you initially set out for.
For example, if you are looking for a 0.8 carat size diamond ring but chances are, there won’t be any in stock or readily available because it is not a popular size. Likewise, if you are specifically looking for a D/IF diamond for symbolic reasons, you are unlikely going to find one.
Shoppers who choose to buy a preset ring are basically trading control of quality, look and cost for convenience. And in my opinion, preset rings will only make sense in a couple of scenarios.
The first scenario is when you are extremely tight on time and need a ring to propose urgently, pre-set rings can be bought off the rack immediately and worn.
For example, if you need to leave for an extended business trip unexpectedly or if you are suddenly mobilized to be deployed in the military, you may only have a timeline of a few days to propose.
The second scenario is when you intend to buy from big brand names like Tiffany or Cartier. Unless you are in the mega-rich category and command sufficient influence for them to commission a custom piece, you are going to be limited to the ready-made rings they have in stock.
Also, when it comes to buying eternity rings or cluster rings with small sized diamonds, it would be impractical and almost impossible for you to choose your own diamonds individually.
In a nutshell, you pretty much don’t have a say when it comes to buying rings with small diamonds (melees). You would need to rely on the vendor’s curation standards and trust that they are delivering on their stated claims.
Pre made rings are the proverbial can of worms in the jewelry industry. The main problem with preselected rings is that they are often made with low-quality stones that do not have adequate certification.
More importantly, they are targeted at consumers who can’t be bothered about details which opens up avenues of abuse from an unethical seller. And let me tell you, the details do matter in this industry.
When diamond rings are sold without a proper grading certificate from a lab like GIA or AGS, they can be legally marketed within a range of carat weights.
For example, if a merchant markets a ring with a 1.00 carat diamond, you aren’t necessarily getting a one carat diamond! In fact, the fine print and disclaimer may state that the center stone can weigh anywhere between 0.95ct to 1.11ct (using this example from Zales).
If you think about it, there is going to be a difference in value between a 0.95ct diamond and a 1.00ct diamond. So, what exactly are you getting and paying for? It is a big unknown that you need to factor in when buying a preset engagement ring.
Imagine that your recipient wants a 1 carat diamond ring and you bought the Zales ring expecting to receive a 1 carat ring. If a 0.95 carat diamond gets delivered instead, would you be happy to find out after it has been delivered to you?
Ready to go engagement rings that are sold without a proper grading report also list the color and clarity grade of the diamond to be within a range. Often, you will see listings such as H-I color or SI1-I1 clarity.
Again, what exactly are you buying and how do you justify the cost of the diamond when the quality of the stone is a big question mark. The bottomline is that you should treat all uncertified diamond rings and those that come with their “own” inhouse certificates with suspicion.
That’s not all. The biggest gripe I have with preselected rings is that the cut quality of the stone is generally terrible.
But what if you must buy a premounted ring despite all the warnings and red flags that I had mentioned? Where’s the best place to shop for a diamond ring quickly.
Well, it really depends on the type of engagement ring you are looking for and the timeline you are on.
I would generally avoid the mom-and-pop physical retailers because you will likely end up with a bad purchase. If you must buy a diamond ring urgently, big brands like Tiffany & Co and Hearts on Fire are places where you will find good quality preset rings.
To be clear, I’m not endorsing the big brands but rather, they are the lesser devil when it comes to preset rings. Just be prepared to pony up and pay for the brand premium they charge for a relative peace of mind.
If you have a little more time (e.g more than 7 days) to work with, Blue Nile and Brian Gavin are vendors you can take a look at for high quality preset rings. You can like-for-like rings for less than 50% of prices while getting better cut diamonds offered by big brand names.
Blue Nile offers a range of preset rings and some level of quality control with their selections. I would narrow it down to options that only utilize their top tier Astor diamonds as the center stone.
This means that the light performance and brilliance of the diamond is generally better than the generic GIA certified diamonds that you find in the market.
Brian Gavin Diamonds is a seller that I have high regard for because of their curation standards for super ideal cut diamonds. I highly recommend checking out their “preselected rings option” where you can simply input your budget and the type of metal you prefer.
I know most people have a busy schedule in life and don’t have the time to spend hours learning about diamonds before making a purchase. In this regard, pre-set diamond rings do offer an easy solution for people who prioritize convenience.
Unfortunately, this convenience does come with significant downsides as you are greatly limited by what’s available off-the-rack and the problem of sub-par diamonds that most jewelers use in preset rings.
Unless it is absolutely necessary, I do not recommend buying pre set rings because it really isn’t that hard to pick out a beautiful diamond and match it with your dream setting.
The point here is that you have full control over what you are buying and you generally get much better quality at a lower cost by building your own ring.
But if you are dead set on buying a pre-set ring, you definitely need to find a reputable jeweler who won’t screw you over and end up overpaying for mediocre quality.