How to Buy an Engagement Ring at Auction

Buying an engagement ring is a deeply personal process. Traditionally one partner selects a ring for the other and then proposes marriage, but many modern couples choose their rings together. Either way, purchasing an engagement ring is an intense experience that can be made less stressful through a deeper understanding of several different paths to purchase.

One option for couples in the market for an engagement ring is to buy a modern or vintage ring at auction. Though a more time-intensive process, buying an engagement ring at auction opens up many options in terms of price, quality, and selection.

For an insider perspective on this approach, we sat down with jewelry specialist Lucy P. Grogan, Vice President and Gallery Director at Grogan & Company, for her tips on how to buy an engagement ring at auction.

How is buying an engagement ring at auction different from purchasing a ring from a jeweler?

Buying an engagement ring at an auction is different from purchasing a ring from a jeweler for many reasons, not least of which is the lack of a sales person. On one hand this can be a benefit as there is no one following you around, putting on the pressure to buy, and suggesting rings that are not your style (or budget). On the other hand, there is no hand-holding at auction, so it requires the buyer to do a little more homework.

What are some of the benefits of buying a ring at auction?

The two top benefits of buying at auction are the fair market value price and the selection of one-of-a-kind rings. Generally speaking, the fair market value (for which an item tends to sell at auction) is approximately one-half to one-third the retail price, or what you can expect to spend at a high end retail jeweler. This difference in price is due to the fact that the auction process does not offer the hands-on experience provided by a fine retail jeweler, including a fancy box, paperwork, an appraisal, and post-purchase care. There are exceptions for this on the auction market and often diamonds or colored stones do come with a gemological laboratory certificate, so be sure to ask. Overall, you can get more bling for your buck at auction. The varied selection of one-of-a-kind rings is unparalleled by any other market. Whether your taste is contemporary or antique, chances are you will have a whole host of options to choose from at auction.

Left: Bailey Banks & Biddle, platinum and diamond ring, emerald-cut weighing approx. 1.50 cts. Grogan & Company (February 11); Right: Platinum and diamond ring and band, marquise-cut diamond weighing approx. 1.50 cts. Grogan & Company (February 11)

Can someone “shop” for an engagement ring at an auction house? Can they come in and look at inventory outside of auction day?

Yes! Most auction houses hold an auction exhibition in the days or week leading up to the sale. During the exhibition, you can visit the auction house to see the jewelry in person, try it on, and speak with a specialist.

Happy freakin Friday, folks. What a way to end the week! This ca. 1950 Cartier 3.38 cts. STUNNING engagement ring is a consignment I’ve been working on for a while that came through today from the estate of a Westchester County NY lady. Her husband proposed with a Cartier ring and then upgraded twice throughout their marriage. This was the third and final Cartier ring. What a guy! I am so so so happy to bring it to the block in February for #thewinterauction. GIA certified F, VS 1. Estimate $30,000-50,000 😍 💎 💎 💎 #LOTRWD #auctions #auctionhouse #jewelryauction #engagementring #cartierring #vintagecartier #vintageengagementring #caratclub #showmeyourrings #jewelryaddict #diamond #diamondring #propsal #jewelryobsessed #sayyes #cartierengagementring #redbox #estatejewelry #antiquejewelry #jewelryoftheday #ringoftheday

A post shared by Lucy P. Grogan (@lucyontheroadwithdiamonds) on

How should couples begin the process of buying a ring at auction?

Look! It can take a longer time to find the perfect ring at auction, but it is worth the wait! So start looking early and have patience.

Left: Platinum and diamond ring attributed to Cartier, transitional-cut diamond weighing 3.38 cts. Grogan & Company (February 11); Right: 14K yellow gold and diamond ring, three round brilliant-cut diamonds weighing approx. 1.60, 1.25, and 1.20 cts. Grogan & Company (February 11).

What questions should couples ask as they search for an engagement ring?

You should always ask if the diamond or colored stone is accompanied by a gemological laboratory certificate. If it is not, do not be discouraged, just be sure to speak with the jewelry specialist to learn more about their cataloguing process. Most auction houses will provide a condition report by request. This will give you a better idea about the condition of the stones and the setting. It is not unusual for engagement rings bought at auction to require some light repair work by a bench jeweler due to their age. Resizing is also almost always required. In many cases, the jewelry specialist at the auction house will be able to discuss this with you and provide a recommendation for a local jeweler.

What advice do you give clients who are interested in bidding on a specific ring?

Ask questions! Speak directly with the jewelry specialist and ask for more photos, a condition report, and for any other information the specialist things is important for that specific lot.

Lucy P. Grogan, Vice President and Gallery Director of Grogan & Company

Lucy P. Grogan is a recognized specialist in the auction and jewelry business and is frequently invited to lecture on the subject for various audiences, including museums and educational organizations. Ms. Grogan also appears on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow as a jewelry appraiser. As the daughter of Grogan & Company’s founder and president, Michael B. Grogan, Ms. Grogan grew up deeply immersed in the fine art and auction world, where Jewelry captured her attention at a young age and continues to be her focus today. Prior to her current role, Ms. Grogan worked as a Curatorial Assistant in Arts of the Americas at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, a Fine Art Consultant at Trailside Galleries in Jackson, Wyoming, and the Auction Coordinator for the Jackson Hole Art Auction.