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Why Are Engagement Rings So Expensive?

Updated October 4, 2022
Why Are Engagement Rings So Expensive?

An expensive engagement ring is the ultimate symbol of endless love and devotion for many people. But does an engagement ring have to be so expensive?

Not all rings cost a fortune, but the high price of some is easy to explain.

The average cost of an engagement ring is about $5,000. For the most part, the price depends on the type of metal, gemstone, design intricacy, and brand.

Historically, the purpose of an expensive engagement ring was to guarantee a woman’s financial future if the wedding was canceled.

Nowadays, this isn’t relevant, yet the tradition of gifting pricey shiny rocks remains strong – partly for justifiable practical reasons and partly due to the marketing efforts of jewelry brands.

Precious Metals

Engagement rings are traditionally made from precious metals, with the most popular choice being gold. Even the simplest engagement ring without gemstones won’t be cheap because of the precious metal content.

You may wonder why most engagement rings are made from gold when there are much cheaper precious metals. Indeed, today, many people choose gold alternatives such as silver, palladium, titanium, and tungsten.

However, gold remains the most valuable precious metal for a good reason. It combines extreme durability with relative softness.

Jewelers can make intricate designs from gold and resize the ring if needed, but the metal doesn’t scratch or bend during regular wear.

Gold is resistant to oxidation and corrosion, so gold engagement rings preserve their beauty for decades and even centuries – no wonder jewelers have favored this metal since ancient times.

On the other hand, silver and copper are prone to tarnish and are much softer.

Titanium and tungsten engagement rings are a trendy alternative to gold as they are significantly cheaper and even more durable.

However, the melting point of these metals is higher than that of gold, so jewelers must own special equipment to work with them.

Because of their strength, tungsten and titanium engagement rings can’t be resized.

That’s the biggest drawback of these metals – your significant other’s hand may change in size over the years, and she won’t be able to wear her ring in the future.

Therefore, gold remains the preferred engagement ring material. Naturally, the higher the gold content, the higher the price. That’s why engagement rings from 22 karat gold cost more than rings from 14 karat gold.

Platinum is an excellent alternative to white gold.

The price of white gold and platinum per gram is similar, but the latter is denser, so platinum rings tend to be more expensive than gold. Platinum is more durable than gold but also easier to scratch.

Diamonds

Nowadays, diamonds are the most popular engagement ring stone. There are multiple reasons why diamonds are so expensive: rarity, mining complexity, durability, demand, and marketing efforts of diamond companies.

The truth is, diamonds aren’t as rare as good turquoise or alexandrite. However, high-quality stones used in jewelry are. Under 30% of all mined diamonds meet the jewelry-maker quality criteria.

A diamond’s quality is determined by the rule of 4 C’s – carat, color, cut, and clarity. Jewelers certify diamonds by evaluating each of these characteristics according to specific scales.

Carats define a diamond’s weight – generally, the more a stone weighs, the higher its price. However, a 3-carat diamond with visible inclusions and slight tint may cost less than a clear and colorless 0.5-carat diamond.

A diamond’s cost is based on all 4 C’s. Large stones with little to no inclusions, no tint, and flawless cut that makes the diamond truly shine are rare and thus extremely expensive.

If you’re planning to buy a diamond engagement ring and your budget is limited, you’ll have to choose which of the 4 C’s is more important for you.

Some people value a stone’s size more, neglecting imperfections, while others prefer smaller yet flawless stones.

Other Gemstones

Historically, engagement rings didn’t always feature diamonds, and recently, the colored gemstone trend has been on the surge.

The most popular diamond alternatives are emeralds, rubies, and sapphires – these gemstones cost slightly less but are equally rare and almost as durable.

Colored gemstones can add personality to an engagement ring, but high-quality precious gemstones aren’t cheap. Some gems are rarer and thus more expensive than an average diamond – for instance, bixbite, musgravite, and alexandrite.

Of course, you’re free to choose any gemstone you prefer for your engagement ring.

Tanzanite, citrine, aquamarine, pearl, and opal are all stunning. However, these gemstones aren’t nearly as durable as diamonds and thus are cheaper.

Most women wear their engagement rings daily, often even after the big day, along with the wedding band. Therefore, the gemstone in an engagement ring should be durable enough to withstand all the rigors of daily use.

Design Intricacy

Design intricacy can significantly impact the ring’s price, though not as much as the metal or gemstone.

A simple solitaire ring with a plain band will cost less than a halo ring with an engraved band, provided other factors are equal.

Cluster, pave, cathedral, halo, split-shank, and channel-setting rings all require higher skill and more time to make and thus tend to be pricier than traditional solitaire rings.

However, modern engagement rings rarely feature overly sophisticated designs that drastically affect the price. The styles differ, but most rings are relatively minimalistic.

Antique engagement rings from Art Deco and Edwardian Era, on the other hand, are a perfect example of intricate workmanship.

Such rings often feature delicate openwork, filigree, engravings, and a combination of colorful gemstones in different cuts.

Labor

Jeweler’s work isn’t simple. It takes a lot of education, practice, attention to detail, and time. Therefore, a jeweler’s labor can’t be cheap.

Of course, the amount of labor involved in making an engagement ring largely depends on the ring’s design. Even the simplest rings take about three to four weeks to complete, and complex bespoke designs may take months.

The average hourly rate of jewelers in the U.S. is about $25, but it can be significantly higher depending on their skills, experience, and location.

Then, there’s the labor of sales assistants helping you find the right ring, managers, designers, quality assurance technicians, and miners who source the metals and gemstones.

All these people should get fair pay for their hard work.

Let’s not forget about the essential business operating expenses such as rent, taxes, electricity and heating, licensing, and much, much more.

Designer

A wedding dress from Vera Wang will always cost more than a dress from David’s Bridal. The latter may be equally beautiful, but the designer’s name on the label matters. The same rule applies to engagement rings.

A bespoke ring with a sophisticated design may be significantly cheaper than a simple Bulgari ring, and it’s no surprise. Names such as Graff, Cartier, Buccellati, David Yurman, and Tiffany & Co. are recognizable worldwide.

Many women dream of getting a ring from a famous jewelry designer. The biggest jewelry brands have been in the industry for centuries, provide consistently excellent quality, and can give customers a sense of luxury and superiority.

Vintage designer engagement rings are incredibly costly, as they are typically available in a single exemplar and feature statement designs of a particular era.

However, not all luxury brand engagement rings have a unique design or flawless quality. Unless your significant other wants specifically Tiffany & Co. ring, spending a fortune on a blue box usually isn’t worth it.

High Demand

Demand and supply can drastically affect a product’s price; that’s a fundamental law of economics. Therefore, trendy engagement ring styles tend to be more expensive than less popular options, even if the materials and quality are equal.

One of the reasons for the high price of diamond engagement rings is increased demand. The most popular engagement ring style is a round-cut diamond solitaire in a gold setting, followed by an oval cut and three-stone designs.

Pear and marquise-cut diamonds are the least popular and thus cost less.

Therefore, if you’re thinking on which of the 4 C’s to compromise, consider choosing a less trendy cut for the sake of better quality. Furthermore, elongated diamonds appear bigger.

The most popular alternative center stones are moissanite, sapphire, and emerald. The engagement season also drives up the demand and, consequently, prices. If you want to save on a ring, avoid shopping in late fall and early winter.

Marketing

Until 1947, men were free to choose any engagement ring center stone that fit their budget and their second half’s preferences.

Everything changed after a diamond-mining company, De Beers, launched the famous “A diamond is forever” campaign.

This was more than a slogan. De Beers’ campaign changed the jewelry world, turning diamonds from optional to a traditional engagement ring center stone. The brand skilfully drew parallels between diamonds and eternal love.

In the TV ad, the narrator says, “How else could two months’ salary last forever? A diamond is forever,” as a man proposes to his loved one.

This phrase has forced millions of men worldwide to spend multiple monthly salaries on an engagement ring.

The creativity and success of De Beers campaign are hard to argue – by romanticizing diamonds, the brand managed to skyrocket their price.

Is the rule of two monthly salaries still actual? Likely not, yet many continue falling into De Beers’ marketing trap.

Image credit: Unsplash