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Proposing this season? Arm yourself with information.

“Proposal season” in the USA runs from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day. Of course suitors should choose the month and day best suited to their situation, but nearly half of engagements historically occur between November and February.

Looking Back

2020 was an irregular year, by any measure. This influenced both the frequency and timing of marriage proposals. The results of an Open University survey in October showed that more than 25% of adults experienced a notable improvement in their relationships during the pandemic, attributed to more quality time, improved communications, greater emotional support and time for thoughtful gestures. A survey by Brides.com the same month supported this, with more than 80% of couples saying the pandemic experience made them want to marry their significant other more.

To that end, New Year’s Day 2021 proved a popular ‘question popping‘ day for suitors – even more popular than December 25, 2020, which is historically the #1 day of the year by far. This is likely attributable to the reduction of 2020 Christmas family gatherings paired with the fact that New Years’ celebrations are couples-centric. The added symbolism of the date – officially leaving 2020 in the rear-view mirror – may have impacted those proposal decisions, as well.

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Looking Forward

Jewelers are already anticipating “the season” 2021, which dovetails with proposal season. Diamond jewelry retailers – from luxury brands to big box stores to local independent jewelers – are keenly aware that online purchases of jewelry went up by more than 22% in 2020. While bricks and mortar stores hope to tempt clients back to their counters, many are also offering the option to build a diamond ring online and have it delivered, including luxury icon Tiffany & Company.

Average Engagement Ring Budget

The national average paid for an engagement ring in 2020 was $5,500, according to The Knot’s survey, which is not much different than prior years. For several decades, a budget somewhere around $5,000 has been commonly associated with national cost expectations. That number is not for everyone, of course. 25% of couples reported average cost ranging between $1,000 – $3,000, while a total of 11% of respondents spent an average of less than $1,000. Some couples also spent far more than the national average.

Regional Variance

If you live in the Mid-Atlantic you’re among suitors who tend to spend 45% more than like-minded proposers in the Southeastern states. With that said, the fact that these regional averages are above the national average indicates that the 1/3 of respondents spending $3,000 or lower is represented in all of these regions.

Mid-Atlantic average: $7,600
Northeast average: $6,000
Western average: $5,400
Midwest average: $5,400
Southeast average: $5,250

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Diamond Pricing Factors

Setting aside the small number of suitors choosing alternatives such as colored gemstones or diamond simulants, the majority of the budget is put toward the central diamond. A natural diamond’s price is determined by its combination of the 4Cs, craftsmanship details, and the market segment in which it’s offered. Clinically speaking, a loose diamond in a simple setting, offered by a 5th Avenue luxury boutique, will cost more than the same loose diamond in a simple setting online. “Where to buy” is a personal decision. The engagement ring is a treasured item the recipient will look at and cherish every day for a lifetime. For many people, an association with luxury is worth the spend.

Get Diamond Prices in Real-Time

If you’d like a place to begin your pricing research, PriceScope.com is an online resource tracking prices for more than 500,000 loose diamonds offered by the world’s top online sellers in real time. You can use the Diamond Price Calculator to see minimum, maximum and average prices for diamonds offered in online (i.e. low overhead) channels, as a comparative benchmark for comparable diamonds offered in other markets.

Photo credit: PriceScope.com

Lab Grown Diamonds

The vast majority of diamonds chosen are natural but there are indications that an increasing number of suitors are considering and choosing lab grown diamonds. This short video provides an overview of this relatively new engagement ring product.

Remember the Rings

Even an entry-level white gold solitaire can cost several hundred dollars. For modest budgets this should be considered ahead of time, so there is suitable room for the central gemstone and, potentially, a wedding band. That’s correct – in addition to the engagement ring, there is frequently a wedding band expense. The Knot reported that the average cost of an accompanying wedding band for women in 2020 was $900, while the average cost for a man’s band was $500.

In terms of precious metal, 48% of ring shoppers selected white gold settings – by far the most popular response. Yellow gold was selected by 16% and rose gold rounded out the top three at 13%.

While you’re considering expenses, I always advise shoppers to factor engagement ring insurance into the cost. This is no different than insuring your car. That ring is another valuable purchase that travels from place to place and can be exposed to damage or loss. Jewelry insurance may be something you never use, but it will become extremely important if unfortunate lightning strikes, as it were.

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Setting Your Budget

Forget “three-months’ salary” rules, etc.  There are no actual rules. Only you know your specific circumstances and resources. To that end, keep these two criteria in mind:

  1. Your intended’s expectations
  2. Your financial situation

The goal is finding harmony between the two.

Your intended’s expectations

Diamond? Shape of diamond? Solitaire ring? Halo ring? Some other ring? Platinum? White gold? Yellow gold? Rose gold?

And that’s not all. “Your intended’s expectations” should include spending philosophy. Before you take irregular action – such as emptying your savings or taking on debt – consider whether that could make your partner feel guilty. Or angry. Financial distress is a homewrecker. Getting engaged shouldn’t bring stress or discomfort into your lives.

Your financial situation

Calculate your current monthly income against debt. Determine what is constant, forecast the future and make a reasonable plan. If you have nothing saved, calculate a monthly amount you can comfortably apply – whether you use credit now or save up to pay cash. On the other hand, if you’re flush and like to spend big on your own hobbies and toys, you may want to reflect the same approach in your engagement ring purchase. When planning, remember that you may also have wedding and honeymoon expenses ahead.

Do your homework

Before you pop “THE” question you might consider polling your intended partner. This doesn’t have to be a full proposal confession, you can tease with hypothetical “ifs” and “what do you thinks” to learn tastes and expectations. If you prefer a more stoic approach consider enlisting her family or friends to help you. A helpful side effect of the collaborative process is knowing for certain, in advance, what the answer will be when you pop the question.

The only drawback is perhaps tipping your hand, somewhat. But this shouldn’t interfere with the excitement and emotion of the actual moment…. Which brings us full-circle to the purpose of this post: The day, time and place you choose for your proposal can always be a surprise.

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John Pollard

John Pollard is an educational consultant and subject matter expert for diamond producers, grading laboratories and jewelers in the USA, Europe and Asia. He has lectured for JCK Las Vegas, IGI workshops in New York, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, the American Gem Society in Washington D.C., GIA's Alumni Association and other industry organizations.

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