Monday, August 15, 2011

How I bought an engagement ring on eBay

"He's taking mess shifts the night before missions to pay for it, but it's totally worth it you guys"

I have a love/hate relationship with weddings. I love events, style and the little crafty things that come along with weddings. I certainly love my husband. I strongly dislike some of the expectations that come with weddings - particularly the expectations of big expenditures.

This is partly due to my own persnicketiness. I don't like being told what to do. I particularly do not like being told to spend my money on rituals and symbols I do not find meaningful.

The 3 month salary engagement ring is one of those rituals. Drop 5 months rent on a diamond some poor Indian child went blind over cutting ? Because De Beers says I should ? Are you kidding me?

When H proposed, he gave me ring. He actually gave me a very reasonably priced ring. Like with so many other couples, this ring was given to me with the explicit expectation that we would return it and look for one better suited to my tastes and lifestyle. Had he given me a family heirloom or something I had pointed out, I likely would not have returned the ring - but being able to return it gave me the option to look for a setting that would better fit under the many pairs of nitrile gloves I rip on and off every day.

I also knew I didn't want a diamond. I'll write a post on the non-diamond engagement ring another time. Suffice it to say, I was not about to drop a crap-tonne of money on a diamond ring either from Tiffany's, the diamond district or Macys.

For me, getting married to H was about being happy and starting a family. Spending money I didn't have on an engagement ring would stress our relationship, push us back from our financial goals and make me feel deeply, deeply fake. H wanted me to have an engagement ring and I wanted to be sure that it would fit our budget. In fact, I decided pretty early on that I would not spend more than $250 on an engagement ring.

Turns out, we spent less that $150.

My eBay engagement ring - $102. 50

Here is how we found and bought my ring on eBay.

We searched for a ring after the proposal

Obviously, finding and buying an engagement ring on eBay works best if the proposal has already happened. eBay shop rules differ from shop to shop. You don't want to get stuck returning something with a limited return period. H proposed with one ring, which we returned before searching for another.

We did away with conspicuous consumption

We immediately ditched the idea that the ring had to be a diamond. We did away with concerns about Harry Winston and Tiffany names. We thought more about practical concerns. I work with a lot of chemicals, so I wanted to be sure that the ring had a gold band and setting, because gold is very non-reactive.

We decided to not care about the ring's "real" value

No matter where you buy an engagement ring, unless you are an appraiser and gemologist, you are at a considerable disadvantage. Precious and semi-precious stones are always marked up, and resell for a fraction of the original price tag. The customer almost always gets less than what they paid. We decided that a very low price and prettiness mattered more than whether or not the stone really was an organic whatever, or rehabbed whats-it. This immediately freed us from concerns of being ripped off.

The steps we took before the search

1) Set budget of $250
We did not exceed it. I didn't look at rings over this price. Why tempt myself?

2) We looked up the eBay complaint procedure
On the chance that the item was very different than described or didn't show up at all, we reviewed the procedures for complaints.

3) I decided what features I wanted in a ring
I came up with a list of semi-precious stones. For a variety of ethical and environmental reasons, I decided I wanted an estate or vintage ring. I made a little list of cuts that I like (emerald, cushion, asscher). I knew that I wanted a white gold setting that would sit low enough for me to get a set of gloves over it.

4) Decided to only look at rings that had an auction date at least a week away
We didn't want to make a rush purchase and not have time to size up the shop or work out shipping costs.

The steps we took during the search

5) We looked at vintage and used rings
There are a lot of "new" rings on eBay, but I wanted an unique ring. The vintage and used rings on eBay seemed the logical place to search.

6) We avoided rings described by catalogue photos
I also wasn't comfortable buying a ring that was described using a catalogue shot - I was pretty sure no matter what I purchased from those vendors, it would not be the ring in that shot. I was most comfortable buying a vintage ring that had it's own clear, individual photo.

7) We stuck to sellers on own continent
This reduced shipping costs and would make a potential return easy as well.

8) We stuck to sellers with 99%+ approval ratings and a history of 25 or more sales
The approval rating is important because it can give you a sense of how well the seller describes their jewelry and turns around a sale. 25 sales may sound arbitrary, but new sellers need to move merchandise too - so we decided 25 sales was our lower limit for sales experience. Buy beware - all sellers on eBay deserve the same scrutiny, whether they are Top Sellers or not.

The steps we took before the buy

9) We looked up the seller's information at the Better Business Bureau and the state attorney general's office

10) In some cases, we asked/check to make sure the seller could provide an appraisal
Given that we very quickly decided to not look at precious stones at all, an appraisal became less of a concern for us.

11) We only looked at items from shops that used Paypal, or a similar service
I think all most shops on eBay use Paypal. Using this service or a similar is important because our use of it provided us with eBay payment protections. Never ever send a personal cheque to an eBay seller.

12) We checked the shipping costs
This can be a doozy. We wanted to be sure we knew how much it will cost to get the ring to our door.

13) We read the seller's feedback reports for "sales" as opposed to "buys"
This gave us a sense of whether or not customers were happy with the purchases/the items showed up as described/if anyone felt ripped off by the vendor.

14) Made sure the vendor promised to insure the package on their shop website
I've had jewelry go missing in the post before, so this was really important to me.

Steps we took when we found the ring

15) We sniped it
We found a ring with an auction date 8 days away. Making a bid at 8 days is just asking for everyone else watching the item to out bid you. Had I bid early, I could have started a bidding war that would have put the item out of my price range.

Instead, I checked in every day to see how the price was moving. I was very lucky. Only one other person put in a bid for the ring. On the day of the auction, we checked into our eBay account 10 minutes before the close time and placed a bid 5 minutes before the sale ended. We set an odd numbered maximum bid near the end of our budget, made the bid...and went about our business. We won the ring - for $102.50

16) ....but we could have bought it right away using "buy it now"
If we had found a ring we really liked that had a reasonable "buy it now" option, that's how I would have completed the sale.

After the buy

17) Sizing and polishing
I got the ring sized and polished for $40. All told, the ring cost us $142.50

Other things we might have done

18) Used an independent gemologist/appraiser to make sure we got the goods
I cared so little about the market value of the ring and it was so cheap that I didn't do this. I could care less. If I had purchased something more expensive, however, I would have taken the ring to an appraiser.

Final thoughts

I have the honour of being H's wife. Starting a family with him is more important to me that the jewels on my finger. People ask me about my ring all the time. They always love it and I'm proud to tell them that we spent so little money on it. Buying this ring on eBay allowed us to better establish our savings and start a home. Its low cost allowed us to focus more on being good partners and less on being good consumers. Really, during these rough times the ring is a citation of how much I love H and how I'd rather be budgeted with him than spending with anyone else.

Happy, happy, happy

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