Updated January 30, 2017

How to Buy an Engagement Ring

Read more about Diamonds
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Ready to pop the question? Buying an engagement ring online is a brilliant way to save big. Read on for the ultimate guide, so you don't get 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! That's an accomplishment in itself. If you're reading this article, you're considering buying a diamond engagement ring.

We'll walk you through the entire process of buying a ring online. Scroll down to read the whole article, or, if you have a more specific question, click on a link below to jump to that topic.

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.

Buying a diamond from a website is intimidating. After all, a ring is a huge purchase and a symbol of your love. Can you really buy it without seeing it in person?

However, buying the ring online has its advantages, especially in the savings department. Buying online can save you 25% or more. That's a significant discount. And you don't even have to deal with any pushy salesmen.

Of course, the biggest concern is whether diamonds bought are legit. However, we've found that it's safe as long as you stay with the proven online retailers and certified diamonds. And it doesn't hurt to make sure you understand the retailer's return policy as well (just in case).

This guide is designed to take you through everything you need to know about buying the perfect engagement ring online, so that when you hit "confirm purchase" on one of the biggest decisions of your life, you do so with confidence.

How Buying Online is Different Than Buying in a Store

© foreverphoto (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

If the mere thought of walking into a jewelry store makes you nervous, you'll appreciate the ease of shopping for one online. Online retailers have made the shopping experience easier, cheaper, and sometimes, even more fun. But there are some drawbacks.

Let's break down the pros and cons of buying diamonds online.

Pros of shopping online:

  • 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're looking for a specific style or want to design a custom ring.

  • A better price: The other big plus is that prices tend to be lower when you're buying online. A website doesn't have the same overhead costs of a physical retail store. Many online jewelers also offer free shipping or cash payment discounts. No matter what, it's much easier to comparison shop online than it is to go to several physical stores.

  • No pressure: Online, you won't have a pushy salesperson following you around like you might in a physical store, one who's trying to convince you to spend more money than you can afford. Online, you can take the time you need to choose a ring on your terms.

Cons of shopping online:

  • A leap of faith: Buying a ring online means you can only go off the grading report. You can't hold the ring up close to examine flaws or see how it sparkles. Sites like Blue Nile let you custom build a ring but again, you won't know what the finished product actually looks like until it arrives on your doorstep. Make sure you understand the site's return policy in case you're not happy with what you get.

  • Shopping in pieces: You might find it best to purchase the loose diamond online and have it mounted at a local jeweler. You'll save some money on the stone itself this way and you won't be designing the entire ring blind.

  • More likely to deal with an unknown company: Not all diamond online jewelers are created equally. Do your homework first to check that the company is reputable, especially if you're going with a smaller company. Reputable brand name online retailers that we're partial to are James Allen and Blue Nile.

HOW MUCH TO SPEND

OK, so you're ready to buy online. First things first: you'll want to determine how much you want to spend on the bling before you get started.

It probably won't come as much of a surprise, but diamonds aren't cheap. 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 very personal decision. The right amount (for you) would be something that shows your beloved that you are serious about the commitment but keeps you well within what you can actually afford without going into debt. For example, let's say you estimate that you can put aside $300 a month. After five months of saving, you'll have $1,500 to spend on the ring. That might be the right budget for you.

Remember, you have your future ahead of you. You may also 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. If you're looking to build wealth, invest in stocks instead.

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 when you buy it, you can pay it off. Don't think just because you're financing a ring, it means you can go and pick out the largest, most expensive diamond out there!

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

  • This is another area where buying online is advantageous. You don't have to listen to the spiel from a store salesperson about your financing options because they are totally in your control. A low interest credit card is the way most people go.

    Another good option is to a 0% interest promotional deal on a new card. This will give you time to pay off the big purchase. Just be sure you can pay off the full balance by the time the promotional period ends.

  • 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 some extra value out of your purchase. Why not get something in return for your ring purchase? A smart move is to use a card that offers 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 do some math to see whether you'd pay more under their terms or your credit card. It can be worth factoring in to your purchase, but pursue this route 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

HOW TO CHOOSE A RETAILER

© CreditDonkey

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

You'll also want to check out some different options. Do some shopping around and see which retailer gets your vote of confidence. Consider the following:

  • Does the retailer get decent, credible reviews?
  • Are the pictures you see online of the actual stone you'll be getting or are they just sample photos?
  • Does the retailer offer customer assistance?
  • How long does the warranty last? (Some offer lifetime warranties.)
  • Is the return policy clear and reasonable?

Here are two 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.

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
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. 
Customer Service
24/7 customer service
24/7 customer service
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
Data
Customer Service

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

Related: Blue Nile vs James Allen

James Allen

KNOW THE RETURN POLICY

© CreditDonkey

It's extremely important that you know the store's return policy.

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.

Online diamond retailers understand customer concerns, so they usually have generous return policies. Bu they tend to come with a time limit and some conditions. Make sure you read the fine print carefully. Some rings may not be eligible for returns.

There are a variety of reasons why you may want to return a ring: you're not happy with how it looks, you change your mind about proposing, your bride-to-be doesn't like it, or (we hate to say it) you didn't get the yes.

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, but it can be done.

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 . Just make sure you choose one that she wears on her left ring finger. (If you're not sure which rings she wears on what fingers, start paying attention.)

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 you and the jeweler a rough idea. Taking an impression of the ring in a soft bar of soap is also a good way.

As a general rule, the average woman's ring size is usually 6 to 6.5. If you're not able to score any intel on her actual ring size, you can use this as a guide. If you really have no idea, go up half or a full size and get it resized later. (It's much easier to make a ring smaller than bigger.) But watch out, not all settings are resizable.

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.

HOW TO CHOOSE A DIAMOND

The most popular diamond shapes are: Round, Princess, Cushion, Oval, Marquis, Pear, Emerald, Radiant, and Heart.

Diamonds can run from a few hundred dollars all the way up to millions of bucks. There are four factors that measure the quality of a diamond and influence the price, also known as the 4 C's:

  • Clarity: This refers to the number of imperfections that can be found in an individual stone. You'll pay more for fewer flaws. The Gemological Institute rates Clarity on a scale from FL (flawless) to I (flaws that you can see). You may hear jewelers refer to imperfections as "inclusions."

    There are six primary grades of clarity that you need to be familiar with:

    • 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 faults that are only visible under extreme magnification.
    • VVS Grade (VVS1 & VVS2 / Very Very Slightly Included): The diamond has very, very small inclusions that are hard to find under magnification. You will not be able to see them with the naked eye.
    • VS Grade (VS1 & VS2 / Very Slightly Included): Diamonds with flaws that are more visible under magnification but most likely cannot be seen with the naked eye.
    • SI Grade (SI1 & SI2 / Slightly Included): Stones feature small inclusions that 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. It generally includes diamonds that have major faults that affect transparency or brilliance.

    Tip: VS2 diamonds offer a lot of bang for the buck. They have minor inclusions that are difficult to see to the naked eye. While the inclusions are visible under 10x magnification, they are usually considered minor. That's why it's useful to shop at retailers like James Allen that offer 360 degree HD videos. That way, you can examine the diamond in detail to see if the diamond is eye-clean.

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

    • D-F Grades: These diamonds are considered to be completely colorless, which also means they're the rarest and most valuable.
    • G-J Grades: Stones in these grades (such as H diamond color) are categorized as nearly colorless.
    • K-M Grades: At these grades, the diamonds will have a faint yellowish tint.
    • 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 tone is visible.

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

    Tip: It's not necessary to get completely colorless diamonds. Color doesn't affect brilliance, as it's actually the cut that gives the diamond its sparkle. 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. But your wallet will appreciate it, as D color diamonds are a lot more expensive than H color diamonds.

  • Cut: The cut determines how brilliant the stone appears and how well the diamond's proportions reflect light. The Gemological Institute rates a diamond's cut in one of five ways: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor.

    Tip: Want a sparkly diamond? Then don't skimp out on the diamond cut. Try to go for Excellent if you can. The diamond cut has the single biggest impact on the diamond's appearance. For brilliantly cut round diamonds, view our Whiteflash review.

  • Carat Weight: Diamonds are measured in carats, with one carat equal to about 0.2 grams. This is roughly the weight of a paperclip. The carat weight has the largest impact on the diamond's final price tag. (Please note that this is different from 'karat', which is used to measure gold purity.)

    The more carats a diamond has, the larger it is and therefore, the more expensive it is. Diamonds are priced on a per-carat basis. Of course, clarity, cut, and color also play a part. The more refined each of these features is, the more pricey the diamond.

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.

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: Have a specific setting in mind? You can buy loose diamonds from Blue Nile and James Allen. 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 4-prong setting is the best for showing off a stone's brilliance. Nowadays, a 6-prong setting is also 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. This is a good choice for active girls 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 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 features a larger center stone bordered by smaller diamonds for extra bling. This popular setting makes the center stone appear larger.

  • Bar: Vertical metal bars hold the diamond in place in this setting. This setting is usually best when you have more than one stone. Be aware that this setting makes the stone more susceptible to nicks and loosening.

  • 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. But the setting can cost more as they're harder to make.

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: Don't forget about the wedding ring. 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.

Are There Cheaper 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: 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 can start at as much as $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: Unlike moissanite, this man-made material is basically a fake diamond. It's a way cheaper alternative that performs exactly like a diamond. The average person usually cannot tell the difference between cubic zirconia and a diamond without performing tests or using a loupe (a magnifying glass used by jewelers).

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: 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.

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. 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

Search Blue Nile for the Biggest Selection

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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