There is no formula for picking the perfect engagement ring. There are as many options as types of people. Which only makes the entire process that much more terrifying. We’ve got you. Let us walk you through the basics with the engagement ring guide to end all engagement ring guides. Our tips. Our break-down of all you need to know. And our edit of some of our favorites at every price. So when the time comes, the only thing left to worry about will be nailing your kneeling moment.
Get Yourself a Sleuth
Before we get into this, let us just give you one solid piece of advice that will save you: ENLIST HER BEST FRIEND TO GET THE INFORMATION YOU NEED. This is what best friends were born to do. To be a great sleuth on your behalf. Make her dig around for the info. What style does she like? Art deco? Traditional? Vintage? New? The kind that gets caught on sweaters and scratches everyone she comes into contact with? No? Then maybe a flush setting could be for you. Nothing gets the job done quite like the best friend.
You Don’t Actually Need to Go for Broke
Be realistic about your budget. Going into debt for a magnificent ring is the worst way to start a relationship. She knows how much money you make (one would hope). You can get a great ring at a lot of different prices. We swear. Just follow the rest of these rules.
And we don’t mean the size of the diamond. What’s her ring size, dummy? If you don’t know, order one of these babies, and get your aforementioned sleuth to get to work, OR when you can, steal/borrow one of your soon-to-be-fiance’s rings that you know would fit her on the CORRECT finger and size it yourself, then sneak it back where it came from.
Keep in mind that no matter how sneaky you are, it’s VERY common to have to end up resizing a ring. This is not hard to do, very common, and totally ok. So don’t panic if it doesn’t end up being the right size.
Settings and Stones May Break Your Bones But Words…
Nevermind. Just be aware that settings and stones are often sold separately once you get to more than ½ carat.
What’s a carat you ask? (There are no dumb questions!) A carat is a unit of weight used to measure stones. It’s different from a karat which is used to reference the percentage of gold in the ring. The one you need to worry about for the diamond or stone is carat.
When it comes to settings, there are more than you can count. The only thing you need to worry your sweet little head about is prong setting vs bezel setting vs flush setting. As mentioned before, if she’s super low maintenance or very active, don’t go for the prong as it’s a more delicate setting that protrudes and is more likely to get nicked, scratched, and catch on sweaters. But a prong setting allows for more light to come into the diamond, making for more sparkle. A bezel setting is way more secure, and tends to be seen more in vintage or art deco rings, or very modern architectural ring. Flush settings have the center stone set down into the ring band.
In 1947, DeBeers started their famous “A diamond is forever campaign,” bringing popularity to solitaire style engagement rings, which tend to be a prong set diamonds. Diamonds, as the strongest natural stone, are ideal for minimal metal prong settings.
LAB VS NATURAL
Lab diamonds have no resale value, but luckily you will be married forever and your children will inherit that ring, so this is not necessarily an issue.
Natural should appreciate over time. Diamond prices have increased more than inflation over the last 50 years, and if the marriage lasts forever, the diamond will be worth more money in the future.
If you aren’t going the diamond route, make sure you pick a stone that can take some wear and tear. You want a stone with at least a 7.5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale (this ranks the hardness of gemstones and minerals) with 1 (Talc) and 10 (Diamond). The closer to 10, the more durable.
GET TO KNOW THE FOUR C’S
When buying a diamond, you might be asked what your preference is. Do you care more about cut, color, clarity, or carat? Let us define these for you.
How many angles does the ring have, hence how much light will be reflected through the stone. This is where you get into the shape of the diamond. More on that soon.
More grey vs more white in the diamond. The whiter it is, the blingier it is. Make sure you check out your stone in natural daylight because jewelry store lights make everything sparkle.
Diamonds are graded. A “flawless” stone won’t show any imperfections inside of the diamond under a microscope. However, a flawless stone could imply a synthetic diamond. Some inclusions (i.e., the imperfections perceived under a microscope and sometimes even by the naked eye) can be good as they help you identify your diamond, and is a signifier of a natural diamond. A flawless diamond has more value, technically, but barring any plans to pawn it off anytime soon, a flawed diamond can be more unique to you, and therefore can be considered more special.
The weight of the diamonds. Which brings us to our next section….
SHAPE MATTERS MOST
You essentially have eight shapes. Round, oval, cushion, emerald, asscher, princess, pear, and marquise.
This is where you would get the most sparkle. It’s round, therefore it has perfect geometry. It has the same distance from the center to the edge, all the way around, therefore has even distribution of light.
Harry Winston Bridal Couture Oval-Shaped Ring. Price Upon Request.
This is a style that looks great on delicate hands, as it has narrower proportions.
This is a lot of bling. Cushion cuts tend to be bigger. You can get away with a more shallow cut and a little more bling for a better price.
As with oval, this looks nice on more slender, delicate hands. This is a step-cut stone, so if you’re going to sacrifice clarity for the sake of size, this is probably not the right cut for you. Same with with an Asscher cut below.
This appears smaller than other cuts. It’s like an emerald diamond with step cuts, but square in shape. Only buy an asscher if you can afford a really big one.
A square cut is second to round diamonds in brilliance. Anything with corners can chip, so this is best set in a bezel or heavy prongs that wrap the corners snugly.
The pear cut is either beloved or hated and can be considered dated. The point can also catch on a lot of clothes and chips easily. The pro is that the shape can mask imperfections in the clarity of a diamond.
Similar to the pear cut, this is either beloved or hated and has the same corner issues and can also mask imperfections. The proportions of the shape are great for long, slender fingers.
A GEOMETRY LESSON
In addition to the cut, there is the actual geometry of the diamond. In other words, the intersection between cut and carat.
Less bragging rights in the carat department, but gives a bigger visual impression because the stone itself will appear bigger. Shallow cut will always look bigger, but you sacrifice a little sparkle.
The ideal ratio of tabletop to depth to get the most sparkle without losing too much of the impression of size. As the name implies, this is the ideal scenario. It has to do with the geometry of cut.
Stones may be higher in carat weight but look smaller. If you’re on a budget, this may not be the stone for you, as you will get less value and make less of an impression for your buck.
But if size matters, the “shallow cut” is most ideal for you as it’s, well, bigger. If carat bragging rights matter, then the deep cut might be ideal for you.
At the end of the day, what matters is: is it pretty? And is it her style?
JUST HER STYLE
Here are the different kinds of styles broken down into comprehensible terms:
If your gal is more of a traditional “a diamond is forever” gal, this might be a good style for her.
This just means there is another set of diamonds forming a “halo” around the center stone. If your gal is maybe more girly, not a minimalist, this could be her vibe. Some art deco rings fall under this category.
This is where Victorian (1837-1901), Edwardian (1901-1910), and Art Deco (1908-1935) rings fall under. If she’s more into a retro or vintage vibe, she will love this. A vintage ring is a great way to go on a budget, as you will find something really unique and special for a better price. Having said that, if you’re going for the world’s biggest diamond, it will likely also have to be an antique, cause they just don’t make’ em like they used to.
As the name implies, this is more than one major diamond, or multiple prong diamonds. This does not apply to the smaller diamonds on a band, which are referred to as “accent diamonds.”
Just a note, if your gal is a big environmentalist, she likely will want nothing to do with a mined diamond. In that case, go with a synthetic diamond (aka, a lab diamond ring). Be sure to have this discussion with your salesperson or jeweler.
OR go with a non-diamond…
PRECIOUS AND SEMI-PRECIOUS STONES
Some women prefer precious (or semi-precious) stones to diamonds. Precious stones are more rare than diamonds, which makes them desirable. They can be less expensive due to lack of that “diamonds are forever” marketing machine, but precious stones can be more unique and old-fashioned in the right kind of way. Think Elizabeth Taylor (minus the multiple marriages).
However, if she’s expecting the traditional white diamond ring, this may not be the way to go. So unless you know your girl’s taste really well, or your sleuth really did her homework and you know she would get faint over a sapphire or what have you, this is a bigger risk.
Below are some stones that are durable to last the wear and tear of every day forever wear.
Oscar Heyman Platinum Alexandrite Ring. Price Upon Request.
Just a note: everyone loves a morganite because it looks like a pink diamond, but it’s a disaster zone as it’s too soft, so skip it! For the same reason, i.e., durability, you should also consider skipping: amethysts, opals, pearls, and tanzanite as engagement rings (but great for special occasion rings!)
Simply put, does she want a gold or platinum ring?
This is the hardest and most durable, plus it’s hypoallergenic. But, even though it’s white, it reads grayer than other metals that are softer but have more warmth. Don’t underestimate the importance of hypoallergenic if your lady has sensitive skin or prone to any skin irritations. She would end up not wearing it as much or having to trade it in.
Gold can come in 14 or 18K. 18K is the beginning of truly “fine jewelry” but is also softer than 14K gold so it needs more TLC. Plus, 18K is more expensive so it’s not realistic for everyone—which is totally okay. You can get a great gold ring in 14K and, as a bonus, it will be sturdier. Gold comes in many colors, including yellow gold, rose gold, and white gold.
This is now more expensive than platinum and a pain to resize so we don’t recommend it.
David Yurman Lanai Round Ring. Price Upon Request.
Affordable options we truly love include Doyle & Doyle (NY) and Platt Boutique (LA).
For something more extravagant, try Sotheby’s, Christie’s or 1st Dibs.
Taffin Illusion Diamond Ring. Price Upon Request.
Taffin Enamel Round Diamond Ring. Price Upon Request.
David Yurman Crossover Capri Cushion Ring. Price Upon Request.
David Yurman Delaunay Emerald Ring. Price Upon Request.
FOR UNCONVENTIONAl BUT GORGEOUS COLORED STONES
DESIGN YOUR OWN RING
If money is no object and you’re a design nerd, you might consider making your own ring at a place like Oscar Heyman in New York.
INDEPENDENT JEWELERS & MULTI-BRAND STORES
If you don’t know which brand you want right off the bat, check out a multi-brand boutique like Phillip Press or Borsheim’s—both reputable engagement ring shops.
SHOULD YOU GET INSURANCE?
This is a rich person question. If you can afford to, do. If you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, they can add insurance for your ring for just an additional $50 (approximately). Read your policy’s fine print and make sure that any jewelry you want covered is well documented and added individually to your plan.
A NOTE ABOUT DOCUMENTATION
Diamonds & precious stones one carat or larger should be accompanied by a diamond-grading report issued by an independent gemological association such as the GIA or the American Gem Society. Typically, you will receive paperwork including your stone’s 4 Cs, shape, dimensions, inclusion locations, cosmetic enhancements and any details that affect value such as designer, year of fabrication, etc.
At the end of the day, if you put time, research, effort, and thought into it (and some sleuthing) – you can’t go wrong.