In response to the questions from Joe and Chad in my last post, here are some answers:
The two places I frequent are Thaigem.com and Multicolour.com. You can get many items there aren’t that expensive, and you always have the option of returning it for a refund. That can take a week or two, I have found, so don’t buy something on spec with your rent money. Although Thaigem’s interface has been changed to an impulse shopping cart, Multicolour’s is still pretty good. You can also "build a ring" at Bluenile.com but I find their prices to be almost as much as retail. You may not get much of a savings out of it, but you will get a lot of flexibility.
Take this ruby for example. $154 isn’t a lot for a stone, and if you get it and don’t like it, you can send it back. You are making a bit of a crapshoot on the quality and color because there’s nothing like seeing it in person. However if you get a stone you like, you’ll be cutting out several middlemen (and layers of cost) in the process. You may have to try a couple of times before you get the hang of it.
Once you’ve got your stone, take it to a jewelry store and ask them if you can go through the catalog and pick out a setting for a necklace or ring. I use Tony at Boone and Sons on Connecticut and L street. He can certainly find you nicer stones, but he probably can’t find you cheaper. A good jeweler won’t feel threatened by the fact that you’re getting your stones online. He (or she) will know that they can make money on the setting and the labor, and be satisfied with that. Also, as Tony has learned, a jeweler that’s willing to work with you will get all your future business.
As far as Chad’s comment about overcoming objections to the massive marketing machine that DeBeers has put into place, that’s a hard hump to get over. There are many kinds of stones more rare than diamonds, but indeed, marketing has made diamonds seem rare. If you want to try and change someone mind about their engagement ring, I suggest you start them out early on lesser momentous pieces of non-diamond jewelry such as birthday gifts, etc. Sarah’s engagement ring was a diamond, and recently I replaced it with a large ruby ring that she likes infinitely more.
Over time, if your intended target realizes the amount of work you put into the jewelry, it should work out. However if what other people think is so important even after the significant effort you expend, perhaps you ought to consider the long-term implications of that tendency on the relationship. Will that opinion affect the car, house, and lifestyle you live?
If you want to you can easily spend as much on a ruby or sapphire-based engagement ring as a diamond one. That might comfort your girlfriend, but you may not be happy that it does.