@LuxeLady: Our budget was in the high range, and we began by going to look at rings in person to get a feel for the looks we liked and to get educated on diamonds and metals. We went to small shops in the diamond district, mid-sized family owned/non-chain stores, and high end chain stores like Tiffany and Harry Winston to do this.
After I had learned a bit more about diamonds and the 4 C’s (and compared stones with varying grades in each) I knew what I valued and where I thought I could compromise. From there, by taking into account my preferences and our budget, I came up with minimum thresholds for each of the 4 C’s. Bluenile and pricescope are great tools for doing this because because you can search loose diamonds and see how the costs change as you manipulate each “C.” For me, my minimums were: Cut: Excellent/Ideal Color: H Clarity: SI1 (Eye Clean) and Carat: ~3. I also really wanted hearts and arrows but was willing to sacrifice if we couldnt make it happen. Also I should add, I am speaking about round brilliant diamonds here. Different cuts are graded differently.
We lucked out and an old friend reached out saying his mother still had an old wholesaler’s license from back when they were in the diamond business, so we sent her my parameters and budget and she found us an amazing certified diamond, and it was even a hearts and arrows cut! We had the setting custom made to copy a setting I loved by a family owned high end jeweler.
Now, if we hadn’t lucked out with the diamond connection, we would have bought a stone from one of the small, “wholesaler” businesses in the diamond district of LA as they had certified stones and I was educated enough to know they were offering decent deals. OR, I would have bought online from a retailer such as Brian Gavin, etc. OR, maybe I would have put out feelers on the boards at Pricescope to have someone help me find a deal. This is because brick and mortar retailers HORRIBLY markup diamonds like nothing I have ever seen.
It’s one thing if you really want the Tiffany or HW or Cartier name, but if it’s just the look you are going for, your money will go MUCH further having a similar setting made custom and buying a diamond online or at a place that buys diamonds wholesale, can show you certs, and will negotiate with you.
I would never consider a large scale chain retailer such as Zales, Jared, etc as they seem to have the worst markups and poorest “deals” in terms of bang for your buck. If you do want to try that route, definitely insist on seeing full certifications from a respectable lab such as GIA and require an independent appraisal before buying if they can’t show you that. I have been shocked at the poor quality of their melee stones etc given the costs of their settings and the like.
Good luck and have fun!