How to Guide | Buying an Engagement Ring at Auction

Most people are familiar with the idea of buying art or furniture at auction – but have you ever entertained the thought of bidding for an engagement ring? It’s a great way to find something rare and unique, and we're here to help you through the process.


To the inexperienced, jewellery auctions can seem daunting at first. They may not be as convenient as buying an engagement ring from a retail shop. But on the other hand, the patient buyer, one who’s willing to carefully look through a collection of engagement rings from various eras – will certainly be rewarded with something that holds a lot of sentimental value while offering superb value for money. If you’ve been looking for the perfect engagement ring, then auction is the best place to do it. We’ve put together this guide to give you a headstart.


Your Guide to Buying an Engagement Ring at Auction

So you’re all set to check out an auction to find your dream engagement ring. Here’s what you should do to maximise your chances for finding the right ring.



Old or New?

The first step to choosing an engagement ring is to decide if you are after an antique of modern piece, both have their differences. Newer pieces tend to be in better condition but the range of designs can be more limited. They will almost always feature more modern round brilliant-cut diamonds rather than old cuts or rose cuts. Modern rings tend to have a more mass produced nature and mounts are often cast rather than hand made. Newer rings will also often come with certificates.


Antique pieces on the other hand, have a rich history behind them and have stories to tell. Many people love the idea that they are the custodian of a piece that has history and can be handed on to the next generation. Antique rings are handmade and whilst are often the same or better quality than modern pieces, they have a patina and character to them, impossible to acheive from a modern ring. The range of styles and designs tends to be more wide ranging with antique rings, and whilst they will still be very traditional, you can find examples of designs that are no longer made today.



How many Stones? 

When you think of an engagement ring, most people think of a single solitaire diamond ring. But there's no reason to follow the herd, the only limiting factor here is your imagination. Three stone and five stone rings are very popular as are half eternity and full eternity rings, clusters and dress rings. The most important factor here is to choose a design that you love.



Coloured Stones

Through successful marketing campaigns by diamond companies, the diamond is seen as the perfect engagement stone. However we strongly suggest you also consider coloured stones. Sapphire, and rubies all make great engagement rings, and a combination of both such as a sapphire surrounded by diamonds can look beautiful.



Ensure the auction is a reputable one

As with retail jewellery stores, you should ensure that the auction you’re visiting, be it online or in person, is a reputable one. It is always good practice to visit auctions that are known as trustworthy and reliable auctioneers. Read customer reviews, ask to see copies of previous catalogues, check that their valuers are qualified and make sure they are a member of a professional body as The Society of Fine Art Auctioneers (SOFAA) or the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).




Request a condition report and/or view item beforehand

Many auction houses, even online ones, hold an auction exhibition prior to the days leading up to it. During this time, you can pay a visit to the auction house and see the item in question up close, even try it on and speak with a specialist in case you have any questions.


When it comes to buying an engagement ring at auction, it pays to ask whether the coloured stone or diamond is being sold with a gemological laboratory certificate. However, don’t be discouraged if it isn’t – simply speak to the jewellery specialist at the auction to learn about the certification process.


Furthermore, many auction houses provide a condition report if required. This gives you a fairly good idea on the condition of the stones as well as the setting. It is not at all unusual for auction-bought engagement rings to undergo some kind of light repairwork by a bench jeweller because, in many cases, they can be quite old. Re-sizing is occasionally required too. Our jewellery specialists can recommend a local jeweller for this purpose.




Check for certificates/ask an expert

Unless you’re purchasing an antique engagement ring, it’s always a good idea to acquire a diamond certificate if you’re bidding on a modern engagement ring containing diamonds above 0.5 carats. Certified diamonds undergo inspection and assessment by a formal gemmological body – such as Gem-A (The Gemmological Association of Great Britain) – for their cut, colour and clarity grades. They are, therefore, more valuable than uncertified diamond engagement rings. Our jewellery specialists are always happy to discuss the '4C's colour, clarity, cut and carats, and help you understand the factors that affect the value of a stone. However, this isn’t to say that uncertified diamond engagement rings do not offer great value – in any case, it’s always good practice to consult a jewellery specialist beforehand.



Do your own research

There are many online auction catalogues that you can browse through – this will give you inspiration as to which designs appeal to you most. It will certainly become easier to bid on an engagement ring at an online auction once you know what your requirements are. And, it might also become easier to distinguish the really great rings from the average-quality ones, and spot a good bargain as well.


Additionally, it’s a good idea to check the price of an equivalent item at a retail jewellery store, and do a quick comparison to decide what your maximum bid will be. This might seem obvious, but it’s all too easy to get carried away at an action when you have your sights (and your heart) set on a specific piece. Retail prices are often considerably more than auction prices because jewellers have to cover their overheads, VAT, material costs, labour and they have to make a profit. At auction all of those costs are gone, so you can get much more for your money.


One last thing on doing your research – take the buyer’s premium into account. What the price is by the time the gavel drops down – referred to as the hammer price – is the price you must pay with a fee on top plus GST, which can be anywhere between 20-25%.




Is it right for you?

Sometimes, beautiful stones get overlooked at auction because their unique settings were not quite right for a buyer, this can be a good opportunity. Do take into account the fact that the possibility for redesign is always there. If you’ve fallen in love with a particular stone in a ring but don’t like the overall design and aesthetics, then factor the cost of redesigning a new mount into your bid. Most jewellers will be happy to quote to put a stone from a ring into a new mount. Our team can happily recommend reputable local jewellers. Jewellery can be easily “reborn” according to your individual preferences – although this applies more to modern, unbranded rings than antique ones – because the latter has a wonderful provenance and patina of their own which ought to be preserved.


With age, comes wear. If you find that a ring you like is worn out or scratched, you can have it refurbished by a reputable jeweller. Lastly check the size, whilst most rings can be easily and cheaply resized by a jeweller, not all can. Ask one of our team for help on an individual basis.


Buy your Engagement Ring at Dawsons

Dawsons is the perfect place to find your dream engagement ring. We offer many varieties of modern and antique engagement rings with exceptional quality and each piece is authenticated by our in-house jewellery specialists.


Our experts are always on hand to provide condition reports and explain all the differences between the many unique types of stones. If you have any questions at all about bidding or have specific questions about an item you’re interested in, please do get in touch, we would love to hear from you.

0207 431 9445 /