Economic Reality: Scaled-Down Engagement Rings

When Priscilla Perez and Joe Nino got engaged in December, like countless other guys Nino showed his commitment with a ring.

But thanks to the recession, Perez didn't get a sparkling diamond engagement ring. Instead Nino gave her cubic zirconia.

"Like any girl I always dreamed of getting a big, beautiful engagement ring from Tiffany & Co., but as the recession started and we had started to talk about marriage I knew it would be too much to ask for," Perez, 23, said.

So now she has a ring, although not with a real diamond. It doesn't matter, Perez said, and "no one can tell the difference."

It's a story being repeated across the country as Americans have had to adjust to a new reality thanks to the prolonged recession. They are buying less, paying for items in cash and scaling back everything from meals out to the type of car they drive.

Of course, true love can't be held back by economic hard times -- and the number of engagement rings being sold appears to be holding steady -- but the size and price of those rings is shrinking along with Americans' wallets.

"It's not about how much the ring is worth, it's how much the ring is worth to you," Perez said.

Perez and Nino, 27, talked about marriage and what they could afford. Today, the Austin, Texas couple is not regretting the decision to save money on a ring.

"One of my co-workers also got engaged around the same time as me but she did get this big diamond ring. Her fiancé was recently let go from his job and now they are having to push the wedding to a later date," Perez said. "I think there is a lot of societal pressure to get a `real' diamond ring with so much advertising for diamonds, diamonds, diamonds and the perception that the bigger the diamond and the more it costs the more he loves you."

The money saved on a ring is now going the wedding and saving the couple from taking out costly loans for their celebration.

The economy also forced Nick Whitfield, 23, of Downingtown, Pa., to find a deal on an engagement ring.

"I was not going to postpone my engagement," Whitfield said. "After looking in 15 jewelers and not being able to find the ring I wanted for my allotted budget, I turned elsewhere. I went to Craigslist."

There he found a 2.5 carat, princess cut ring with a decorated band. He said jewelers were selling such a ring for at least $5,000. After a little negotiating, he was able to get this used ring for $1,300.

Whitfield said his fiancé Angela, 20, loves her ring and her family now thinks he is rich.

"I told her the story and how I got the ring. She was hesitant at first, thinking about how the ring was on another girl's finger," he said. After telling her that jewelers often end up with used rings, Whitfield said "she was more than okay with it."

The Diamond Information Center, an industry group that tracks sales, said that the number of engagement rings sold so far in 2009 had held steady. The group however was unable to say if the price of those rings has fallen, held the same or even risen.

The latest figures the group released were from 2006 when the average price of an engagement ring -- stone and setting -- was $3,200; the average diamond size is .75 to 1 carat. About 44 percent of rings sold cost less than $1,000 and just 1 percent more than $15,000, according to the Diamond Information Center.

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