February 4, 2021

Engagement Ring Buying Guide

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Shopping for an engagement ring doesn't have to be complicated. Here is the ultimate guide to buying an engagement ring.

Buying an engagement ring can be very daunting. If you've already started looking, you've probably heard a lot of talk about the 4Cs and stuff like that. But there's more to buying an engagement ring than the technical details.

The end goal is to buy a ring that she will adore, at a price point that you are happy with. That's what it all boils down to.

Here is the no-nonsense guide to buying an engagement ring with confidence. You will find:

  • Real, actionable steps to buying an engagement ring
  • How to design a ring that she'll love
  • Our bottom-line recommendations to getting the best value

1. Set a Budget

The first step to making any big purchase is to figure out how much you want to spend. This can be quite hard because an engagement ring is such an emotional purchase.

A good budget should be something that you can reasonably afford without going into debt. You shouldn't go broke buying the ring, but it should still be an amount that shows her that you care.

What's a reasonable budget for you? Use our engagement ring calculator to come up with a realistic budget based on your lifestyle, savings, debt, and upcoming big expenses.

Having a clear budget in mind will help you know what kind of ring you can afford, and narrow down your search. Read more for the best engagement rings at different budgets.

If you're already talking about marriage with your partner, then it's best to have an open discussion to come up with a budget that works for you and your future goals together.

Read more:

In 2019, Americans spent an average of $7,750 on an engagement ring. But in reality, brides don't expect a ring to cost that much. In a CreditDonkey survey, 36% of women think an engagement ring should cost less than $1,000. 3 in 5 women don't expect a ring over $3,000. [1]

2. Decide Where to Buy

Now, decide where you want to purchase the ring. You have quite a few options. It's a good idea to check out a few stores to get an idea of how much each store costs.

  • Traditional Chain Jeweler
    These are the big-box stores you often find at malls (like Zales, Kay, Robbins Brothers, etc.). The advantage of these is that they're convenient and have names you recognize. The stores are big, so they're also likely to have a good selection.

    However, the downside is that large stores also mean massive overhead, so they're more expensive. The salespeople are also more motivated by commission. We don't recommend buying from these stores.

  • Online Retailer
    Online retailers (like Blue Nile, James Allen, and Ritani) offer the best pricing because they have less overhead, so it's the best choice if you're really looking to maximize your budget.

    The downside is that you can't see the ring and diamond before purchasing. But online stores have generous full refund policies. Many also offer free online consultations with a gemologist if you need help.

    We recommend at least starting your search at one of these stores. You can see how much diamonds should cost and have a better idea when comparing against other stores.

  • Local Independent Jeweler
    If you really want to shop for a ring in-person, a better option could be to check out your local jewelers. A private jeweler is more likely to listen to your needs, work with your budget, and help you find the right ring. And plus, you can help support a small local business.

  • Diamond District
    If you live in a large city, you may have a diamond district (like in NY, LA, and Chicago). They often get a bad rep for hustlers, but you can find some real hidden gems if you go prepared. A lot of generations-old mom-and-pop stores still do their business at diamond districts.

3. Find Out Her Style

Before even looking at diamonds and rings, it's important to get an idea of her personal style. You need to know what she wants to know what to shop for.

86% of brides care more about the overall design of the ring than the diamond carat size.[2]

Consider these questions:

  • Is her other jewelry simple and understated, or more flashy?
  • Does she usually wear silver or gold-toned jewelry?
  • Does she want a diamond or maybe another gemstone?
  • What is her lifestyle - more frugal or fancy?

Most women already know the kind of ring they want. If she really wants a vintage emerald cut ring, but you give her a modern round ring, it could be disappointing (no matter how gorgeous it is).

This is something you may want to talk to her about. If you really want do a surprise proposal, then it's best to recruit help from her family/friends instead of just trying to guess what she likes.

4. Decide on the Diamond Shape

© CreditDonkey

For simplicity, we're going to assume you're shopping for a diamond engagement ring. But these tips also apply if you're shopping for a gemstone.

After you get a sense of her tastes, one of the first steps is to decide which diamond shape will fit her style. About 54% of women prefer a shape other than round.[3].

Here are some suggestions:

  • If she's traditional
    Round diamonds will always be classic and timeless. It's also known as the brilliant cut because it's the most sparkly of all shapes.

  • If she's trendy
    Princess, cushion, and oval cuts are modern and just unique enough to make a statement, but not scream too loud. These are the next three most popular shapes after round.

  • If she likes vintage stuff
    If she loves all things vintage, an emerald or asscher diamond will be perfect for her. These shapes have more of a "hall of mirrors" effect rather than sparkle.

  • If she has really unique tastes
    Consider radiant, pear, marquise, or heart shapes. These shapes are the least seen on brides and will definitely stand out.

5. Decide on the Setting Style

There are a ton of options for the actual style of the ring, so it's easy to get overwhelmed.

Would she prefer a classic solitaire, glamorous halo, or vintage-inspired? Here's a quick guide to some of the most popular setting styles.

  • Solitaire: Also called the prong setting, this is the ultimate classic style. The band is plain, which really allows the diamond to be the center of attention.

  • Halo: This is the second-most popular style. The halo has a ring of small diamonds around the center diamond. The pro is that it makes the diamond appear HUGE. So it's a great choice if you're on a limited budget and want to maximize sparkle (read more about this setting).

  • Pave and channel: These styles have tiny diamonds set into the band, which provide a bit of extra bling.

  • Three stone: This style has 2 smaller stones on either side of the main center diamond. It represents the past, present, and future of the relationship.

  • Vintage: This is a broad term that encompasses a lot of different designs. Vintage style rings are inspired by different time periods, like Art Deco or Victorian Era. Usually, they have a lot of intricate metal work, like scrolls or milgrain.

  • Bezel: Bezel rings have a rim of metal around the diamond. This secures the stone, so it's a good choice for active women who work a lot with their hands.

Read more about all the setting styles and their pros and cons.

6. Decide on the Metal Color

The last part of the ring design is the metal. The metal color is also super important to express her personal style. These are the popular choices:

  • Platinum: Platinum is known as the premium metal because it's the most expensive. It's more durable and has a luxurious weighty feel. But the downside is that it tends to need repolishing more often.

  • White gold: White gold is the most popular metal choice for engagement rings. It has an expensive platinum look, but at a lower price point. It has a rhodium plating, which gives it the silver look and makes it more scratch-resistant.

  • Yellow gold: Yellow gold is a great choice for women with vintage or boho tastes. It's easy to maintain, but more prone to scratches. Another huge pro is that a yellow band can accommodate a lower-colored diamond, so there's some good savings potential there.

  • Rose gold: Rose gold has a romantic pink look. It's the most durable out of the golds because of the copper content. Just like yellow gold, there's also very little maintenance required and can accommodate lower-colored diamonds.

For gold, you have the choice between 14k and 18k gold. 18k has a higher gold content so it'll be a little more expensive. 14k gold is cheaper and more durable, but the higher content of other alloys may cause skin allergies if she's sensitive.

7. Learn the Diamond Basics

The 4Cs are a good place to start learning about diamonds. These determine the quality of a diamond and its worth.

We won't go into the nitty-gritty details here, but you can read more in our full-length guides. Here are our bottom-line recommendations to get the best value for your money:

  • Carat: Carat is the weight of the diamond, which directly relates to size. To get the best value, go just under full and half-carat marks. For example, buying a 0.9-carat diamond (instead of 1.00 carat) can save you up to 20%. The size difference is so minuscule that you can't tell a difference.

  • Color: Color refers to how much of a yellow tint is in white diamonds. But most people cannot see a slight yellow tint, so there's no need to choose such a high grade. We recommend H color as best value because the price is right, but it still looks white.

  • Clarity: Clarity refers to how many flaws are in the diamond. Likewise, most people can't see tiny imperfections with their naked eye. So this C isn't as important. We recommend VS2 clarity as the sweet spot. These diamonds are cheaper because there are small flaws but they can't be seen.

  • Cut: Cut refers to how well the diamond is cut to reflect light. A well-cut diamond will be more sparkly and beautiful. In fact, it can make the diamond so sparkly that it looks bigger and hides flaws. This is why this is the most important factor and you should go for Ideal/Excellent cut.

Have a tiny budget? Here are the best affordable options for a beautiful engagement ring on a very small budget.

8. Pick a Jeweler and Compare Prices

Now that you have an idea of the kind of ring to buy, it's time to finalize your jeweler selection if you haven't already.

When looking for a safe reputable jeweler, be sure to look for:

  • No-questions-asked money back refunds
  • All diamonds are conflict-free
  • All diamonds are lab certified
  • Free resizing and warranty

If the jeweler offers all of these above, then you can trust that it's a safe company to buy from. You're fully protected in case something goes wrong (the ring doesn't fit or if you need to return).

Be sure to compare some stores and their prices. To help you out in comparing prices, we put together this diamond prices guide. It has a ton of diamond price charts with the current retail price of diamonds, as well as an interactive diamond price calculator.

At minimum, you should at least look at some prices online to see how much diamonds actually cost. Then you'll have a better idea when you walk into a store and won't be taken advantage of.

See diamond prices at Blue Nile See diamond prices at James Allen

9. Figure Out Her Ring Size

While buying a ring that doesn't fit isn't the end of the world, it's best to get the size right the first time. There's just something magical about slipping on a perfectly fitting ring after getting the "yes."

If you're not discussing the engagement ring with your partner, then you'll have to secretly figure out her ring size.

From tying a string around her ringer to tracing one of her rings, there are lots of sneaky ways to find out her ring size without her knowing. Check out our guide, including ring size charts you can use for reference.

You can also use a virtual ring sizer like this one to find her ring size.

If you do end up buying a ring that doesn't fit, it's easy to get it resized. Make sure that your jeweler offers one free resizing.

10. Get the Right Certification

Diamond certification is so important that it's often considered the 5th C.

A proper certification is how you know that your diamond is the quality that the jeweler says. If you paid for a G, VVS1 diamond, then you should see a grading report showing you that's what you got.

There are a number of labs around the world that certify diamonds (GIA, AGS, IGI, EGL, just to name a few). Unfortunately, not all labs have the same standards.

We recommend only getting diamonds certified by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) or AGS (American Gem Society). These are the two leading labs with the highest grading standards.

Some other labs tend to inflate the grade by one or even two grades, so you could actually be paying for a more inferior diamond.

Bottom Line

Shopping for an engagement ring doesn't have to be so stressful. Don't worry too much about how much to spend or getting the perfect diamond. The most important thing is to understand what she would like and get the right ring for her. The good news is that there are lots of options no matter what her preference.

Hopefully, this guide has given you a better idea of the different factors to consider and you can shop with more confidence. Good luck and have fun on this journey!

References

  1. ^ CreditDonkey, Survey: Diamond Engagement Rings, Retrieved 12/20/2020
  2. ^ CreditDonkey, Engagement Ring Statistics, Retrieved 12/29/2020
  3. ^ WeddingWire, Newlywed Report 2020, Retrieved 1/12/2021

Anna G is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a diamond jeweler comparison and reviews website. Write to Anna G at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

Note: This website 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. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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