Should I buy an engagement ring from a large chain store?

Buying an engagement ring from a large retail chain has its pros and cons. Large retail chains can offer some things that smaller, independent jewelry stores cannot. On the flip side, they might lack in certain areas where an independent jeweler can excel. When making a purchase as important as an engagement ring, research and careful thought are recommended. Given the magnitude and significance of an engagement ring purchase, you obviously want to make sure you end up with a ring you’re happy with.

Larger retail jewelry stores are bound to have a wide selection of engagement rings, diamonds, and wedding bands since they tend to carry many different designers and lines. Because of this, they will have different styles and a range of price points, so they should be able to accommodate any customer who walks in the door. Many offer warranty plans for their jewelry, so if something happens to your ring, you can get it fixed with little hassle or additional cost. Another benefit is location. Even if you move to a different state, chances are that there will be a location close enough for you to visit if necessary.

On the other hand pricing at retail chain stores tends to be inflated compared to smaller jewelry stores, since they have much higher overhead costs. The prevailing business model for large stores is focused on selling the inventory in their jewelry cases. For this reason, there aren’t usually many options for customization (beyond size changes). They unfortunately don’t have a custom designer on hand to make design changes to an existing ring, nor to create something completely custom. While you may be able to purchase a perfectly beautiful engagement ring from a large retail chain, make no mistake, it will be a mass produced ring that many other people will have. If seeing the same style on another person’s hand would bother you, a large retail chain may not be the best option. Also, keep in mind that due to how busy these stores can get, the sales staff may not be able to dedicate as much time to educating you on the details of the item you're purchasing. All in all, your experience is bound to feel less personal than desired.

It’s important to not only consider the engagement ring mounting purchase, but also the diamond purchase. Many of the large retail chains also sell online–especially for diamonds. While they may appear to have an endless inventory of diamond options that seem to be almost identical to each other, this is an illusion. They will most certainly have a stone that will check all the boxes in terms of shape, size, the 4Cs, and price, but that’s not the whole story.

Large retailers may be transparent in terms of how the details of the diamond are listed and should have the diamond grading certificate available to view before purchase. However, not everyone takes the time to look at the certificate, or even fully understands what everything on the certificate means. This is a very important step when purchasing a diamond because there could be 10 diamonds with the same specifications, but a large difference in price due to details in the grading report. Make sure to consider the location of inclusions, the proportions, polish, symmetry, and fluorescence. All of these things can affect the price of the stone, but aren’t necessarily called out in the main diamond listing unless you look a little closer. Large retailers may be less likely to focus on such details.

Furthermore, it's important to make note of the lab that produced the diamond grading certificate. There are many organizations and labs that specialize in diamond certification, and they all set their own standards. It’s a good idea to be informed about each organization, what their standards are and how they compare to each other. We have another article that details each diamond grading lab and you can view it here. When purchasing a diamond, you’ll also want to make note of whether it has been treated to improve color and clarity, as that can affect the durability and pricing of the stone.

Even if the diamond you choose checks all of your boxes, it may not visually meet your needs. Many of the large online retailers will include pictures and videos of the diamond, which is a great attempt to show the customer what they’re purchasing. However, that's no substitute for inspecting the diamond in person and evaluating it with a jeweler’s loupe–which allows you to really see the inclusions, the color of the stone, and the brilliance in different light sources.

Online purchasing is very convenient, and modern society loves it, but there are some purchases that are better made in person. Many of the online diamond retailers will allow returns, but keep in mind this can be a hassle, and then you’re back at square one with your search.

Now that we’ve covered the pros and cons of larger retail chain stores, let’s discuss independent jewelers. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages when shopping with a smaller, independent jeweler. They may not carry as wide of a selection as a larger retail store (though their selection will likely be more unique), and their selection could be specific to one individual designer, or a small group of designer lines that the store deems to be of quality or interest for their customer base. Smaller jewelry stores can also offer more personalized service for customers. Sales staff tend to take their time and ask the right questions to really understand what the customer is looking for in their purchase so they feel comfortable.

It is also common for independent jewelers to have designers and bench jewelers who work in the same building, so they can offer custom designs and on-the-spot sketches. This will allow customers to choose their design, stones, metal and finger size choice in real time, specific to their personal style. Since customization is a daily occurrence for independent jewelers, there aren't usually additional costs associated with this personalized service. This means they can often accommodate requests that a larger retail chain would turn down because of constraints on time and resources. An additional benefit to shopping with an independent jewelry store is that you’d be supporting a local business.

Overall, choosing where to purchase your engagement ring is a very personal decision. You should consider many factors and weigh the pros and cons of a large retail chain vs. a smaller independent jeweler to decide which one best meets your needs. If you prefer a larger selection and convenience, the larger retail store can be a great option. If you prefer a more personalized experience with the opportunity for custom design, you should consider visiting an independent jeweler. Research and careful consideration are imperative to finding the perfect environment where you can purchase an engagement ring that you'll cherish for a lifetime.