How to Buy an Engagement Ring at Auction, According to Jewelry Experts

These are the people you want on speed dial if you need tips on how to buy a diamond engagement ring at an auction.

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With their record-breaking diamond jewelry sales, auction houses may seem intimidating. But there is another lesser-known side to the business that’s welcoming to budgets even under $5,000—and it has to do sourcing and locating that perfect diamond engagement ring. See, names like Sotheby’s and Phillips employ top-notch specialists who are at-the-ready to track down clients’ ideal styles. And if they can’t locate it, they will take the extra steps to source a diamond, then help design and execute a bespoke piece. There are no limits to the possibilities, and if you want to know how to buy a diamond engagement ring at an auction, these are the people you would call.

Philips diamond and platinum ring.

Meet the jewelry experts who can help you source and buy a diamond engagement ring at an auction.

Why settle for a limited selection of engagement rings, when auction houses can access stones and rings from around the world? Their industry jewelry specialists hold decades of experience, are part of international networks of dealers and clients and are available for private consults throughout their curation process.

Paul Redmayne, Head of Private Jewelry Sales at auction house Phillips, spent 20 years working at Harry Winston and Cartier before joining the auction house; he now works closely with clients around the world to help them find the perfect diamond engagement ring for that unforgettable proposal. “We have absolutely no restrictions whatsoever,” he explains. “The client is the one wearing it, so they decide entirely on size, color, clarity, cut, etc. We simply lend our expertise and our deep-sourcing network so we can get them the best options.” He says that most people coming to Phillips are looking for diamonds of two carats or more, but sometimes significantly larger.

“Our global network of designers, stone dealers and jewelry experts provide us with extraordinary access to the very best material at amazing value,” explains Sara Thomeier, Head of Jewels, Americas at Phillips. “So, whether the client is seeking an important diamond, or something off the beaten path like a pedigree-colored gemstone, we know how to source it directly and our specialists understand the nuances that contribute to the true value of a stone now and for generations to come.”

‘See it, buy it’ diamond engagement rings.

Sotheby’s makes it easy for clients to buy diamonds and jewelry any day of the year. The Sotheby’s Diamond division presents top-quality diamond rings and jewelry, including capsule collections by exclusive international designers like Lily Gabriella and Nicholas Lieou. Additionally, their Buy Now platform offers a rotating assortment of rings and a huge selection of loose diamonds for prices starting at just $3,200. “When we speak with clients starting their search for the perfect engagement ring, we like to expose them to the many options Sotheby’s provides,” says Alexander Eblen, Jewelry Specialist. Whether they want an antique or contemporary design or want to create something original starting with a stone of their own choosing, the Sotheby’s team taps into its vast resources to find it.

Bonhams platinum, gold and fancy yellow diamond ring.

At Bonhams, if a client can’t come in to see the options in person, Caroline Morrisey, Head of New York Jewels, will consult with them over the phone, email or video. Morrisey promises that she “will do everything I can to make their dreams a reality.” At the auction house’s 15 annual jewelry sales, about 20 to 30 percent of the items are engagement-style rings, and prices range from $500 to $1 million, with the majority under $10,000. A range of similarly affordable diamond rings from all periods can also be accessed through private sales.

Sotheby’s Sam Saidian diamond and sapphire ring.

The auction house advantage.

Another auction house advantage is the level of trust and reliability that comes from buying a diamond from a house like Christie’s or Sotheby’s; both were established more than 200 years ago, and will be around for generations to come. In many cases, the auction houses also have more competitive prices on similar quality stones than some retailers do because they are working directly with dealers.

Sotheby's diamond and platinum ring.
Sotheby’s diamond and platinum ring.

Sotheby’s Diamonds partners directly with Diacore, one of the world’s largest international diamond manufacturers, for its loose stones. If a client doesn’t find their desired diamond in the Buy Now division, a specialist can track down diamonds from other sources to show the client, or even tap into their jewelry specialists in their offices in Hong Kong, London or Los Angeles to enhance the search.

At Bonhams, Morrisey enjoys the challenge of a diamond search saying, “I have a love of stones, so it is a wonderful hunt for me.” She says most buyers are looking for stones over three carats—usually white diamonds, and occasionally fancy-colored diamonds. “There is a real range of budgets, but when we are sourcing a stone for a client it is typically $50,000 and above. These are rarified and special stones that require an individual search and I know where a lot of great stones are kept.”

Bonhams diamond.
Bonhams diamond.

A diamond engagement ring made just for you.

Sometimes, a client’s perfect diamond engagement ring just doesn’t exist, so the auction houses are equipped to help them create a bespoke design. Sotheby’s, for example, has a jeweler in New York that it works closely with to create settings for loose stones, as well as numerous jewelers and artisans who can manufacture jewelry, from simple to complex pieces. “Specialists will happily provide their opinions and ideas as the jewels are conceptualized, while the jewelers will ultimately work closely with the clients to make them a reality,”  says Eblen.

At Bonhams, if a client wants a specific jewelry designer to create a ring with a diamond from the auction house, the specialists will readily make that connection. Or if the clients have a specific mounting in mind, they can have that made, too.

Redmayne recently worked a client to create a diamond ring for his wife who just gave birth to their third child. “The client wanted something a bit different and personal, so I suggested we set three tiny diamonds inside the ring so only he and his wife know they’re there,” he explains. “He loved that.”

Phillips Tiffany fancy diamond and platinum ring.
Phillips Tiffany fancy diamond and platinum ring.

At Phillips, the bespoke process starts by sharing ring images and ideas with clients. Once they establish a style, metal type, side-stones, personal twists and details like engravings, Redmayne and his team produce a digital rendering made to scale to present the client. After any final adjustments are made by the client, the rendering is sent to the best workshop for the job—be it in Hong Kong, Paris or Geneva—to complete the ring.

Whether a client buys a finished ring or bespoke, auction experts are basically like having your own personal diamond consultant. And who wouldn’t want that?