Jewellery Guides

Buying an Engagement Ring During Cost of Living Crisis

Written by Emily Dixon
September 5th, 2022 • 7 min read

With the cost of living soaring and inflation looming, Brits are more concerned than ever with how and where we're spending our money. Proposing and getting engaged remains a milestone moment in most couple’s trajectories, regardless of what’s happening in the economy. So while we’re all tightening our purse strings, how can you save money on your engagement ring? London jewellers Queensmith reveal the secrets that could save you thousands - without compromising on the beauty or the size of your engagement ring.

Has the cost of engagement rings gone up?

The answer to this is two fold: yes, and no. Like many materials and commodities, natural diamonds and metal prices are in constant fluctuation, and have been on a general upward trend over the past few years - catalysed recently by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. That said, the jewellery industry has been massively disrupted in the same time period by a lower-cost alternative to natural diamonds: lab diamonds.

Are people spending less on engagement rings due to the cost of living?

The diamond and jewellery experts at Queensmith haven't necessarily seen people's budgets decrease due to the cost of living, with budgets starting around £1,400 and averaging closer to £4,500. What is noticeable is the strong desire from clients to get the very best for their money to make sure it is a worthwhile purchase. Engagement ring buyers are hunting around to find the very best engagement ring jewellers, with top quality crafting, and impeccable customer care. More notably, they're looking for the biggest and best quality diamonds for their budget - made entirely possible by lab grown diamonds.

How can I buy a diamond engagement ring on a budget?

Diamond engagement rings can range in price from around £1,400, into the several thousands, tens of thousands and beyond - but the good news is, there are a number of ways to make sure you're getting the diamond engagement ring for your budget, without compromising on its beauty or quality.

1. Avoid flawless diamonds

There’s no need to buy a flawless diamond, or even a near-flawless diamond. The closer to flawless a diamond is, the rarer and more valuable it is - but the truth is, you don’t need to splurge your budget on finding a diamond without inclusions. You won’t be able to see the small, internal marks within a diamond graded between VS1 and SI1 without magnification, so this is a great grade to compromise on.

2. Lower the colour grade - just a little

A diamond with a high colour grade, between D to F, will appear bright and icy, but you can lower the grade a little to G or H - particularly if you’re choosing a yellow gold or rose gold ring, because these will absorb the warmth in the diamond. We don't usually advise looking lower than H colour diamonds, but some people don't mind subtle colour traces.

3. Don't compromise on top cut grades

You should look at diamonds with really great cut, symmetry and polish grades - they may cost a little more but it's totally worth spending here. Poorly cut diamonds are lacklustre and can appear dull or cloudy - so for serious sparkle look at Ideal or Excellent cut diamonds.

4. Avoid round diamonds

They’re beautiful, but round diamonds are the most expensive shape by about 20%! This is due to their high demand and the fact that more diamond is wasted during the cutting process than any other shape. Since the increase in the cost of living, jewellers have seen alternative shapes soar in popularity, like oval diamond engagement rings

5. Choose an elongated diamond shape

Diamond shapes like ovals, pears or marquise appear larger than other shapes of the same carat weight, and offer great finger coverage. Elongated diamond shapes have an increased spread of carat weight, so appear bigger than more compact shapes like round, cushion or princess diamonds, making them feel like better value for money.

6. Find an 'underweight' diamond

See if you can find a diamond just shy of the carat mark - they're hard to find but can make you great savings. Diamond prices jump at the carat - a 0.99ct diamond will cost less than a 1ct diamond, but the difference in size will be negligible. The same applies to diamonds just under 2ct, 3ct and so on. You may even notice big price differences between, say, a 1.49ct diamond and a 1.50ct diamond.

7. Save thousands with a lab grown diamond

The best way to save significant savings is choosing a lab grown diamond. Compare an identical natural and lab diamond, and you could notice hundreds if not thousands between the prices. A top quality 1ct natural diamond is likely to cost you upwards of £10,000 - you'd be looking at a little under £2,000 for an identical diamond that's been grown in a laboratory (accurate at the time of writing, please note diamond prices fluctuate).

With your budget in mind, take a look at the carat weight you could achieve with a natural vs lab diamond. The lab diamond will be considerably bigger so may strike you as the better investment!

8. Choose a solitaire ring

A solitaire engagement ring is very simple, refined and incredibly timeless. Because there are no extra diamond embellishments, a solitaire ring setting is by far the least expensive and means you can dedicate more of your budget to the central diamond.

9. Choose less diamond coverage on the band

You may like the look of a ring with tiny diamonds set along the band - but these come at a cost, for the diamonds themselves plus the craftsmanship required to set each little diamond. There’s no need for a full eternity diamond band, as most of the time you're viewing your ring from the top, and the back of the band isn't visible.

Most diamond band engagement rings have a 40-60% coverage, but you can opt for a bespoke ring with fewer diamonds either side of the centre stone to save money.

What has driven the price increase of natural diamonds?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had a direct impact on the cost of natural diamonds. Russian mining giant, Alrosa, was once responsible for around 30% of the world’s mined diamond supply. Jewellers like Queensmith took the decision in early March 2022 for a self-imposed ban on buying and selling diamonds knowingly mined by Alrosa, who are backed by the Russian Federation. It wasn’t long before America imposed a sanction on the company, drastically reducing the global supply chain of natural diamonds. So just like natural commodities like oil, mined diamonds have shot up in price due to their scarcity.

What are lab diamonds and why do they cost less?

Lab diamonds - just as they sound - are created in a laboratory via processes that mimic the Earth’s production of diamonds. The diamond produced is entirely authentic, and entirely identical to a natural diamond - they can only be told apart with specialist lab equipment.

Lab diamonds cost significantly less than identical natural diamonds, usually between 60% to 80%. This is because the time and cost of producing a lab diamond is far less than that of mining natural diamonds.

In a 2021 survey conducted by Queensmith, we found that 88% of participants said they’d actually prefer a lab diamond, despite 60% of those asked having never heard of them before. Around 2 in 3 engagement rings ordered with Queensmith now feature lab diamonds - a figure that was as low as 1% in 2019. The rise of lab diamond engagement rings is undeniable, and it is no coincidence that this phenomenon has coincided with a sharp rise in the cost of living, and ring buyers look for bigger diamonds for their money.

Can you tell which of these is a lab diamond? Only specialist equipment can tell natural and lab diamonds apart.

How to budget for an engagement ring

Reaching a budget you're happy and comfortable with is the best place to start when it comes to your engagement ring search. As rings can vary so hugely in price, this will really help to set the parameters of your search and will give you a realistic expectation of what your ring could look like.

1. Don't worry about how much your friends spend on their rings

Forget about keeping up with your friends or colleagues, and do what feels right for you and your income or savings. Your ring will be special regardless of how big it is - and remember that diamonds of any size are inherently beautiful, sparkly and dazzling.

2. Take time to consider how much you can put aside every month, and for how long

Break down your monthly income and outgoings - how much can you realistically put aside every month without having to drastically change your lifestyle? If it's a small amount, then it may take a little longer but it'll be well worth the wait.

3. Save discreetly

If your proposal will be a surprise, you don't want to be obvious about your new found saving habits! If it's hard to hide that you're saving, you could pretend you're saving up for something else, like a car, a hot new gadget or a holiday.

4. Forget ancient old 'rules'

There's an old but very prevalent myth that you should spend 3 months' salary on an engagement ring. Maybe this is a good guide for some people, but it's unrealistic for others. This 'rule' was invented as a marketing tactic by a huge jewellery company in the 20th century when the cost of living was entirely different. Forget about it!

5. Be realistic about how much a ring costs

The reality is that you won't find a really well made diamond engagement ring for less than around £1,400. Engagement rings are created from some of the world's most precious materials, and take great skill, care and time to be expertly made.

6. Be realistic about the size of diamond you can afford

Be aware that diamond price rises exponentially with carat weight. Try to avoid pinning too much hope on achieving a certain carat weight, and instead do your research on how much diamonds cost to manage your expectations, and compare natural vs lab diamond prices. Use an online diamond search tool to give you a rough idea of how diamonds are priced, and see whether you think a bigger size is worth saving a little longer for.

7. Remember you'll have a wedding to pay for in the future

Most couples get married a year or two after their engagement, so think about how much you'd like to have set aside for this.

8. Look into purchasing with a credit card - but be careful

It isn't uncommon for people to buy their engagement rings with a credit card, but you should do your research and still set a realistic, comfortable budget. It is perhaps better to see this as a way to split your payments into digestible amounts you know you can repay over a set timeframe. It isn't worth getting into a stressful amount of debt - this should be an extremely happy time in your life!


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