Updated September 5, 2017

How to Buy an Engagement Ring the Smart Way

Read more about Diamonds
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Thinking of proposing? Buying an engagement ring is intimidating, but here is the ultimate guide for a painless process. Learn how to buy one WITHOUT getting ripped off.

How to Buy an Engagement Ring
How to Buy an Engagement Ring © CreditDonkey

So, you've found the love of your life and are ready to propose. Congrats!

This article will help you through the process of buying the perfect engagement ring. Learn what to look for and avoid overpaying a diamond ring.

In this article:

Where to Buy an Engagement Ring

ForDiamond Retailer
Best Place to Buy OnlineJames Allen
Best QualityWhiteflash
Biggest SelectionBlue Nile
Best ValueCostco
Best In-Store Customer ServiceTiffany's

Read More: Best Places to Buy an Engagement Ring

If You're Buying a Ring Without Her Knowing

If you're going for the surprise proposal, then you'll have to be more sneaky to buy the ring without clueing her in onto what you're up to.

  • Find her ring size: There are several ways to secretly find her ring size. You can steal one of her rings and trace it on a piece of paper. Or wrap a string around her left 4th finger when she's sleeping and measure the length. Either way, a jeweler should be able to get an idea of her size.

  • Find her tastes: Snoop around her Pinterest board. A lot of girls have a board dedicated to weddings and rings. You can get an idea of the styles she like.

  • Ask her friends: Even if she doesn't have a Pinterest board, her sister or best friend probably know her tastes. Ask them for help. They can even casually ask her what she likes without making it obvious.

If You're Shopping Together

Many couples also enjoy shopping together for the ring. It's a meaningful moment in the relationship. And plus, the girl has input on what kind of style she wants.

But shopping together can cause conflict too if you're not prepared. Here are some tips:

  • Talk about a budget beforehand: A store salesperson can easily try to drive up the price when they see the lady present. And she may fall in love with a ring you can't afford. To avoid the pressure, agree to a budget before you start looking.

  • Have a plan: Before going to shop, talk about what the goal is. Is this just a trip to get a sense of styles she likes? What if she falls head-over-heels for a ring and want to take it home right then and there? Make sure you're on the same page or both of you may end up disappointed.

  • Be mindful of each other's tastes: You may have completely different tastes. You may like a classic solitaire, but she wants something more elaborate. Yes, the ring is a gift for the girl, but you want to give her something you like too. Don't hurt each other's feelings and compromise on a final design you both like.

Read More: Affordable Engagement Rings for Every Budget

How Much to Spend

This is perhaps the trickiest part of the whole process. Here are some guidelines:

  • Know your girl's expectations: What ring style does she want and does she have a diamond size requirement? Not getting the ring she's been dreaming of could be a big disappointment.

  • Figure out your financial ability: How much can you truly afford? Factor in your savings, your income, rent, and other bills/loans. The ring should show that you care, but not put you into debt.

  • Think about future plans: You don't want to start your married life in debt. Maybe you have future plans such as buying a house together or having kids. Think about how the cost of the ring will affect those plans.

Best Time of Year to Buy an Engagement Ring

Most likely, you won't save money on the diamond (as high-quality engagement-grade diamonds do not go on sale), but you could on the setting. Here are some good times to save a few bucks:

  • In the summer: July and August are often slow months for jewelers, so you can expect to snag some discounts. Avoid the period between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, as it's peak proposal season and jewelry prices are at their highest.

  • Late May: You'll have gotten your tax refund by now and many stores are offering deals, particularly if their Mother's Day sales weren't as expected.

  • Black Friday/Cyber Monday: Jewelers could run sales during this time on their fine jewelry, including settings and wedding rings. But the inventory could go fast.

How to Finance an Engagement Ring

If you don't have the cash saved up yet, you could consider financing the ring. But you have to be very careful as this could end up costing you more.

Here are some options for financing a ring:

  • A new credit card with 0% APR promotional period: Many credit cards have a 0% APR intro period for new purchases, some as long as 15 to 21 months. This is a good option if you have a plan to pay off the ring before it ends.

  • Store's financing options: You need to be careful with the fine print. Many of it is deferred interest. This means that if you can't pay off the ring before the term ends, you will owe ALL the interest starting from the date of purchase.

  • A personal loan: If you have bad credit, this is another option, though your interest rate will most likely be high. You'll get a fixed monthly payment and term. You can consider this if you don't qualify for a credit card.

How to Choose an Engagement Ring to Suit Your Hand

Unless she's got the perfect long, slender fingers, certain ring styles may not be especially flattering on her. Below are some tips for different hand types:

  • Short fingers: To help short fingers appear longer, look for elongated shapes, like oval, pear, emerald, or marquise. Stay away from thick bands and large round or square diamonds.

  • Chubby fingers: These fingers are perfect for a bold statement ring. A thicker band will also minimize the appearance of wider fingers. Stay away from thin bands and narrow diamonds, such as the marquise cut.

  • Small hands: A more simpler design with a smaller diamond will look large on small hands. Stay away from statement rings and wide bands.

10 Things Everyone Should Know About Diamond Prices

  1. Diamond prices goes up exponentially as the carat weight increases. A 2 carat diamond costs about 4x the price of a 1 carat diamond, but its face-up size is really just 60% bigger.

  2. Diamonds are priced per-carat. Whole carats and half carats can fetch a lot more. Look for a diamond just shy of a whole carat. Nobody can tell the difference between 0.9 carat and 1 carat, but you can save $1,000.

  3. A brilliant stone can hide color and flaws, so never skimp on cut. The better the diamond cut, the more visibly beautiful the diamond.

  4. A lot of times, a poorly cut diamond's weight is hidden at the bottom. So you're paying for something that nobody can see. An ideal cut will ensure that your diamond appears the biggest face-up.

  5. Color has a huge impact on the diamond's price, but most people can't tell the difference between a colorless and near-colorless diamond.

  6. Clarity is not so important. You just need a stone that is eye-clean. VS2 diamonds offer good value.

  7. Diamonds with fluorescence will be sold at a discount. But in many cases, fluorescence actually improves the color of a lower-color diamond.

  8. Round diamonds are the most expensive. Choosing another diamond shape can save you as much as 40%.

  9. Diamonds certified by GIA and AGS will cost more, but you can be confident that you're getting the quality on the certificate.

  10. Jeweler markup has the biggest impact on diamond pricing. Prestigious brands and big-name jewelers all have very high premiums. Online retailers don't have as much overhead, so you can save as much as 50%.

10 Steps to Buy the Perfect Engagement Ring

© foreverphoto (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Scroll down to read the whole article, or, if you have a specific question, click on a link below to jump to that topic.

  1. Buying online vs your local jeweler
  2. How much to spend
  3. Should you finance the ring?
  4. How to choose a retailer
  5. Know the return policy
  6. How to find her ring size
  7. How to find her ring style
  8. How to pick a diamond shape
  9. How to choose a diamond
  10. How to choose the setting
  11. Bonus Tip: A guide to diamond alternatives

Do you already have your budget determined? Check out our in-depth guide to shopping for the best engagement ring at every price point. We offer suggestions for how to get the best ring for your budget, from $1,000 to $10,000.

1. Buying Online vs. Buying in a Store

There are advantages and downsides to both ways. Buying in a store gives you more confidence because you can see what you're buying. But buying online can save you a lot more, allowing you to buy a bigger diamond.

Let's break down the pros and cons of both.

Shopping online:

  • Pro: A wider selection: Online jewelry stores offer an unbeatable selection. You'll be able to find diamonds and ring styles at every price point. This is particularly good if you have specific characteristics in mind or are looking for a particular style.

    For example, let's say you want an ideal cut diamond around 1.3 carat. A jeweler may only have a couple of diamonds matching such specs in his collection. And you'd be forced to just pick the one that looks best. But an online store could have dozens (even hundreds) of options. You can spend time seeing which one you like best for your budget.

  • Pro: A better price: A website doesn't have the same overhead costs of a physical retail store. In our independent study, we found that online stores have prices as much as 50% lower. And another advantage is that many do not collect sales tax outside their state. It's also much easier to comparison shop online than it is to go to several physical stores.

  • Pro: No pressure: Online, you can take the time you need to choose a ring on your terms. Plus, if you are a less traditional couple (LGBT, have a huge age gap, etc), you can feel comfortable shopping online instead of feeling the stares in a conventional jewelry store.

  • Con: A leap of faith: Buying a ring online means you can't hold a diamond up close to examine flaws or see how it sparkles. Most sites let you custom build a ring but you won't know what the finished product looks like until it arrives on your doorstep. Make sure you understand the company's return policy in case you're not happy with what you get.

Tip: One thing you could do is purchase the loose diamond online and have it mounted at a local jeweler. This way, you'll save some money on the stone itself and you won't be designing the entire ring blind. But if you choose to do this, make sure that the jeweler you're buying the setting from is trustworthy.

Some jewelers do not want the responsibility of possibly damaging someone else's diamond during the setting process. We recommend that if possible, buy your diamond and setting with the same jeweler.

Shopping in-store:

  • Pro: Can look at what you're buying: This is the biggest advantage. You can compare which diamond looks best in person. You can even save some money by choosing a diamond lower in clarity and seeing if you're able to see flaws with the naked eye.

  • Pro: Salespeople to answer your questions: You can have someone right there answering questions. A good jeweler will even look at diamonds with you with his professional tools. Having professional assistance like this could make you more confident in your purchase.

  • Con: You may feel more pressure: In some stores, you may have a salesperson following you around (and we all hate that!) or pushing the hard sell. You may be talked into buying something above your budget. Find a store you feel comfortable in and NEVER feel pressured into buying something.

2. HOW MUCH TO SPEND

On average, guys spend over $5,000 on an engagement ring. But don't let the national average pressure you into spending the same amount. It's more important that you're realistic about how much you can afford.

Tip: You've probably heard of the commonly accepted "2 months' rule". This says you should spend 2 months' of your salary on the engagement ring. The sentiment is nice, but quite unrealistic for the average person. On top of that, the figure was invented by diamond retailer DeBeers to make you spend more.

So, what should you really spend? It's a personal decision. It depends on two things:

  1. Your financial ability
  2. Her expectations

The right amount (for you) would be something that shows your beloved that you are serious about the commitment, but within what you can afford without going into debt. For example, let's say you already have $1,000 in savings. You estimate that you can put aside $300 a month. After five months of saving, you'll have $2,500 total to spend on the ring. That might be the right budget for you.

Remember, you have your future ahead of you. You may want to start saving for a down payment on a house, your future children's college education, or your retirement. The last thing you want is to start off your married life being in debt because of the ring.

Tip: A diamond ring is not an investment. A diamond should be treated as a depreciating asset like a car. Look at it as simply a gift to your beloved to make her happy and show your commitment. If you're looking to build wealth, invest in stocks instead.

3. How to decide if you should finance the ring

A diamond ring is a big purchase. The reality might be that you just can't pay straight up cash for one. Most of us have multiple loans already. And it may be unreasonable to wait until you're debt free to pop the question.

In this case, borrowing money for the ring could be an option. Just make sure that you can pay it off within the term. Don't think just because you're financing a ring, you can now go and pick out the largest, most expensive diamond out there.

Here are things to consider if you're thinking about financing:

  • Open a new credit card with a 0% interest promotional deal. This will give you time to pay off the big purchase. Be sure you can pay off the full balance by the time the promotional period ends. If not, you can look into a low interest credit card instead.

  • Many credit cards offer protection. This could come in handy if the retailer doesn't send you what you ordered or sends you nothing at all.

  • You might be able to get rewards on your purchase. Many cards offer rewards on your purchases. For example, some American Express credit cards (a CreditDonkey partner) offer additional cash back or rewards at select department stores, such as Bloomingdales (which also happens to sell engagement rings).

  • Consider the retailer's financing option: Some retailers offer nice financing deals. But make sure you fully understand their terms. Often, you will need to pay off the purchase before the term ends, or you'd be charged ALL the interest from Day 1. You can consider this route, but pursue it carefully.

Tip: If you have saved up the cash, some online retailers will offer a 1.5% - 3% discount if you pay upfront by wire transfer.

How to find the best place to buy the ring

4. HOW TO CHOOSE A RETAILER

© CreditDonkey

Now comes the really tricky part: choosing a retailer you're comfortable with.

Not all jewelers are trustworthy or provide good service. Do some shopping around and see which retailer you feel comfortable with.

Here are questions to ask about the retailer:

  • Does the retailer get decent, credible reviews? This is self-explanatory. You only want to work with retailers who get good reviews from happy, satisfied customers.

  • How good is the customer assistance? Buying such a huge purchase is scary, so you want to make sure you can get help. Does the jeweler take time to understand your budget and vision and make appropriate recommendations? A good jeweler will take time to educate you and let you examine diamonds with his professional tools.

    If you're shopping online, we recommend websites that use actual photos of the diamonds. This way you can "see" it for yourself. If you're not sure, make sure there are experienced reps ready to help you evaluate.

    Tip: Our favorite online retailers like James Allen and Whiteflash provide actual photos of the diamonds. This way, you're not buying blind.

  • How long has the retailer been in business? Make sure it's an established company. The last thing you want is to buy the ring and later find that the store has magically disappeared. What if you want to trade-up the diamond or need servicing? If the retailer has been in business for years, then it's likely they're staying put.

    Also check if the jeweler has a GIA-grad as part of the team.

  • What lab grading does the retailer use? You want to make sure you are buying a certified diamond by a reputable lab. Stay away from jewelers who don't provide a lab report with their diamonds.

    Tip: We recommend buying GIA or AGS certified diamonds, as these are the two most trustworthy labs. It costs more money to get diamonds graded by them, so if a jeweler uses them, it generally means they're serious about their products.

  • Is the return policy clear and reasonable? It's important that you are able to return the diamond/ring for a full no-questions-asked refund if you don't want to keep it.

  • How long does the warranty last? Some offer lifetime warranties, while some are just one year. Think about what you're okay with.

  • Does the retailer have a lifetime exchange policy? If you're not happy with the diamond anymore at some point in your life and want something better, will you be able to make an exchange? A trustworthy jeweler will stand by his diamonds and offer a lifetime exchange.

Here are three reputable online diamond jewelry stores we recommend:

  • Blue Nile's wide selection of diamonds simply cannot be beat. They also have some of the most competitive pricing around. They are able to offer a huge selection because they do not actually own their diamonds, so the downside is that you won't be able to see actual photos of the diamond you're buying.

  • James Allen takes the online diamond shopping experience to a whole new level. They offer an HD 360-degree interactive video for every diamond they sell. Certified diamond experts are available online to help you compare diamonds. You can be confident about your purchase as you can see the actual diamond you'll be buying.

  • Whiteflash specializes in ideal cut diamonds. This means that the diamonds are cut in ideal proportions to reflect the maximum light (which means more brilliant). Each diamond comes with actual photos and light performance imagery. If quality and brilliance are your top priorities, we highly recommend Whiteflash.

Tip: Don't forget about the wedding ring. You can score a huge discount by buying the wedding bands online. Confused about the difference between engagement ring and wedding ring? Don't worry, a lot of first-time ring buyers are. Here's an article where we go over the difference.

 

Blue Nile

James Allen

 

Benefits and Features

SelectionLargest selection of online diamonds, sourced from suppliers around the worldInventory sourced from local diamond suppliers
Customer Service
24/7 customer service
24/7 customer service
Data
Grading report
Grading report, 360-degree HD video
Return Policy30-day money back guarantee. You will pay for shipping and insurance fees. Items must be in their original purchase condition, including all product documentation.If you are not 100% satisfied with your purchase, you may return it in its original, unworn condition within 30 days for a full refund or exchange. Free return shipping only applies to U.S customers and is limited to three per customer.
WarrantyLifetime manufacturer warranty. Terms and exclusions apply.James Allen warrant that all items will be free from any manufacturing defects at time of delivery. James Allen will repair and maintain your jewelry for a lifetime. Lifetime warranty offers free prong tightening, re-polishing, rhodium plating and cleaning services.
BuybackDiamond buyback program through Mondiamo based on market value. 
ResizingBlue Nile provides complimentary resizing for Build Your Own Rings®, and Diamond Bands when within the manufacturer's recommended sizing range, during the first year.All engagement rings and wedding bands, excluding eternity bands and alternative metals, may be resized once for free within the first 60 days of purchase.
Upgrade PolicyLifetime diamond upgrade program on all GIA and AGSL graded diamonds. You will receive credit equal to 100% of the original price toward the purchase of a new diamond. The price of your new diamond must be at least twice the price of your original diamond. Your diamond must be in its original condition with the original diamond grading report.Any loose diamond purchased from James Allen can be exchanged at 100% credit for any replacement diamond of at least 2X or greater value. The diamond that is being upgraded must be in original condition and accompanied by the original laboratory grading document.
Price
Selection
Customer Service
Data

Blank fields may indicate the information is not available, not applicable, or not known to CreditDonkey. Please visit the product website for details.

James Allen

5. KNOW THE RETURN POLICY

© CreditDonkey

There are many reasons why you may want to return a ring: the final design isn't what you expected, your bride-to-be doesn't like it, or (we hate to say it) you didn't get the yes.

In any case, it's extremely important that you know the store's return policy.

  • You should only do business with stores that offer a 100% no-questions-asked return policy. But note that some rings may not be eligible for returns. For instance, a custom designed ring most likely cannot be returned (but the diamond should be eligible).

  • Make sure you know how many days you have to return the ring. Factor in enough time to examine the ring and propose.

  • If you're buying online, make sure you fully understand the process of a return. Some will say that it needs to be returned in original packaging, so do not damage the packaging when you open it. Some jewelers will also require that you get a Return Authorization Number from them first and write it on the package. This may take a few days, so you'd need to factor that in.

Tip: It may be tempting to buy from an online site like eBay and Craigslist. But watch out. You are at the mercy of the seller. There are reports of scams and rip offs. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. We recommend readers buy from reputable online diamond jewelers.

6. HOW TO FIND OUT HER RING SIZE

touch
touch © bpprice (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Before you purchase, first, you need to know what size ring you need to buy. There are certain settings that are hard to resize or require a custom fitting. So, you don't want to take that gamble if you can help it.

So how can you find out her ring size? It will take a little detective work.

Did you know? Over 40% of brides-to-be want to involved in the ring selection process. After all, this is a piece of jewelry she'll wear for the rest of her life, so she wants to know she's getting a ring she'll love. It's something to consider when deciding if a surprise proposal is the right way to go.

If you are set on a surprise romantic proposal but ALSO want to make sure she gets the ring of her dreams, a good compromise could be to pick out the diamond and get it in a temporary setting. After she says yes, you can take your time looking for a permanent setting together.

  • Check out her jewelry box for any other rings she wears. If there's one that she doesn't wear that often, discreetly steal it. You can then take it to a jeweler to find out the size or use a cool online tool like this one .

  • If you can't get away with borrowing the ring for a bit, you can trace it carefully on a piece of paper. Be sure to trace both the inside and outside for accuracy. While it may not be exact, it'll still give the jeweler a rough idea.

  • Another good idea is to take an impression of the ring in a soft bar of soap.

  • Or you can slip the ring on one of your own fingers (like your pinky) and mark the place where it sits comfortably. Then go to a jeweler and try on different sizes until you find one that falls in the same place.

    Make sure you choose a ring that she wears on her left ring finger. If you're not sure which rings she wears on what fingers, start paying attention.

  • If she doesn't wear any rings, then you'd have to get more devious. When she's deeply sleeping, wrap a string (not too tight!) around her left 4th finger and measure the length of the loop. A jeweler should be able to tell you the size.

As a general rule, the average woman's ring size is 6 to 6.5. If you're not able to score any intel, you can use this as a guide. If you really have no idea, estimate larger and get it resized later. It's much easier and cheaper to make a ring smaller than bigger. But watch out, not all settings are resizable.

Read: Everything to Know About Ring Resizing: Costs and Tips

Did you know the holidays are peak proposal season? Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve are two of the most popular days to propose.

7. FINDING HER PERFECT STYLE

Shiney #1 (Returned)
Shiney #1 (Returned) © ilovebutter (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

This is actually one of the hardest parts for most men! This is a ring she will wear for the rest of her life, so it should match her personal style. How can you guess what she'll love?

Here are some things to consider:

  • What is her personal style? Does she have an elegant, classy style? If so, she may prefer a classic round solitaire or a princess cut. Is she bohemian and free-spirited? If so, she may not even want a diamond or want a more unique shape. Check out her current jewelry to get an idea of what she may like.

  • What is her personality? Is she more reserved? Something with simple elegance may suit her well. Or does she love being the center of attention? Then she'll probably appreciate a ring with major bling like a halo.

  • Does she have a color preference? You'll also need to decide on the metal. Silver colored bands (white gold or platinum) are the most popular nowadays. They will always be trendy and classy. However, if you know she has more vintage tastes, she may prefer yellow gold or rose gold. Read about the differences between white gold and yellow gold.

    Related: 10k vs 14k vs 18k Gold: Pros and Cons of Each

  • What is her lifestyle and career? This actually has a huge impact. If she is very active, a high-set ring that's always getting caught on stuff will become super annoying. If she works with children, a ring with sharp corners won't be ideal. If she has a high-power career, it may be more important to wear something flashier. Think about her work and hobbies and what kind of ring will best suit that.

  • What is her finger and hand type? Does she have tiny slender fingers? Or larger chubby ones? Long or short? Don't forget to consider her hand type! Believe it or not, ring styles make a difference to how flattering it looks on the hand. Read our guide on the most flattering rings for every hand type.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider! Are you overwhelmed yet? Don't worry, in the next sections, we'll go more in detail on how to pick the right diamond and ring for her.

8. HOW TO CHOOSE A DIAMOND SHAPE

The first thing you want to do is decide on the shape of the diamond. This should reflect her personality. Here are some general ideas:

  • Round: This will always be the most timeless and classic shape. Perfect for the girl with traditional tastes. If you are really clueless about what she likes, it's hard to go wrong with round.

  • Princess: Edgy and contemporary, yet still feminine and delicate, this is perfect for the trendy girl.

  • Cushion: Quickly becoming one of the most popular cuts, the cushion (or pillow) cut is great for the girl just slightly on the edge of convention.

  • Oval: Oval diamonds are for the girl who appreciates tradition, but also wants to express individuality. They also make a woman's finger look longer and more slender.

  • Pear: Just like this shape, the wearer of a pear diamond is elegant but also has a lot of character.

  • Marquise: This is for the girl who loves attention and who's not afraid to stand out. A marquise diamond screams to be seen.

  • Emerald: The ultimate vintage cut, an emerald diamond is sophisticated and exudes old-world glamour. Perfect for the girl who loves all things art-deco.

  • Asscher: The asscher diamond can be seen as a 21st-century update to the emerald. It's square-shaped and more sparkly. Ideal for the girl with vintage tastes, but also with modern flair.

  • Radiant: Somewhat a cross between the round brilliant, princess, and asscher cuts, the radiant diamond is for a girl just as unique as this cut is. It's also a good choice for active girls who prefer a square shaped diamond.

  • Heart: Who else but for the hardcore romantics? A heart shaped diamond is super sweet, just like her.

To learn about each shape, read our full guide on diamond shapes, including special tips to watch out for with each.

9. HOW TO CHOOSE A DIAMOND

After you've decided on a shape, it's time to select an actual diamond.

You need to diligently do your homework and study up on the 4Cs. Diamonds can run from a few hundred dollars all the way up to millions of bucks. These 4Cs are the major factors that influence the price. What you want is to find a balance to get best value.

  • Carat Weight: The carat weight has the largest impact on the diamond's final price tag. (This is not to be confused with 'karat', which measures gold purity.) Diamonds are priced on a per-carat basis. The more carats a diamond has, the larger it is and therefore, the more expensive. Of course, the other C's also play a part. The more refined each of these features is, the more pricey the diamond.

    Tip: Buy a carat weight just under the magic numbers. The magic numbers are 0.5 carat, 0.75, 1, 1.5, and so on at every half and whole carat. If you go just below one of the magic numbers, you can save a lot of money.

    For example, a 1-carat diamond (ideal cut, VS2, H) costs around $6,000. But going down to just 0.9 carat can reduce the price by almost $1,000. And the most unbelievable thing? A 1-carat diamond has a 6.5mm diameter, while a 0.9-carat diamond has a 6.3mm diameter. That's a difference of 0.2mm in surface size (the thickness of a piece of paper). Who can tell a difference?

  • Cut: This is the most important factor. The cut determines how brilliant the stone appears. It refers to how well the diamond's proportions reflect light. A poorly proportioned diamond will leak light and appear dull. Even the most flawless, colorless diamond will be dull if the cut is poor. On the other hand, a diamond lower in color and clarity will sparkle brilliantly with an ideal cut.

    The GIA rates a diamond's cut in one of five ways: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor. In our opinion, go for Excellent cut if you can. Or if you truly cannot afford it, then Very Good. Remember that the cut has the single biggest impact on the diamond's appearance, so don't skimp on it. Instead, save your money in the areas of color and clarity.

    Tip: For brilliantly cut diamonds, check out our Whiteflash and Brian Gavin reviews. We highly recommend these two online retailers for super ideal cut diamonds. Both are created by Brian Gavin, one of the most reputable jewelers in the world known for his exacting cut techniques. Each diamond comes with light performance data that shows you how much light is reflected back.

  • Clarity: This refers to the number of imperfections (or "inclusions") that can be found in an individual stone. You'll pay more for fewer flaws. The GIA grades clarity on a scale from FL (flawless) to I (flaws that you can see). Clarity is graded by looking at a diamond under 10x magnification and seeing what kind of flaws are visible.

    There are six primary grades of clarity:

    • FL Grade (Flawless): A completely flawless diamond. Only about 2% of the world's diamonds fall into this category.
    • IF Grade (Internally Flawless): A diamond with tiny surface blemishes that are only visible under 10x magnification.
    • VVS Grade (VVS1 & VVS2 / Very Very Slightly Included): The diamond has very, very small inclusions that are hard to find under 10x magnification. They are only visible to trained professionals after intense searching.
    • VS Grade (VS1 & VS2 / Very Slightly Included): Diamonds with flaws that are more visible under magnification but most likely not to the naked eye.
    • SI Grade (SI1 & SI2 / Slightly Included): Inclusions are very easily seen under magnification and may also be visible to the naked eye.
    • I Grade (I1 / Included 1st Degree): This is the lowest grade of clarity for engagement ring diamonds. Flaws are visible even to the casual observer. It may have larger flaws that affect transparency or brilliance.

    Our suggestions:
    • VS2 diamonds offer a lot of bang for the buck. They have minor inclusions that are difficult to see to the naked eye. Most likely, it will be eye-clean. It's a good choice most of the time.
    • But if you are buying an emerald or asscher diamond, you'd want to upgrade to VS1. This is because these shapes have a large open table into the depth of the diamond, which makes any flaws more visible.
    • If you are buying a larger diamond (over 2 carats), also consider VS1. Larger diamonds means flaws can be more easily seen.
    • Stay away from I1 diamonds, though it is not impossible (but very difficult) to find eye-clean ones.

    This is when it's useful to shop at retailers like James Allen. Each diamond has a 360 degree HD video. That way, you can examine the diamond in detail to see if it's eye-clean.

  • Color: Most white diamonds do have a yellow tint due to trace amounts of nitrogen. Completely colorless diamonds are very rare. The GIA grades color using a scale that runs alphabetically from D (colorless) to Z (yellow/brown):

    Diamond Color Scale
    Diamond Color Scale © CreditDonkey

    • D-F Grades: These diamonds are considered to be completely colorless, which also means they're the rarest and the most expensive.
    • G-J Grades: Stones in these are categorized as nearly colorless. But we'd say that at J, the yellow tint becomes slightly more apparent.
    • K-M Grades: At these grades, the diamonds will have a faint yellowish tint that even the casual admirer might pick up.
    • N-R Grades: The color begins to be more obvious at this level with a very light yellow hue.
    • S-Z Grades: Color concentration is greatest in stones at this level where a definite light yellow to brown tone is visible.

    Don't confuse the yellow tint with a yellow diamond. A true yellow diamond is known as a Fancy Colored Diamond and is more expensive. Colored diamonds also come in shades of pink, blue, green, purple, orange, and red.

    Our suggestions:

    • Diamond in the G-J (near colorless) range offer a good value. The average eye cannot detect the slight yellow tint without a side-by-side comparison. H color diamonds are a good choice in most cases.
    • But if you are considering emerald or asscher shape, it's best to go up another grade to G. Because these cuts do not reflect light as much, so color is more easily seen.
    • Shapes like oval, pear, and marquise trap color at their tips. We recommend H at the lowest. And G if the diamond is larger (well over 1 carat).
    • If you are looking at yellow gold or rose gold bands, you can safely go down to J or K in color. The color of the bands is beautiful with a warmer-toned diamond.

This is a very fast crash course on the 4Cs. For a more detailed guide, we strongly suggest you take some time to read our guide on what affects diamond prices. We show you real examples of how the factors affect cost and how much you can save.

    Blue Nile

    Blue Nile: Search for Diamonds

    Shop for diamonds at Blue Nile, a CreditDonkey recommended partner for the largest selection of diamonds.

    James Allen

    James Allen: Search for Diamonds

    Shop for diamonds at James Allen, a CreditDonkey #1 recommended partner for the best online experience.

Tip: Our suggestion is to always go with a GIA or AGS certified diamond. These are the world's two most trusted laboratories. Even if you see the diamond in person, we would never recommend buying a diamond that's not certified by GIA or AGS.

If you're having trouble choosing a diamond, many online retailers offer customer support from their in-house diamond experts. James Allen even offers a real time diamond consultation where you can get advice as you're considering your options.

10. HOW TO CHOOSE THE SETTING

Once you've settled on a certified diamond, the next step is to pick out the right setting. It's important that the setting reflects her personal style.

Tip: If you already have a loose diamond and just need a setting, you can just purchase a setting from James Allen. For certain settings, you'll need to mail in your diamond so they can properly mount it (for a $100 setting fee). If you already have a setting, Whiteflash can set one of their loose diamonds into your own setting for a $100 mounting fee.

Here are the factors to consider when making your choice:

  • The size and shape of the diamond
  • The color of the diamond
  • The metal your significant other prefers
  • Her lifestyle and personal tastes
  • How it coordinates with the wedding band

Diamonds can chip and break. Consider your future wife's lifestyle when choosing a setting. Over time, the diamond may also become duller due to exposure to dirt, sweat, makeup and other environment factors. Regular cleaning is a good idea, but be careful not to use any harsh chemicals. Cleaning your diamond over the drain is just an accident waiting to happen.

Here's a rundown of the types of settings that are most popular:

  • Prong: The classic prong setting is the best for showcasing the diamond. Both 4-prong or 6-prongs are popular. The downside is that this setting leaves the stone more exposed to potential chips.

  • Bezel: In this setting, a metal rim surrounds the diamond for a contemporary look. This is a good choice for active girls, nurses, and those who work in childcare as it protects the stone. However, the wrong color metal can accentuate any existing tint in the stone.

  • Tension: The diamond is suspended between the two band ends for a unique, modern look. But this setting has to be custom-sized, which makes a surprise proposal out of the question.

  • Pavé: This setting makes the center stone pop by featuring small diamonds on each side of the band. Keep in mind there's more potential to lose one this way.

  • Channel: This setting has a band of small diamonds set into a "channel". The small diamonds are more secure than on a pavé band, but this kind of band can be difficult to resize.

  • Halo: A halo setting has a ring of small diamonds around the center stone. This popular setting makes the center stone appear larger. It's a relatively inexpensive way to get a ring with massive bling. It's also great for the girl with slightly vintage tastes.

  • Three stone: This setting has two slightly smaller stones on either side of the center diamond (all same shape - the most popular are round or princess). The three stones represent the past, present, and future of the relationship. It's best for girls who like meaning and sentimentality.

  • Cluster: A cluster setting groups several smaller diamonds together to give the appearance of one large stone. You'll save money on the diamonds because multiple smaller stones cost less than one large one. This is also great for vintage style rings.

Did you know? Men often get hung up about the diamond size and characteristics, but most brides (a whopping 88%) care more about the overall design of the ring. This includes the shape of the diamond and setting. Both of those should reflect her personal style.

James Allen

Tip: Does your girlfriend prefer white gold, yellow gold, or platinum? Many people prefer gold as it's usually easier to resize than platinum. If you go with gold, 14k may offer a better value than 18k. For most non-experts, it's difficult to tell the difference with the naked eye. 14k gold is also more practical for active lifestyles as 18k may show marks after rough use. Learn more about the pros and cons of each.

Are There Alternatives to Diamonds?

If you want the look of a diamond (i.e. not a colored gemstone) but not the heavy price tag, there are a few options:

Moissanite / Ethical Alternative: This rare natural mineral is literally a space rock. It was first discovered in a meteor crater a century ago. Of course, natural moissanite is incredibly rare, so what's available today is laboratory-created. Moissanite has similar properties to a diamond in terms of brilliance and hardness. That's how it has become a fairly popular, budget-friendly "diamond alternative".

Of course, there are some key differences:

  • Type of sparkle: A diamond displays brilliance (colorless sparkles caused by reflecting light), fire (rainbow sparkles), and scintillation (flashes of light on the surface). All three together contributes to the diamond's sparkle. Moissanite displays incredible fire, more than any other gemstone. This means that moissanite creates more rainbow sparkles than colorless sparkles. You can especially notice this in sunlight. Some people love this, while others think it's a bit too much and looks "fake".

  • Price: Moissanite is just a fraction of the price of a diamond. A 1-carat moissanite gem starts at just $500. In comparison, a 1-carat nearly colorless, well-cut diamond with slight inclusions start at over $5,000.

Moissanite is a gorgeous gem in its own right. It is not meant to be thought of as a fake diamond. Enjoy moissanite for the beautiful properties it has. The cheaper price point is just a bonus!

Did you know? When moissanite was discovered in 1893, it was the most brilliant gem ever to have been unearthed. Its brilliance and fire far surpassed that of a diamond's, causing amazed scientists to name it a gem "born from the stars".

Cubic zirconia / Cheaper Alternative: Unlike moissanite, this man-made material is basically a fake diamond. It's a way cheaper alternative that performs almost exactly like a diamond. It's very difficult for the average person to tell the difference. You'd have to perform some tests or use a loupe (a jeweler's magnifying glass).

The selling point of cubic zirconia is that they are virtually colorless (the perfect D) and flawless (the perfect F). Their brilliance rivals that of diamonds. In fact, CZs can be even more brilliant and fiery. Most people will not be able to tell the difference easily, but CZs do shine in more of a colorful rainbow brilliance. You have to decide if you're okay with that.

Of course, the cheaper price is attractive too. A 1-carat flawless cubic zirconia can be as low as $20. If you do decide to go for a CZ ring, we recommend getting it in a nice setting that you'd put a diamond in.

One thing to be careful of is that CZ is not as hard as diamonds. It's graded as 8.5 on the Moh's Hardness Scale, as opposed to the diamond's 10. This makes it more prone to chipping and scratching.

White sapphire / Eco-Friendly Alternative: This is also quite a popular option as a cheaper diamond alternative. But to us, it's the weakest. White sapphires are colorless sapphires untouched by trace elements from the earth. But they are not completely colorless and often have a slight cloudiness.

Again, the major difference is in the brilliance. You can get a 1-carat white sapphire stone for under $1,000. But they simply don't have the brilliance and light performance of a diamond. White sapphires do not give off any fire or scintillation. So if sparkle is what you're after, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Thinking about going the diamond alternative route? Make sure you have discussed it with your sweetie. Our society puts a lot of pressure on proposing with a diamond. It's supposed to symbolize an investment in your future, after all. Your sweetie may not think a $20 CZ is enough of an investment (even if you send them an article on why diamonds are bad investment). Make sure you are both happy with this decision. Personally, we think it's responsible to be open about affording something within your budget.

What to do After You Get Your Ring

  • Get it appraised: You want to make sure you get the ring appraised as soon as you get it. An appraisal is a formal piece of paper that states the value of the ring. You want to do this for a few reasons:

    1. To make sure that the jeweler sold you the diamond that you paid for

    2. To get a value for insurance purposes (the insurance is for the value of the ring, not the price you paid)

    3. To have proof in case the ring is stolen and later recovered by the police

    Just make sure to go to a trustworthy appraiser (as there are horror stories of shady appraisers swapping out your diamond for a fake). It you truly want to protect yourself, have them first make a plot of your diamond with the dimensions and flaws. Keep this with you. Then when you pick up the diamond later (if the appraisal cannot be done in front of you), match up the diamond to the diagram so you know you got the same one back. AGS has a directory of their certified appraisers.

  • Get it insured: After you get the big yes, consider getting the ring insured as soon as possible (especially if you spent a significant chunk on the ring). Getting a ring insured provides financial protection if you ever damage or accidentally lose the ring, or if it gets stolen. The insurance should be for the appraised value of the ring.

    Usually, the price to insure a ring is about 1-2% of its value (insuring a $3,000 ring will cost $30-$60 annually). Some insurance policies will give you cash for the ring, while others will cover for a replacement. And there may be some terms on where you can get a new ring. And some policies will factor in depreciation when paying out.

    Here are a couple of options for insuring a ring:

    • The easiest way is to just add it to your homeowner's/renter's insurance if you already have one. However, this insurance may only cover it in case of theft or a natural disaster.

    • You can also get jewelry insurance with some insurance companies. Shop around and see which one offers the coverage you like best. Some won't cover accidental loss. And some will only insure for a fraction of the value.

BOTTOM LINE

© joshsherill (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

A diamond engagement ring is meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. It's a deep, meaningful symbol to the woman you love. It deserves careful thought.

Buying an engagement ring and wedding band online is not as intimidating as it sounds if you do your homework. Take the time to research the company carefully. Make sure it's a reputable company that sells GIA or AGS certified diamonds. Also, review their return policy before you hit "confirm purchase". You don't want to spend thousands of dollars on a ring only to find that you can't take it back if you need to (for whatever reason).

Do your research and have fun selecting the perfect ring. We wish you the best of luck!

Search James Allen for the Best Online Experience

    James Allen

    James Allen: Search for Diamonds

    Shop for diamonds at James Allen, a CreditDonkey #1 recommended partner for the best online experience.

Search Blue Nile for the Biggest Selection

    Blue Nile

    Blue Nile: Search for Diamonds

    Shop for diamonds at Blue Nile, a CreditDonkey recommended partner for the largest selection of diamonds.

Search Whiteflash for the Most Brilliant Diamonds

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a diamond jeweler comparison and financial education website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped young adults make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy financial decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

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About CreditDonkey®
CreditDonkey is a diamond jeweler comparison website. We publish data-driven analysis to help you save money & make savvy financial decisions.

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CreditDonkey does not know your individual circumstances and provides information for general educational purposes only. CreditDonkey is not a substitute for, and should not be used as, professional legal, credit or financial advice. You should consult your own professional advisors for such advice.