The Ultimate Guide on How to Buy an Engagement Ring in [2020]

By Jewelry and Style Expert, Michael O’Connor

Buying an engagement ring can be a challenging experience that can be compounded by cost and inexperience. This engagement ring buying guide is meant to help you navigate your sea of choices, and provide you with a  time tested guideline on how to buy an engagement ring, make an informed and confident decision about one of the most important purchases of your life and help you succeed in accomplishing the quest for the perfect ring.

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

Since your engagement ring represents your ultimate promise and marks one of life’s most significant experiences it’s appropriate that this be a meaningful investment. This should not be confused, however, with having to clean out your bank account to make a statement.

  1. The suggested rule of thumb on how much to spend on an engagement ring is said to be equal to two-months’ salary. This is a highly personal decision, however, and a figure that’s appropriate should be reflective of the ring’s importance but be comfortable to manage. Therefore, when deciding on how much to spend on an engagement ring you may wish to use the two-months salary guideline and either augment or tailor it to fit your specific situation.

Some Tips To Consider When Determining How Much You Should Spend On An Engagement Ring:

  1. Many women today want a larger looking engagement ring. There are technologically advanced diamond cuts (such as L’Amour Crisscut) that provide a larger silhouette size over traditional “old-school/generic” cuts. Halo styling, where the center diamond is surrounded by a frame of other diamonds has also become popular as it gives the ring a larger look. Additionally, colored gemstones, often at less cost than a diamond, are gaining popularity with someone who wants a larger ring.
  2. Remember that you will eventually need wedding bands and at least her band will need to work in terms of style or fit along with the engagement ring. Some engagement ring settings will have specific wedding bands that are designed for an exact match or fit the engagement ring. Rings with large or unusual shaped center gems are maybe a little more difficult to match with a wedding band if purchased separately.

Do Your Homework When Buying an Engagement Ring:

As with any significant purchase, it’s wise to learn about what makes it valuable and what makes it “right” to invest in. Long before you plan on actually popping the question spend time doing your research – online and offline. Make sure you are knowledgeable about the nuances of the item and what will affect its value.  Understand her style and her preferences to ensure she loves the ring she will wear for a lifetime. Finally, as with everything of high value, educate yourself on ways to protect the item against loss or theft.

  1. If you listen, she may already be giving you hints on her style preferences. Listen to the way she describes a friend’s ring or what she likes and doesn’t like about a celebrity’s engagement ring. Venture your own comments about these rings and you’ll most likely get good feedback on what she views for herself. Still in doubt? Head to the mall and casually stop by a jewelry store to see what captures her interest.
  2. Look on trusted jewelry brands and retailers to get a sense of what’s available in the market, general price points, shopping tips and advice on buying an engagement ring.
  3. Familiarize yourself with your local jewelers, the types or rings and brands they carry and enquire about insurance programs they may offer once you make a purchase.

Some Research Tips When Buying An Engagement Ring:

How to buy an engagement ring guide including different engagement ring styles.

  1. Visit trusted local jewelers and ask them about the diamonds or gemstones she may be interested in. Many will offer the additional comfort of providing a gemological certificate with the purchase of a diamond or gem. Ask about the diamond brands that each store carries and what features make each brand special.
  2. See if your retailer offers insurance packages on your purchase.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Most jewelers realize this is a major purchase decision that will take time, so they will be happy to work with you and answer all the questions you may have. No matter how small or strange, most likely they’ve heard it before.

Information On Buying a Diamond

For many years, diamonds have been the traditional gemstone for the center of an engagement ring. Folklore and myth surrounding the gem date back to antiquity where they were believed to be pieces from the stars that had fallen to earth, or tears of the Gods. The word diamond, in fact, comes from the ancient Greek word “Adamas” meaning “unbreakable”. Because they were believed to be the strongest and hardest of gems they became symbolic of the strength and durability of the bond between a married couple.

In reality, diamonds are an allotrope, or a variant form, of carbon with a cubic crystal structure that is formed at extremely high temperatures under great pressure about 100 miles below the earth’s surface.  The crystals’ growth happens over a period of about 1 billion to 3 billion years and is brought closer to the earth’s surface via deep volcanic eruptions. The result is a gem of amazing physical qualities that include extreme hardness, thermal conductivity, high dispersion, and beautiful optical qualities.

Diamonds come in a variety of cut-shapes and colors with natural colored diamonds being quite rare. When buying a diamond, most people are more familiar with the classic “clear” or “white” variety and often see the classic round or “brilliant” cut. Diamonds are primarily graded on what is known as “The 4 C’s” – Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat Weight. Each “C” is basically a scale of a rarity with the rarest traits at the top and therefore most valuable.  Here is a breakdown of each so you are better equipped on how to choose a diamond

The 4 C's on how to buy an engagement ring

  1. Cut: Contrary to what many believe, a diamonds cut is not its “shape”. Cutting is one of the key factors to a diamond’s beauty and value because it determines how the gem reflects and refracts light, via specifically measured angles and polished planes – called facets.
  2. Shape: Diamonds are cut into numerous shapes. The most common is the round “brilliant”, which features 58 facets. Today more brides want to express their individuality. Therefore, more unusual shapes continue to grow in popularity.
  3. Clarity: Like most things found in nature, diamonds contain tiny flaws and imperfections. As diamond crystals form and grow under tremendous heat and pressure there are often areas that crystallize differently, or not at all or get fractured and marred due to the intense heat and pressure. These and other tiny flaws are proof of their organic nature and part of their individual character that makes each diamond distinct. Flaws in diamonds are called “inclusions” when they are internal and “blemishes” when they are on the surface. The fewer inclusions and blemishes a diamond has, the rarer it is and, therefore, the more valuable it becomes. Most jewelers will grade diamonds while using 10X magnification to judge the presence, number, and position of inclusions or blemishes.

Gia Certified Gems - How to buy an engagement ring guide

Grading Scale: The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is widely considered to be the authority on gems in the United States and has created a scale to describe the various levels of clarity in diamonds. The levels are:

Flawless (FL): No imperfections or blemishes visible to a skilled grader using 10X magnification.

  1. Internally Flawless (IF): No inclusions, but some minor blemishes visible to a skilled grader using 10X magnification.
  2. Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2): Inclusions and/or blemishes are present but difficult for a skilled grader to see using 10X magnification. VVS1 is the higher level whereas VVS2 might have inclusions that would be slightly easier for the grader to detect.
  3. Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2): Inclusions may still be characterized as minor but they are clearly visible with 10X magnification. Again, VS1 is the higher level while VS2 might be easier to see.
  4. Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2): Inclusions are noticeable to a grader using 10X magnification. The SI1 level may have inclusions that are more peripherally located in the gem or slightly smaller while the SI2 level may have them more centrally located and be easier to see.
  5. Imperfect (I1, I2, and I3): Inclusions are more obvious and may start to affect the transparency and brilliance of the diamond.
  1. Color: Referring to “color” in a white diamond is a slight misnomer since the term actually refers to a diamond’s “lack of color”. Minerals and elements found in nature and present during crystallization, or a variety of other factors, can impact or create color in a diamond. Hence, the absence of any color whatsoever is rare and, as such, more valuable. A colorless diamond reflects light back in a pure rainbow without impeding light flow in the crystal or adding any other color to dilute this effect.

Color Grades: The GIA rates the colors of “white” diamonds from D to Z. “Colored” diamonds (those of distinct fancy coloration) are graded differently, or more for their hue and saturation of color. “White” Diamonds are usually graded with a special white light, face down (to minimize refraction) against a pure white background.  Diamonds rated from D to G are considered essentially colorless. Diamonds rated H and I are considered near-colorless, and diamonds rated J to Z will reveal increasingly yellowish or off-tones.

  1. Carat Weight: More confusion about a diamond is the belief that the carat weight is the same as size. Although there is some correlation between carat weight and size, diamonds may have a cutting that is either broader or deeper. A diamond’s carat weight is exactly that, a measure of its weight. A one-carat diamond weighs 0.007054 ounces. Larger diamonds need to be cut from larger crystals, which are rarer to find than smaller crystals. Therefore, larger diamonds can be significantly and disproportionately more expensive than smaller diamonds.

Tips On How To Choose A Diamond

  1. Each of the four C’s will help determine the cost of your diamond. If your future bride wants a higher carat weight diamond, you may be able to get a larger diamond by trading down slightly on some of the other C’s. Additionally, some of the more technologically advanced cuts can also provide a broader, larger-looking silhouette without the costly carat weight begin hidden underneath the diamond where it will not be seen. If she cares more about having a higher quality, she may be happy with a smaller stone of better color and superior clarity.
  2. Since many people find it hard to understand the intricacies of diamond grading but wish to be sure about their purchase, many retailers will offer a certificate (usually from a third party such as GIA) that details each of the grade levels of a particular stone, as determined by a skilled grader. Some jewelers can also provide an illustration of your gem that will show the location, size, and type of inclusions that are present in the diamond making each as unique as a fingerprint.
  3. A number of diamond brands and designers will offer the additional assurance of microscopically inscribing a unique identification number and/or logo onto each diamond’s table or girdle as a guarantee of the gem’s authenticity and provenance. When purchased and set, these uniquely numbered diamonds provide the gem’s owner an immediately recognizable way to easily identify their gem.

The Different Types of Engagement Ring Settings

Although people may often refer to their engagement ring as “their diamond”, no diamond sits on a finger without the aid of a setting that holds the gem properly and secures it for daily wear. From your first visit to a jeweler to buy an engagement ring you’ll see those engagement ring settings come in a variety of styles, as well as in a choice of metals. Engagement rings with diamonds, including center gems already set into them are available from numerous stores.

If you’ve done your homework you’ll already have a sense of what she likes from a style perspective. You should also take into account how active or sports-minded your future bride is, as that may determine how the center gem is best held. The most common method for holding a diamond is in “prongs” which are wires that extend up from the setting to the edge or “girdle” of the diamond. Most diamonds will be set with 4 – 6 prongs. Women with very active lives who love to work with their hands may wish the security of additional prongs to help prevent the loss of the center diamond. In this case, as in the case of larger center gems, you may want to ask about setting the center gem with 8 or more prongs. For very active women a “bezel” engagement ring setting may be best since the metal is drawn up over the gem’s girdle around the entire perimeter, therefore protecting it from every angle.

  1. The anatomy of a ring is simple. The “shank” is the band portion of the ring that wraps around the finger. The top that contains the prongs that hold the center gem (usually the same shape as the center gem) is called the “head” while the areas directly on either side of the head are called the “shoulders”. There are a number of setting terms that will also help guide you when describing what you’re looking for:
  1. Solitaire: One of the most popular and classic settings for an engagement ring, the solitaire style features a single gemstone at the top of the band. Some jewelers will also use this term to describe settings that have a much smaller diamond (usually a “baguette” cut) set on either side of a larger center.
  2. Three Stone: This engagement ring setting style features a center diamond flanked on either side (the shoulders) with another diamond that is larger in size and more comparable to the center diamond size.
  3. Halo Style: A style of engagement ring that remains popular is the “halo” style, which contains a “collar” of diamonds that frame, or encircle, the center gemstone.
  4. Pave: From the French word meaning “paved” the surface of this engagement ring setting will contain many diamonds set closely together, giving a shimmering and sparkling quality to the entire setting. Some jewelers offer this style and technique using many smaller diamonds, which is referred to as a “micro-pave”.

Tips For Choosing The Right Engagement Ring Setting

  1. When you look for wedding bands and if you wish the band to sit flush up against the engagement ring, the shape or size of the center gem may mean that the band will have to be specially made to fit. Some jewelers may offer a suitable band for these types of settings. If this is the case, it’s wise to purchase the band at the same time (or speak to your jeweler about a “lay-away” plan) to avoid the marching band from being sold and not replaceable at the time you will need it.
  2. If your bride has wider hands or shorter fingers and is sensitive to that fact, an engagement ring style that is designed on a “North/South” orientation (longer in length from the knuckle to the fingertip) will give a more elegant, longer look to her hands.
  3. Rings set with diamonds all the way around the shank are extremely popular but can sometimes have issues on the bottom with the wear of prongs or chipping and cracking of the gems. Women with very active lives may wish to avoid these styles, in favor of designs with gems concentrated on the top of the ring.

Choosing An Engagement Ring Metal:

Each metal has unique properties that make it either precious, durable or desired and may make it suitable for an engagement ring. Historically, the preferred metals for engagement rings has been either platinum or gold.

Learning about the characteristics of the various engagement ring metals will help you make an informed choice on which will the best choice for you:

  1. Platinum: Platinum is a popular metal for engagement ring settings and/or setting high-quality diamonds. This is due to platinum’s natural white color that will never fade or change over time. Platinum is an extremely dense metal so it will not wear down as easily, or quickly, as other precious metals and is less likely to split or lose a prong with normal wear. As a result of platinum’s whiteness and durability, most of the world’s most famous diamonds have been set into this metal. Platinum is primarily used at a purity level of 90 – 95% (Platinum 900 or Platinum 950), which keeps it hypo-allergenic. Platinum settings tend to become less shiny over time and develop a warmer glow or a “patina”. Some people prefer this look, while others who wish the higher shine may need to have the ring occasionally re-polished.
  2. Yellow Gold: The yellow color of gold that we are familiar with is how the metal naturally appears. Gold is an extraordinary metal, which, in its pure form never tarnishes. Pure gold, however, is a softer metal so it is rarely used in this form for jewelry that will be worn daily or to secure a diamond. In order to add strength and/or color (see next section) pure gold is typically mixed with other metals, called “alloys”. Most often gold is shown at two purity levels, 75% (18 karats) or 58.5% (14 karats). Gold will also develop a patina over a longer time and those who wish a higher shine will need to have the ring occasionally re-polished. Even if you choose an engagement ring in yellow gold, the head or prongs may be platinum or white gold in order to keep the diamond looking white and not yellow.
  3. White Gold and Rose Gold: As stated above, the natural color of gold is yellow. In order to achieve colors of gold, specific metals are mixed with it to dilute its natural yellow color. The purity levels are usually the same as with yellow gold but the choice of other metals or “alloys” is picked for the color that they will provide. White gold is created by adding whitening metals, such as palladium, nickel or others while rose gold is creating by adding pinkish metals like copper. In both cases, the finished pieces are often plated over the top with the color of choice to augment the effect.

Tips For Choosing The Best Engagement Ring Metal:

  1. Rings are worn daily typically have a couple of points of weakness. The shank, which can wear down over time, and the prongs, which can become loose, wear down or even break off. To avoid losing a diamond or gem from your ring it’s wise to have the ring checked every 6 months to a year by your jeweler.
  2. Colors of gold, other than yellow, may fade over time. For example, in white gold, the rhodium used to augment the white effect may wear off. Likewise for other colors. If you want to keep the ring pristine in appearance, you can ask your jeweler to occasionally re-plate the worn areas.

Choosing A Jeweler To Buy Your Engagement Ring:

When purchasing an item as costly and complex as a diamond engagement ring it’s important to go to a source you can trust! Below are some tips on where to buy engagement rings.

Everyone may have “a friend in the business”, who will give you a “good price”, but it’s equally, if not more important than a retailer is educated on diamonds, on the brands they sell and have an impeccable reputation.

  1. Go online and read a store’s reviews to hear what real customers are saying about them, their customer service and the experiences that real people have had with that store. Bear in mind that people are more often likely to write a bad review than they are to write a good review, so weigh that into the equation.
  2. If you’ve been shopping and find that you like a particular designer be sure to visit that designer’s website as well as the retailer’s site. Most likely they will have a “Find a Retailer” section that will provide you a few options of where to view and purchase products.

A couple’s options on an engagement ring may have changed these days but popping the question is still one of the most time-honored and traditional ways for a couple to take it to the next, more permanent step. Another thing that remains forever true is that researching and understanding the characteristics that make a product valuable will only help you make a wise, informed choice that you’ll be as proud of on your 50 anniversary as you are on the day you buy it.  I hope you have found this guide on how to buy an engagement ring helpful.