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Originally published Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 8:00 PM

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How to buy wedding and engagement rings online

Before choosing an online store, read the store’s return policy thoroughly.

The Associated Press

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It’s wedding season. And the Internet can be a busy jewelry buyer’s best friend, if you know what to look for.

More people are getting their baubles online. The online jewelry and watch industry has grown to $9.8 billion, an average 2.9 percent increase a year for the past five years, according to research firm IBISWorld.

Tom Brodeforth knew he would ultimately buy his fiancee’s engagement ring online too, even though they browsed jewelry stores first.

“I knew I could get a better deal online,” says Brodeforth, 41, a bank vice president in New Jersey. He bought a $25,000, 2-carat diamond ring set in platinum. He had the ring appraised the week he received it and was told it was worth more than $30,000.

Before you buy online, read the store’s return policy thoroughly. A diamond is hard to judge online, and you might not be happy with ring. The retailer should offer free shipping and a full refund. And it should allow you to send the ring back within at least 30 days.

To limit returns, try buying from a website that features high-definition photos. This will better enable you to clearly see any imperfections in the stone, says Ira Weissman, the founder of diamond shopping guide TruthAboutDiamonds.com.

Seattle-based Blue Nile lets buyers build their own rings.

If you want to get a feel for a ring before you purchase it, two websites offer that option. Ritani will send up to two of your choice to a local jeweler so you can compare them. It works with about 100 stores around the country. It’s free to have the rings sent to a store, and there is no obligation to buy one.

Ocappi, a high-end online jeweler, will send to your home at no cost six replicas of the rings you are considering buying for free. You can keep the rings five days, then ship them back for free.

If you’re buying a diamond ring, it should come with paper work from either the Gemological Institute of America or the American Gem Society. The two analyze diamonds for what’s known as the four Cs: carat, color, clarity and cut. The certification will grade the stone, and the criteria will help determine its value.

Of the four Cs, cut is key, says Russell Shor, a senior industry analyst at the Gemological Institute of America. The cut determines how well the stone will sparkle when light hits it. Even if the color or clarity is of an average grade, the diamond can still look great if it has an excellent cut, says Shor.

Another tip: Go a fraction of a carat smaller. A 1 carat diamond that costs $6,000 can be 25 percent cheaper if you buy one that’s 0.90 carat, says Jim Schultz, president of James Allen. It will be hard to tell any difference.

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