By Charlie Byrne in London
A few years ago I bought a vintage diamond engagement ring for myself after a long term boyfriend had just dumped me. You can imagine the shop assistant's surprise when I told her the back story. But the truth about buying diamonds, despite how prescribed the process is perceived to be, is that each purchase should be based on personal preferences, motives and priorities.
While many jewellery writers will immediately suggest that anyone buying a diamond ring should adhere to the strict rules of achieving the "best" cut, colour, carat and clarity possible within their budget, my advice would be to learn to identify these elements, and then choose which of them really matter to you, and your bride-to-be. Spend time looking at diamonds with different quality levels across these categories and you will soon realise which of them are the most important, and which of them you should best accommodate within your budget.
Personally, I prefer the look of warmer-toned diamond so there was little point in me paying for a stone that had pure white brilliance. Similarly, as I wasn't buying the ring for investment purposes, minute inclusions imperceptible to the naked eye (which would affect its clarity rating) also weren't a concern for me.
I find it ironic that the romance of a diamond engagement ring is often overlooked during the buying process, with sterile scientific rules dictating what should ultimately be an emotionally charged purchase. You didn't pick your bride based on her vital statistics - hopefully it was her overall character and an intense attraction that drew you to her - and this should surely be the same for the jewellery which symbolises that love.
Where cut and carat weight are concerned, the contrasts between stones will be much more obvious to an untrained eye. There are constantly fluctuating trends for particular cuts of diamond, often depending on fashion and celebrity, so it's best to glean whether your bride has a particular shape in mind, and remember that certain cuts will look visibly larger than others that carry the same carat weight. I chose a cushion-cut diamond that stands tall and proud and it looks considerably smaller than my mother's brilliant-cut diamond, which is broad and flat and holds the same carat. You live and learn.
For me, the key to buying a diamond engagement ring is learning. Educate yourself as best as possible, teach your eye to identify the positive qualities of each stone, and then unless you're purely concerned with re-sale value, throw some of the rules out of the window. This is love, after all.
Mappin & Webb "Eglantine" diamond engagement ring, with a trio of diamonds each encircled by a sparkling diamond halo (£8,950).
Jessica Poole Hexagon diamond engagement ring in brushed gold with milgrain edging, set with a cognac rose-cut diamond.