How to Buy an Engagement Ring

Sooner or later, you might find yourself in search of an engagement ring. But in a culture flooded with Jared and Tiffany ads, it’s easy to focus on a ring’s brand rather than its qualities. So, in your search for the precious, here are a few tips to point you in the right direction. No Hobbits required.

ONE DOES NOT SIMPLY WALK INTO A JEWELRY STORE
Before you begin your search, examine your resources. How much should you spend? Many will debate the answer to this. Some say “three months worth of paychecks”, others may choose to buy on credit to pay back later. But the best way to fund your purchase is to avoid debt by budgeting and saving.

Educate Yourself

We could argue what exactly constitutes a “perfect” engagement ring. Some value the number of diamonds, the size of the diamonds, or the rarity of the setting. Of course these are all important things to consider, but by going on appearances alone you might easily end up with a piece of jewelry unfit for your fiance. That said, there are standards that can be followed to guarantee that the ring you purchase is worth its price tag.

The Band

The band is the actual “ring” part. This is what’s going to hold the rock to your fiance’s finger, so we recommend taking the time to consider the material in both appearance and function. There are three metals that are usually used for engagement rings.

  • Silver: The cheapest of the three, it is also the least popular metal used. Depending on the jeweler it could be mixed with other metals (i.e. 93% silver, 7% other alloys).
  • Pro: Price (cheaper than gold and platinum)
    Con: Could cause possible skin allergies depending on what other alloys are in the mix, less bling factor, more susceptible to oxidation and tarnish, less durable than gold and platinum, requires frequent cleaning to maintain its luster.

  • Gold (yellow, white, rose): The most traditional of the three. Pure gold consists of 24 ‘Karats’. Meaning that 24 out of 24 parts of the metal are gold. 14 karat gold for example, consists of 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metals. The higher the karat, the higher the price. However, 24k gold isn’t very durable and isn’t recommended for engagement rings. More commonly you’ll find 10k to 18k bands for engagement rings.
  • Pro: Flexible price ranges, readily available in different styles and colors (white, yellow, rose).
    Con: Can lose metal if heavily scratched, may cause skin allergies depending on filler metals used, durability dependant on karat.

  • Platinum: A rare white metal. The most luxurious rings will most likely be made of platinum due to its rarity, high value, and durability.
  • Pro: Hypoallergenic, durable, naturally resistant to corrosion and tarnish, bling factor.
    Con: Expensive (usually costs twice more than 18k gold)

The Diamond

The diamond is arguably the most important part of an engagement ring and will require the most attention to detail. There are five aspects of a diamond that you must take into consideration - known as the “Five C’s” - which affects its quality and price.

  1. Carat

    Carat measures the weight of the diamond. There are 100 points in one diamond carat. So a 50 point diamond is equivalent to a ½ carat. The more carats in a diamond, the bigger it is. However, bigger is not always better. Evaluate also a diamond's clarity, color, and cut.

  2. Clarity

    Most diamonds have imperfections from the natural forming process. How visible these imperfections are under 10x magnification determine it’s clarity rating from flawless to included. The more flawless the diamond, the rarer and more valuable it is.

  3. Higher Cost and Quality
    F / Flawless
    IF / Internally flawless
    VVS1, VVS2 / Very very slightly included
    VS1, VS2 / Very slightly included
    SI1, SI2 / Slightly included
    I1, I2, I3 / Included
    Lower Cost and Quality
    
  4. Color

    Diamonds are graded on a color scale ranging from D to Z. The most valuable are considered colorless diamonds, the least valuable having shades of yellow or brown.

  5. Higher Cost and Quality
    Colorless / D E F
    Near Colorless / G H I J
    Faint Yellow / K L M
    Very Light to Light Yellow / N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
    Lower Cost and Quality

    “Fancy” colored diamonds come in colors such as blue or red. These are considered rare and come with a higher price tag. Traditional engagement rings usually don’t contain fancy diamonds, but there certainly isn’t a rule against it.

  6. Cut

    Probably the most important but overlooked part of a diamond. The is how the diamond is shaped in order to reflect light. Think of each flat panel of a diamond (known as a facet) as mirror. As light passes into a diamond, the facets need to properly reflect light back out to the viewer. This produces the brightness and sparkling effect of a diamond.

  7. Certification

    The certification is the ‘CarFax’ of diamonds. It’s a report that comes from a third-party agency who verifies that the diamond is what the jeweler says it is. It will contain the information and verify a diamond’s clarity, cut, carat, color, and value. Some reputable diamond certifiers include: American Gemological Society (AGS), Gemological Institute of America (GIA), European Gemological Laboratory (EGL), and International Gemological Institute (IGI).

Synthetic Diamonds

A growing market in the diamond world, synthetic diamonds are created by man made laboratory processes. Remarkably, these diamonds actually rival their naturally born counterparts in terms of quality and price, but are not readily available at major retailers. Like most options in an engagement ring, it would be a matter of taste if a synthetic would be an option. In terms of price, lower quality synthetics will usually be cheaper than natural diamonds of the same grade, but higher quality synthetics will cost about the same. The "5 C’s" also apply to synthetics.

Putting it all Together

By understanding what makes up the total cost of an engagement ring, you can begin to configure the different components to fit your budget. Here are some tips and tricks to help you save money and buy the best ring possible.

  • Diamonds with more shades of yellow will look better on yellow or rose gold colored bands rather than on white metals (platinum, white gold). Use this to your advantage by saving money on color rating.

  • The lighting of a jewelry store is specially made to make the diamonds appear brighter. Be sure to ask the jeweler to see the diamonds under natural light.

  • A well cut diamond will make up for a low clarity rating. If a diamond's brilliance (brightness) is important, consider a well cut diamond of a VVS1-VS2 range. The difference will hardly be noticeable.

  • Find diamonds that are a few points shy of a whole carat. For example, you can save money by getting a .98 carat diamond instead of a whole 1 carat diamond. The difference in size will hardly be noticeable.

  • If you like the look of platinum rings but are weary of the cost, consider white gold bands.

  • Most jewelers will include some sort of service plan which may include cleaning and repair (like replacing a diamond). Be sure to ask about what services are available before you purchase.

  • Consider if your soon-to-be will wear her engagement ring and her wedding band on the same finger. Sometimes intricately designed engagement rings will require a specific or custom made wedding band in order to be properly worn together on the same finger.

Conclusion

So whether you take this article’s advice to heart or not, remember that this will be your spouse’s ring. Take into consideration what they would like. Is your fiance more traditional? Would she prefer more specialized options? Factor in these questions. We personally caution against choosing too trendy a ring (excessive swirls, colors, etc.) and opt for options to make it a more of a timeless heirloom. But hey, if she wants the One Ring to rule them all ...go for it.