How to Buy An Engagement Ring (What You Need to Know)

Buying an engagement ring is one of the biggest purchases you will make in your life, not only financially but also emotionally.

This is why you want to get it right and I know first-hand how stressful the experience can be, I bought an engagement ring before I got involved in the jewelry trade and had no idea what I was doing.

Fortunately for you, I’ve now got a fair bit of experience when it comes to these very special rings and to hopefully make your experience less stressful and more enjoyable, I’ve written a complete guide covering all the things you need to know.

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

Ok, let’s get this one out of the way right away

You should spend as much as you can afford to spend on an engagement ring.

There are no hard and fast rules about this, even though you will commonly see things like you should spend at least 2 or 3 months’ salary but I can tell you that this is all marketing bs.

But one of the most important parts of the process of buying an engagement ring is to set yourself a budget and if the value of the ring is more important than the thought and meaning that has gone into choosing it, then you might want to reconsider the person you are getting engaged to!

And remember, you can always upgrade the ring in future when you are in a better financial position.

Your budget is going to cover three main elements of the ring:

  1. The price of the Diamond
  2. The cost of the metal
  3. The cost of making and selling the ring

A big mistake a lot of people make is that they spend the majority of the budget on the centre stone but you want the stone to be in a well-made ring mount, so don’t skimp on this bit but I’ll cover this in a little more detail later on.

Choosing The Stone

The centerpiece of every engagement ring is the main stone and you have two options when it comes to choosing this stone…

1. Diamonds

There are a couple of good reasons why Diamonds are the most popular stone for an engagement ring (and it’s not just down to marketing).

Round Brilliant Cut Diamond

Diamonds Are Durable

Engagement rings have a pretty tough life as they are worn every day for many years and Diamonds are up to the task as they are the hardest natural material on earth, meaning that they are less likely to get scratched or chipped than other gemstones.

They are also pretty tough, meaning they are less likely to break and they can easily cope with being exposed to different chemicals, such as cleaning and beauty products and condition changes, such as being exposed to heat and light.

This means that the Diamond will look beautiful for the lifetime of the ring.

Diamonds Are Beautiful

Diamonds have a beauty that is unlike many other gemstones and this is down to some unique characteristics, which includes:

  • Lustre – due to Diamonds being so hard, they have a bright lustre, which means that the surface of the gems facets reflect a lot of light and this is something that isn’t matched by other gemstones
  • Sparkle – also known as fire, which is the amount of light that is returned to the eye when looking at a Diamond and no other gemstone has had the time and effort put in to find the perfect cut and when this is done right, Diamonds have a sparkle that will definitely catch your eye

And when you get a good quality Diamond that has been well cut, it is just something special to look at.

How Do You Choose A Diamond?

If you decide to choose a Diamond for your engagement ring, you want to learn a bit about Diamonds first, so that you:

  1. Buy a nice stone
  2. Understand the terminology being used

When it comes to buying a Diamond, there are two main things you need to know about, which are:

1. The Style of Diamond Cut

This is the shape of the Diamond cut and there are two main categories, which are:

Brilliant Cuts – these are Diamonds that have been cut in a way that produces the maximum amount of sparkle and are what most people think of when they think of a Diamond.

The most popular is the Round Brilliant, which is the most researched cut in history and all the other brilliant cuts (often called modified brilliant cuts) have design elements that are inspired or taken from the Round Brilliant.

Round Brilliant Cut
Princess Cut
Cushion Cut
Oval Cut
Pear Cut
Marquise Cut

Other styles of brilliant cut includes:

  • Radiant Cut
  • Trillion Cut
  • Heart Cut

Step Cuts are the second most popular category for Diamond cuts and while these don’t have the same kind of sparkle that is found in brilliant cuts, Diamonds cut as step cuts usually have better colour and clarity and there are three main styles of step cut, which are:

Emerald Cut
Asscher Cut Diamond
Asscher Cut
Baguette Cut Diamond
Baguette Cut

Emerald and Asscher cut Diamonds make great centre stones but Baguette Cuts are usually better suited to being accent stones.

Old Cuts – these are ideal if you want a vintage look for your ring as styles like the Old Mine and Old European cut weren’t cut with the same precision as modern cut Diamonds.

Fancy Cuts – with the evolution of cutting technology, Diamonds can now be cut into all different shapes and styles and these fall under the fancy cut heading and are great if you want something a little bit different.

2. The Quality of the Diamond

The next thing is the quality of the Diamond as you want to choose a stone that looks good and there are a few things to consider…

The first thing is the 4 C’s, which are the grading criteria that gem labs use to assess the quality of the stone and these are:

Color – this is the body color of the Diamond and for colorless stones, this is most commonly graded on a scale of D – Z, with D being colorless and Z having a strong tint, usually of yellow or brown. For fancy colored Diamonds such as Blues and Pinks, a different system is used to assess the color.

Clarity – this is how free the Diamond is from inclusions and the most commonly used grading scale ranges from Flawless to Included and generally, the fewer the number of inclusions, the better the stone is to look at.

Cut – this is the quality of the cut and includes assessing the proportions, symmetry and final polish of the Diamond and usually, this will result in a better-looking stone but it isn’t always the case.

Carat – this is the weight of stone (some people confuse this with the size) and the unit of measurement for weighing Diamonds is called a carat and 1 carat is equivalent to 0.2 grams.

Most guides that talk about Diamonds stop at the 4 C’s but there are some additional things that need to be considered when talking about Diamond quality, these include:

Fluorescence – this is a phenomenon that is found in some Diamonds and while occasionally, this can affect the appearance of the Diamond by making it look milky, in the majority of cases it doesn’t affect the appearance of the stone and you shouldn’t be put off Diamonds that have fluorescence.

Treatments – some lower-quality Diamonds can be treated to improve their color or clarity and while treated Diamonds are significantly cheaper than untreated ones, they are best avoided unless the stone is very cheap.

Lab Reports – often wrongly called certificates, these are reports on the quality of the Diamond from a gem lab but make sure the report is from a reputable lab such as GIA or IGI

When it comes to choosing the quality of your Diamond, you want to get a good compromise of the 4 C’s (there isn’t one that is more important than another) but more importantly, buy a stone that you like!

It doesn’t matter what it says on the report, if you like the look of the stone, then go for it but I would still recommend avoiding treated Diamonds if possible.

2. Colored Gemstones

Colored gemstones can be a great alternative to Diamond but you have to choose the right gemstone as you want one that can deal with the daily wear and tear that engagement rings go through.

There are a number of gemstones that can be used in engagement rings, including:

  • Sapphire
  • Ruby
  • Spinel

But unfortunately, the majority of gemstones just aren’t durable enough, meaning they are more likely to get scratched, chipped or broken and this includes popular gemstones such as Emerald, Tanzanite and Opal.

If there is another colored gemstone that you are thinking about using, then make sure to check if the stone is suitable before having the ring made as you don’t want to waste your money on a stone that is going to end up getting damaged.

Colored Gemstone Quality

Unlike Diamonds, there isn’t a recognized set of criteria by which to judge the quality of a colored gemstone and they all have their own unique traits that impact their quality.

This is where buying guides can be really helpful as they can help educate you about what to look for with certain gemstones and I’ve created a few that might be helpful if you are considering using one of them and I’ve linked them below:

Choosing The Style of the Ring

Once you have decided on the stone that you want to use in your engagement ring, the next step is to choose a style of ring and once again, there are two parts to this, which are:

1. The Design of the Ring

This is the design of the ring mount and there are many different designs out there but they are all usually variations of some of the most popular engagement rings styles and these include:

Solitaire Engagement Ring Prong

The Solitaire

The solitaire is the classic engagement ring and is a single stone ring, usually with a prong or bezel setting.

The solitaire is suitable for styles of cut stone and while many people opt for a plain band, you can also add some extra bling to the ring by having small Diamonds set in the shoulders of the ring.

Trilogy Engagement Ring

The Trilogy Ring

A very popular option is the trilogy ring and the reason why it is so popular is that there are many different configurations for this ring style.

You can opt for a style of cut for the center stone, with different cut diamonds as the outers (as seen in the picture) or you can go for three stones of the same cut.

You can also choose to have a larger center stone with smaller outers or have all three stones the same size, as I said, there are many different options when it comes to trilogy rings.

Halo Engagement Ring

The Halo Ring

The halo ring has become a very popular option this century as it offers a lot of sparkle for the wearer.

Halo engagement rings are set with a main center stone, which is surrounded by smaller round brilliant diamonds (this gives the halo effect).

Many people also go the extra mile and have the shoulders set with Diamonds as well.

There are many other styles of ring that you can choose from, including Cluster and Two Stone Rings or you may want to work with a designer to create a completely custom design.

2. The Style of the Setting

The next part of the design process is to choose the style of setting that is going to hold the main stone in place and there are two main options:

1. Prong Setting

Solitaire Engagement Ring Prong

The most popular setting style for engagement rings is the prong setting.

This style of setting lets a lot of light into the stone, which can be good for some darker-colored gemstones and is secure but the prongs can loosen over time and the ring should be checked every 1 – 2 years.

Most prong settings are 4 prong but for larger stones, having 6 prongs can be more secure and reduce the chances of the stone falling out should one of the claws get damaged.

2. Bezel Setting

Bezel Engagement Ring

The second type of setting is bezel setting, which is more secure than prong setting as there is a rim of metal around the stone to keep it in place and it doesn’t need to be checked as regularly.

The downside is that this style of setting does let in less light and in some cases can make stones appear darker and more lifeless than in a prong setting

As to which setting style you should go for, that is down to you but some things to consider when choosing this are:

  1. What is the main gemstone? For softer and more brittle gems, bezels provide a lot more protection and security for the stone, meaning they are less likely to get damaged
  2. What does the wearer do for a living/hobby? – this is very important because if the ring-wearer of the ring is doing things that increase the chance of the ring getting damaged or caught on things, then a bezel may be the best option

This is also where choosing the right place to buy your engagement ring comes into play as if you deal with a good company, they will offer you genuine advice as to which options to go for.

Choosing The Metal

The final part of the process for the ring is to choose the metal that the ring is going to be made from and there are a few different options:

1. Gold

The most prized of all the precious metals is gold and it has been a favorite for engagement rings for a long time but there are different types of gold…

What Karat of Gold?

Gold comes in different purity levels and pure gold (99.9%) isn’t suitable for engagement rings as it is too soft and malleable, meaning it would get squashed in no time, this is why gold is mixed with other metals, such as copper, silver and palladium to make it more durable.

Even though it sounds the same, Karat shouldn’t be confused with Carat, which is the weight measurement used for Diamonds and Gemstones (but confusingly is also used for gold in other parts of the world).

There are many different gold qualities used around the world but the most common are:

  • 10ct Gold (US 41.7% gold)
  • 14ct Gold (57.5% gold)
  • 18ct Gold (75% gold)
  • 22ct Gold (91.6%)

The most popular option for engagement rings is 18ct gold and even though it is softer than lower carat golds, meaning it scratches easier, it is more durable and doesn’t wear away as quickly, which is ideal for engagement rings.

Another reason why 18ct Gold is more popular is that it produces a better color than lower-carat gold due to the higher gold content.

What Colour of Gold?

Gold not only comes in different carats but also comes in different colours and there are three main types:

Yellow Gold – this is where pure gold is mixed with an alloy that usually contains copper and silver (alloys vary between manufacturers) and this produces a color similar to that of pure gold, which is what we think of when we think of gold.

White Gold – this is where pure gold is mixed with white metals such as Silver and Palladium, which results in White Gold. The majority of White Gold jewelry is Rhodium plated as many mixtures don’t produce a truly white metal, it is often more of a creamy white, which isn’t the most attractive.

And it is the Rhodium plating that gives pieces that bright, shiny finish that most people think of with White Gold but this plating does wear off and needs to be re-plated every few years.

You can buy 18ct White Gold which has a high Palladium content and even though it is more expensive, it produces a much whiter metal, which has a nice grey finish to it (I personally like it a lot) and doesn’t need to be rhodium plated but you can still choose to have it done if you want.

Rose Gold – this is where pure gold is mixed with an alloy that contains a lot of copper, which gives the metal a much redder appearance.

There are many variations of Rose Gold, with terms such as red or strawberry gold often being used and these in most cases are just referring to how strong the red color is but unlike White Gold, Rose Gold doesn’t require plating in order to create or maintain the color.

2. Platinum

Another very popular metal for engagement rings is Platinum for a number of reasons:

  • Platinum is rarer than White Gold
  • Platinum is more durable than White Gold
  • Platinum doesn’t require plating
  • Platinum doesn’t tarnish

But Platinum doesn’t have the same bright appearance as Rhodium Plated White Gold and is a softer metal, meaning that it is easier to scratch.

Nearly all Platinum used in jewelry is 950, meaning that it is 95% platinum and 5% of another metal, which can be ruthenium, cobalt, iridium or palladium, with the first two being the best options for engagement rings.

3. Palladium

Palladium is a relative newcomer as a metal that is used for engagement rings and became popular as it was a cheaper alternative to White Gold and Platinum, although that has changed over the past few years.

It offers many of the same advantages as Platinum in that it is a hardwearing and durable metal that doesn’t require plating to achieve a ‘white’ finish.

In terms of quality, Palladium comes in two forms:

  • 950 Palladium – this is 95% Palladium and 5% Silver and is the highest quality used for jewelry
  • 500 Palladium – this is 50% Palladium and 50% Silver and is much cheaper than the 950 option

For engagement rings, 950 Palladium is the most commonly used of the two.

4. Sterling Silver

The budget option for engagement rings is Sterling Silver but there are reasons why you want to avoid using it:

  1. Silver is soft and scratches easily
  2. Silver isn’t as durable as other metals and doesn’t stand up well to the daily wear and tear that engagement rings go through

It can serve a purpose as a proposal ring that is used until the proper engagement ring has been bought but on its own, it isn’t the best option.

What is the Best Metal for an Engagement Ring?

As you can see, there are a number of options when it comes to metals to use for an engagement ring but which ones are the best?

  1. Platinum – due to it being durable and hardwearing, Platinum is my top choice plus it looks nice and doesn’t require much maintenance to maintain its appearance
  2. 18ct Yellow Gold – as it wears well, looks nice and doesn’t require much maintenance to maintain its appearance (it is my personal favorite)
  3. 18ct Rose Gold – similar properties to Yellow Gold but some people may react to the higher copper content, which means it isn’t ideal for everyone
  4. 18ct White Gold – as the majority of White Gold is rhodium plated, they look amazing when new but when the plating wears off they don’t look great and need replating in order to look good again, which will be an ongoing cost for the ring
  5. Palladium – even though it shares many traits with Platinum, the higher price makes it less appealing and some jewelers don’t like working with Palladium, which can make getting repairs done challenging
  6. Sterling Silver – it is too soft and not durable enough for use in rings that are worn daily for a lifetime, so not really suitable for an engagement ring

Where To Buy The Ring

Once you have made your choices around the stone and design of the ring, it is time to find somewhere to actually buy it and there are a few options but before you do this, you want to find out one very important fact…

What Is Their Ring Size?

This can be quite tricky and you might need to get a little bit creative in order to find this out but a couple of tips for this include:

  • Do they have any rings that fit on their ring finger? If so, get this measured!
  • Can their friends/family help you to find this out?

If you can get very creative/sneaky, there are ring size measuring tools that look like a zip tie that are great for finding out their ring size, a top tip is to make sure that the ring fits over their knuckle.

But if you can’t find out, don’t worry too much as you will probably be able to get it resized after you have proposed, with this important point out of the way, what are the options when it comes to buying an engagement ring?

1. Independent Jewelers

These are small independent retail stores and many of these have their own workshops in the store where the ring will be made and they will generally offer a better product and more personalized service than large chain store jewelers.

2. Independent Designer Maker

These are jewelers who work directly with clients but don’t have a retail outlet and you may meet with them in their workshop (where the magic happens), as with independent jewelers, you will often get a better product and very good service as you deal directly with the jeweler.

3. Online Retailers

With the evolution in online selling, there are now many different options online for buying an engagement ring, with some options including:

  • Leibish – if you are looking for Fancy Colour Diamonds or Coloured Gemstones, then Leibish has one of the best selections available
  • Blue Nile – they have one of the largest selections of Diamonds available online and have a very easy to use online ring builder
  • Susannah Lovis – if you are looking for vintage engagement rings, then Susannah Lovis has a stunning selection

4. Large Chain Jewellers

These are the stores that you find on every high street or shopping mall and you basically buy off the shelf, I personally wouldn’t recommend these as they charge higher prices for lower-quality goods.

Which One Should You Buy From?

There isn’t a right or wrong answer and it very much comes down to you and how you would prefer to buy the ring.

If you want to speak to someone and have a more personalized service, then dealing with an independent jewelry store or designer is going to be the best option, plus they usually have very good after-sales should you have any issues or queries.

Alternatively, if you know what you want and would prefer to streamline the process, then buying online is a great option and many offer a great and convenient service, the after-sales is also usually pretty good.

Either way, you want to feel happy with your decision and don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t think that company is right for you.

Conclusion

I hope that wasn’t too long of a read and you aren’t bamboozled by information but I wanted to create the most helpful guide I could and cover all of the things that you need to know when it comes to buying an engagement ring.

But I hope that this has helped you have a clearer idea of what to do next and the most important points are:

  1. Choosing the right stone
  2. Choosing the right design
  3. Find somewhere you feel comfortable buying from

Then all you need to do is get the ring made and pop the question, which is the easy part right?

I'm Paul Haywood FGA DGA, the owner and founder of Haywoods Gems, I'm a fully qualified Gemmologist and Diamond Grader from the Gemmological Association of Great Britain.

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